Growing up in a large Italian family taught me many important lessons that I still carry with me today.
1. Family is sacred.
2. Dinnertime is sacred.
3. There's no such thing as too much garlic.
And although I never learned much of the Italian language, I do know one very important translation.
English: "One clove of garlic."
Italian: "Ten cloves of garlic."
So, it would only suffice to say that as a nutritionist and food blogger, one of my favorite culinary ingredients of all time is also simultaneously one of my go-to healing foods.
While studying abroad in England a few years back during college, I took a two-week trip through Spain and Italy. And (surprise, surprise) my favorite part was absolutely the food. While winding through tiny alleyways in Venice, we'd stumble upon produce stands and merchants selling all kinds of things. And instead of drooling over Italian leather and Spanish silk, I could be found at just about any moment trying to casually sneak photos of quaint cafes, herbs hanging to dry, and this entire bin of garlic.
I wanted to take all of it home with me to distribute to my cousins and uncles as souvenirs, but my better judgement allowed me to leave it there, and bring with me this image instead.
Today, instead of going on and on poetically about my love affair with this precious allium, I want to dive into some of garlic's seriously cool nutritional benefits.
Garlic is used universally, across many cultures and for many uses. It is referred to as "Panacea," which means "cure for all ills."
In Chinese medicine, garlic is said to tonify the spleen, stomach, kidney, and lung meridians, which contributes to healthy respiratory, digestive, and immune system function as well as energy production and metabolism. Garlic has also been studied for its blood sugar stabilizing properties and its ability to promote the growth of good intestinal flora.
Garlic is antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and anti-viral, making it a critical kitchen staple during the cooler months when illness is on the rise, or to keep on hand while traveling to other countries where water quality is questionable.
Consuming garlic on a regular basis reduces the oxidative effect of chronic inflammation on our blood vessels. Therefore, garlic is a helpful agent in reducing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, and because it dilates blood vessels (with the help of NO2), is also used to treat high blood pressure.
Garlic is also rich in sulfur and a variety of sulfur-containing compounds. Although sulfur is not listed alongside common nutrients like calcium and iron on the labels of nutrition facts, or its importance communicated publicly by health agencies or medical practitioners, it has been thoroughly studied and repeatedly praised for its remarkable impacts on our health.
These sulfur compounds have been shown to improve blood vessel elasticity, aid in cellular detoxification (prevent / reduce cancer growth), and protect joint and connective tissue health.
here’s a recap:
Improves blood vessel elasticity (reduce blood pressure)
Anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic
Reduce oxidative damage to blood vessels
Aids in cellular detoxification (reduce cancer risk)
Aids in blood sugar stabilization
Supports digestion and metabolism
Supports respiratory health
Supports joint and connective tissue health
Promotes the growth of healthy intestinal flora
In addition to being extremely health-promoting, garlic has this way of making me feel completely cozy. Just the smell of something cooking with garlic sends me into bliss.
Could these feelings be the result of years and years of large family gatherings so full of love and noise consistently fragranced by it? Or that at the end of the day after spending hours in the kitchen (my favorite place in the whole world) my hands retain a slight whiff of that subtle garlicky tang? Maybe.
Or maybe it's just that food tastes better with it. And I do love food! So here are my favorite ways to use garlic in the kitchen:
Sauces + Dressings
Soups + Stews
Dips + Spreads
Vegetables + Fish
And in case you're not as interested in the after-smell on your hands, here's a few tips for reducing the hassle:
To remove skin easily, place a clove of garlic on a cutting board or hard surface. Smash the clove with the bottom of a heavy jar, such as a large bottle of olive oil. The clove will crush, and the skin will come right off with a few easy peels.
Once peeled, use a garlic press to mince the garlic into tiny pieces
If you don't have a garlic press, use a blender to puree your dressings and sauces
To make garlic paste, roughly chop your garlic cloves, and then sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Use the flat side of your knife to rub the mixture side to side, and the salt will begin to break down the garlic into a nice paste.
Last but definitely not least, to increase your garlic's healing properties, chop, mince, or blend it at least 10 minutes before heating it or consuming it. Giving garlic time for the enzymes on its surface to interact with the enzymes on its interior will massively improve its health effects.
There you have it! All about garlic and even a bit about my heritage. More than you bargained for? Well. You're welcome.
Do you also have a love affair with this pungent allium? Shoot me a note in a comment below so I know I'm not the only one. You can also tell me your favorite way to use it in case there's something I haven't tried yet.
This post is officially dedicated to my ancestors, who, if I know them at all, are somewhere up in the heavens laughing, eating, and arguing about something. They would be proud of this official declaration approving garlic as a lifetime resident in my own medicine cabinet and spice rack, and I hope it'll make its way into yours, too.
That's it for today.
From my plate to yours,