The list of health benefits just seems to grow and grow. From preventing heart disease and cancer to fighting off infections, researchers are finding encouraging results with garlic. Behind all the grandiose claims are the compounds that give garlic its biting flavor. The chief health-promoting "ingredients" are allicin and diallyl sulfide, sulfur-containing compounds. Although allicin is destroyed in cooking, other helpful compounds are formed by heat or aren't destroyed by it. This lets cooked garlic give you a health boost. Garlic also contains the powerful antioxidants C and E, and the mineral selenium.
Garlic has been found to lower levels of LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, and raise HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol in the short term. Its effects last about three months when taken daily. It may also help to dissolve clots that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Even when cooked, garlic helps keep cholesterol in your bloodstream from oxidizing and damaging the lining of your blood vessels, which helps prevent the formation of plaque.
Garlic has also been found to inhibit the growth of, or even kill, several kinds of bacteria, including Staphylococcus and Salmonella, as well as many fungi and yeast. Animal studies have found that garlic helps prevent colon, lung, and esophageal cancers. How much is enough? Researchers suggest you can enjoy the benefits of garlic every day by eating a typical clove weighing 3 grams.
Selection and Storage
Most varieties of garlic have the same characteristic pungent odor and bite. Pink-skinned garlic tastes a little sweeter and keeps longer than white garlic. Elephant garlic, a large-clove variety, is milder in flavor than regular garlic and should be used like a leek. But most varieties can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Choose loose garlic if you can find it. It's easier to check the quality of what you're getting than with those hiding behind cellophane. Its appearance can clue you in to its freshness; paper-white skins are your best bet. Then pick up the garlic; choose a head that is firm to the touch with no visible damp or brown spots.
Don't expect the flavor of garlic powder to mimic fresh garlic. Much of the flavor is processed out. Garlic powder, however, may retain some active components. Garlic salt, of course, contains large amounts of sodium -- as much as 900 milligrams per teaspoon, so avoid using it.
Store garlic in a cool, dark, dry spot. If you don't use it regularly, check it occasionally to be sure it's usable. Garlic may last only a few weeks or a few months. If one or two cloves have gone bad, remove them, but don't nick remaining cloves; any skin punctures will hasten the demise of what's left. If garlic begins to sprout, it's still okay to use, but it may have a milder flavor, just remove the tough, green sprout.