Many of us who consume garlic and onions as a traditional part of our diets are familiar with the lingering odor that remains in our mouths and on our breaths for hours after the meal is complete. What produces these odors are the unique sulfur compounds of the lily or Allium family, which includes onions, leeks, and garlic. In addition to the thiosulfinates, the best known is allicin. Garlic and onions also contain other health-benefiting phytonutrients. Among these are other sulfur-containing compounds including sulfoxides, such as alliin, and dithiins such as 1,2-vinyldithiin. In addition, garlic and onion also deliver powerful flavonoids that have potent beneficial effects on our health.
Garlic is a reasonable source of vitamin B6, vitamin C and the minerals manganese and selenium. Selenium is an essential mineral that exhibits potent antioxidant activity by itself, in combination with vitamin E, and when it forms part of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. It also forms part of the selenoproteins, of which the thioredoxin reductase enzyme is one of the best known. This enzyme acts as a master coordinator of the body’s antioxidant potential by regulating the cells’ glutathione status.
Manganese, the other mineral present in garlic, is an essential cofactor in the production of another antioxidant enzyme present in our cells. This enzyme, superoxide dismutase, quenches a free radical generated through the energy-producing pathways of our cells.
One of the mechanisms by which the allicin in garlic has been shown to support the antioxidant activity in our bodies is through its potential to activate Nrf2, resulting in a cascade of events that ultimately leads to the production of very important molecules and enzymes associated with our antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, as well as apoptosis — commonly referred to as programmed cell death. The latter is critical for damaged or mutagenic cells to be disposed of before they can trigger a process associated with the development of a cancerous tumor.
Garlic offers cardio-protective benefits through the body’s ability to use the sulfur-containing molecules in garlic to form hydrogen sulfide gas. The hydrogen sulfide gas produced from garlic’s sulfur-containing molecules acts in a similar way to nitric oxide, a compound produced in cells and used by blood vessels for the purpose of dilation and relaxation. When blood vessels are dilated and relaxed, they can produce a healthy blood pressure response.
Research into the cardio-protective benefits of garlic and the other allium vegetables has also revealed their potential to lower blood triglyceride and total cholesterol by 5-15% when consumed as part of a healthy diet. In addition, ajoene – another sulfur compound found in the allium family of vegetables, has been repeatedly shown to exhibit anti-clotting activity by preventing blood platelets from sticking or clumping together to form clots.
The dithiiin, 1,2-vinyldithiin, and another sulfur compound, thiacremonone, have all been recognized for their anti-inflammatory potential. 1,2-Vinyldithiin, in its antioxidant activity, quenches the free radical species that act as scavenger molecules triggering the inflammatory cascade of events. Through the process of quenching these unstable reactive molecules, 1,2-vinyldithiin reduces the risk of oxidative damage.
Beyond the numerous cardio-protective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory benefits of the allium family of vegetables, garlic has also historically been prized for its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Specifically, the sulfur compound ajoene has been used to treat Candida albicans, a common fungus associated with fungal infections.
The health benefits of garlic are best achieved when it is either chopped or crushed. This form of preparation facilitates the conversion of the phytonutrient alliin into alicin, one of the primary compounds associated with the health benefits of garlic. Garlic should also be cooked gently and never over heated to maximize its value.
One of my favorite and easiest ways to prepare garlic and onion for consumption or use is to gently oven roast whole garlic bulbs and onions in their skins. This cooking process results in a very soft flesh that can be spread onto any food or incorporated into any recipe to enhance and develop the flavor.
*Much like the oven-roasted whole garlic bulbs, the oven-roasted whole sweet onions can be mashed, smothered, blended or incorporated into a recipe or simply used as an independent flavor to complement a food.
(Original post on boomspot)