Garlic is a member of the Allium genus of plants. Among its 500 botanic cousins are onions, leeks and chives. Rich in organic sulfur compounds and flavonols (a class of antioxidants), onions and garlic have been used for thousands of years1 in Egypt, China, India and Greece cover wounds and treat heart disease, headaches, tumors, leprosy, deafness, earaches, severe diarhhea, and parasitic infections.
Garlic is packed with valuable nutrients, including 10 different natural sugars, 17 amino acids, and several enzymes and minerals. It is rich in organic sulfur compounds such as allicin, which metabolizes to a host of others.
Allicin is not present in the garlic bulb you bring home from the supermarket or dig out of your garden. The plant makes it only in response to injury to the bulb when you cut or crush it.
In addition to the many nutrients listed above, garlic contains more adenosine than any other food. Adenosine is an essential building block of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA.
The importance of dietary sulfur
Proteins provide structural support to cells in the body. They also exist in the form of enzymes, which are necessary for the zillions of biochemical reactions that occur inside our cells every minute of the day. Nucleic acids dictate the sequence of amino acids that link together to form these proteins.
Proteins can be thousands of amino acids in length. These long strands fold into the unique shapes that make them perfect for the tasks they perform in our daily lives. Sulfur atoms inside some of the amino acids form strong internal, disulphide bonds that help to stabilize these unwieldy chains into place.
You can see that, without the sulfur in garlic, our cells would fall apart from a lack of structural support and our enzymes would flop around all over the place. We wouldn’t be able to digest food, think, move or pee.
Let’s talk about that secret sauce
Reporting in the July 2019 issue of the journal Nutrition and Cancer, 2scientists say that eating onions and garlic may offer some protection against breast cancer. They studied the diets of women in Puerto Rico, which has low rates of the disease, and where the population consumes a significant amount of both bulbous herbs from the Allium genus of plants. Specifically, they eat a lot of a wildly popular condiment called sofrito, which is packed with these two flavorsome ingredients.
Sofrito, so good
This population-based case-control study included 314 women in Puerto Rico between the ages of 30 and 79 with primary, histologically confirmed breast cancer and no previous cancer history and 346 women with no history of cancer apart from non-melanoma skin cancer.
Participants were interviewed to collect demographic data, as well as their medical and reproductive history and family history of cancer. A previously calibrated food frequency questionnaire was administered to assess sofrito consumption. Respondents received a combined score from 0 to 8, depending on the number of times per week they consumed onion or garlic (0 to 4 for each). Sofrito intake was assessed separately.
Scores were categorised as follows:
Respondents who consumed sofrito at least once a day experienced a 67 percent reduction in breast cancer risk compared to those who had never sampled the allium-rich delicacy. These results are consistent with studies in France, Mexico and China.
Make your own sofrito!
Sofrito is ridiculously easy to conjure up on your own. All you do is throw a few vegetables and herbs (including onions and garlic, of course!) into a blender or food processor and there you go. Here are a few recipe suggestions from KitchenGidget3, but there are hundreds more. With very little practice, you’ll be devising your own.
I can remember when I worked for a major pharmaceutical company in London a few years back, the chef in the cafetería produced two versions of sofrito, one red and one green. These were available to staff ad libitum from two small bowls located right before the cash registers. My colleagues and I were crazed by the stuff and used to ladle it generously onto whatever was on our plates.
Other reasons to have a garlicky diet
Garlic is a source of probiotics4, which are necessary to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the good. Probiotics assist digestion and support a healthy immune system. Breastfeeding mothers use garlic to boost their milk5 supply.
If you don’t like the strong smells or tastes of allium species such as garlic, onion and chives, you can still obtain some of their benefits from a supplement, for example, example, Naturelo Probiotic. Although not evaluated for its anti-cancer potential, our customers buy it for its digestion and immune system activities.
Written by Kimberly Martin
1. Organosulfur compounds and possible mechanism of garlic in cancer, 2010 Jan; 18(1): 51–58.