Sept-Week1
Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D.

The Health Benefits of the Allium Vegetables

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.

How Allium Vegetables Benefit Your Health

Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Activity

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.

Cardio-Protective Potential

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.

Antibacterial, Antifungal and Antiviral Properties

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.

Preparing and Cooking with Garlic and Onions

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.

Oven-Roasted Garlic Bulbs

Ingredients

  • 1 or more garlic bulbs
  • Olive oil

Process

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 300° F.
  2. Peel away the loose skin of the garlic, leaving the bulb intact.
  3. Slice ¼ off the top of the bulb, exposing the garlic cloves.
  4. Drizzle with a high quality organic, cold-pressed virgin olive oil.
  5. Wrap in recycled parchment paper and bake for about 60 minutes or until the garlic cloves are soft to touch.
  6. Remove from the oven and use the soft cloves immediately or cool and store in a tightly sealed glass container in the refrigerator for as long as 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2-3 months.

Potential Uses

  • Spread onto fresh warm bread or crunchy crackers
  • Incorporate into a butter and use as a spread for garlic bread, baked potatoes, or cauliflower mash
  • Blend into a salad dressing or mayonnaise
  • Mash into homemade hummus, baba ganoush, or other spreads
  • Incorporate into a sauce, stew or soup
  • Spread onto a grilled piece of meat, poultry, or fish with Himalayan salt and other herbs

Oven-Roasted Whole Sweet Onions

Ingredients

  • 6 medium Vidalia onions
  • Olive oil
  • Himalayan or Celtic salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper (if desired)

Process

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 300F.
  2. Peel away the loose paper off the whole Vidalia onion, leaving the onion intact.
  3. Slice ¼ off the top of the onion exposing the flesh.
  4. Place onions in a baking dish lined with parchment paper
  5. Drizzle with a high quality organic, cold-pressed virgin olive oil.
  6. Sprinkle with Himalayan and fresh ground black pepper.
  7. Bake at 300° F for about 50-60 minutes or until the flesh is soft enough to mash with a fork.

Potential Uses

  • Mash and spread onto fresh warm bread or crunchy crackers as a jam
  • Blend with organic salted butter and use as a spread for garlic bread, baked potatoes, grilled fish, chicken or steak or cauliflower mash
  • Blend into a salad dressing or mayonnaise
  • Blend into homemade hummus, baba ganoush or other spreads
  • Incorporate into a sauce, stew or soup

*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.

About Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D.:
Our nutrition expert, Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D., has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in examining the root causes of complex and chronic health issues, and helping clients prevent the diseases caused by lifestyle choices, environmental influences, epigenetics, and aging. With her extensive clinical and research experience, she's been invited to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, she gives practical tips on how adults 50+ can improve their health right now. Learn more about Peta at PetaCohen.com.
DISCLAIMER: The content of theBoomShop.com and BoomSpot is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.