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The Benefits of Garlic, Sans the Smell

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For all of its purported benefits, there are some things garlic just can’t do. It can’t make our body odor appealing to others. It won’t increase our chances for a kiss at the end of the night. And despite all folklore and pop culture references to the contrary, it doesn’t ward off hungry vampires. But with the numerous ways it boosts our health—not to mention the tastiness of our meals—it’s hard to deny garlic its well-deserved gold star. 

Most of us don’t eat nearly enough garlic to enjoy its restorative and preventative advantages, mostly because we don’t want to smell like stinking roses all day. Lucky for us, there are ways to get our garlic in without reeking of it at the same time. 

The Smelliest Antioxidant Around
In a perfect world, we could eat garlic by the clove and obtain the benefits without the subsequent stink. In the real world, the component in garlic responsible for its status as a kitchen cabinet cure, allicin, is also what makes it so malodorous. 

A 2009 study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie (an international chemistry publication) found that allicin is what gives garlic its antioxidant properties. Allicin is formed in raw garlic when a clove is diced, sliced, or chewed and it breaks down quickly once eaten. 

In order for garlic to have a positive effect on health and strengthen our immune systems, allicin breakdown has to occur, which is why eating it chopped or minced raw is most recommended. In fact, for garlic to reach its maximum health-promoting potential, it should sit out for about fifteen minutes after cutting into the clove. 

It Does a Body Good, Too
Garlic has been used medicinally for hundreds of years and is often touted as having positive effects on a variety of ailments such as cancer, the common cold, high blood pressure, digestive diseases, and various infections. Numerous studies have looked into its potential use in cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and atherosclerosis. In a 2007 study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered that when they injected juice from garlic—the equivalent of two garlic cloves—into human red blood cells, it increased the amount of hydrogen sulfide, an antioxidant that promotes blood flow and decreases blood vessel constriction. There was also a study conducted in 2004 and published in Ceska Slov Farm, a Czech medical journal that linked garlic with decreased amounts of plaque in aortas. 

Plenty of Potency in a Pill
Though it’s an antioxidant powerhouse, sometimes garlic doesn’t leave us feeling our best. For some people, eating garlic can cause gas, bloating, and an irritable stomach, not to mention the way it affects our breath and body odor (sometimes even days after ingesting it, depending on the amount). That’s why they make concentrated garlic in capsule form. 

But does it increase our physical well-being the same way garlic in its natural state does? While it’s generally best to get vitamins and antioxidants from food rather than in pill form, research has shown that garlic capsules and aged garlic extract could possibly improve heath conditions, too. 

In a 2001 study performed in the UK, 146 people were given one pill to take every day—either a garlic capsule or a placebo. Out of the seventy-three volunteers given garlic, only twenty-four developed colds in a ninety-day period. The same amount took the placebo, but sixty-five of them got colds. In 2003, researchers at UCLA demonstrated a correlation between reduced heart attack risk in people with cardiac issues and ingesting aged garlic extract for a year. However, that doesn’t mean we should rush out and buy garlic capsules, either. Garlic supplements, like all supplements, aren’t yet regulated by the FDA, which also hasn’t verified its purported benefits. It’s best to consult a doctor beforehand or just get your garlic fix from food. 

Getting Rid of Garlicky Odors
People opting for garlic capsules mostly do so to avoid the stinky aftermath of eating it, but there are other ways to minimize its impact. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire method of preventing garlic breath, but once you have it, you can chew on a sprig of parsley or do a tongue scraping to get rid of the bacteria that contributes to bad breath. Parsley has also been said to help with body odor, too, along with body washes with ingredients like mint and eucalyptus or taking a sauna to sweat out the smell. Drinking mint tea also works, plus it will calm your stomach if garlic makes it fussy. To remove the smell from your fingers after handling garlic, try soaking them in water with lemon juice or baking soda. 

Not only is garlic versatile in the culinary world, but it is also part of a healthful diet. It’s too bad garlic’s benefits don’t come without an aromatic cost, but at least there are things we can do to be less pungently offensive to others, like snacking on parsley or partaking in a sauna sweat session. And if the smell is just too powerful to mask, it’s comforting to know that odorless garlic pills might yield similar results. As a lifelong garlic lover, I welcome the fact that these delicious bulbs can enhance my physical health as much as it does my dinner. Now if scientists could only reach a similar conclusion about Mexican food, I’d be set!


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