Thursday, January 20, 2011

not for the alliumphobia sufferers

The last couple of weeks in my lab have been dedicated to testing the effectiveness of natural antibiotics to pharmaceuticals on varying strains of bacteria. It’s sort of gross, and smells about as great as you can imagine. But the most interesting effects (in my opinion) that came out of the tests were the differences between commercially prepared garlic and fresh garlic.

Garlic has been used historically for many medicinal purposes for anything from cold and flu symptoms to the regulation of blood sugar levels. There have been scientific studies connecting garlic consumption with heart health, as well as the treatment of stomach and colon cancers. Louis Pastuer used it to help prevent gangrene throughout World War I and II. It has been used in homemade mouth washes to prevent mouth infections, gargled to stop throat and respiratory infections. The Cherokee used it for coughs and croup. Sailors used it to prevent scurvy. It can prevent beriberi by increasing the body’s ability to absorb thiamin. It has been known to help treat cryptosporidium, and toxoplasmosis  in Aids patients. And it has been known to help treat a random assortment of chest infections, digestive issues and fungal infections like thrush.

I would love to continue pushing garlic, but in my research I feud that some people can be severely allergic to it and as always before making any  dietary changes a person should have a food allergy test, anaphylactic shock is not something to play around with. It has been known to cause burns when administered topically, it thins the blood and should not be eaten in conjunction with insulin shots unless cleared by a physician.  But none of these are common, and occurred when garlic was consumed in larger than normal quantities (more than 2 whole cloves a day for a prolonged period of time).

The  active anti fungal, bacterial and microbial qualities in garlic can be attributed to allicin and phytoncide. These two compounds exist in the garlic clove and are not activated until the clove its self is crushed. And while these properties are present in very large quantities, the longer they sit the less active they become. Peel, crush consume all within a half an hour to receive the most benefit of your garlic as well as taste. So while fresh garlic is not only delicious, if prepared properly can perform some truly amazing feats of health. Wild garlic is best, organic, then non organic fresh, and commercially prepared is best  avoided.

I say avoid not because it doesn’t taste as good (which is certainly true) but also because in the tests my lab partner and I preformed commercially prepared garlic was not only out preformed by fresh garlic (remembering the time sensitive nature of allicin and phytoncide) but grew some curious additions that were definitely not the bacteria we inoculated the dishes with. And by curious I mean fungal, colorful, fuzzy, gross!

This brings me back to many of the arguments being presented by organic, whole food eaters. While garlic is just one type of food, the point was pretty clear to me. As consumers we put our trust in the rules and regulation presented by the FDA. We assume that things bought in the grocery store are things that can and should be eaten. But as I find more evidence to the contrary, I find more I am spending more time in local produce markets and less time at grocery chains. In this case particularly,  I would like to know how the commercially prepared garlic is…prepared. I would very much like to know how these beautiful fungal colonies came to be and well as what kind. Bust mostly I would like to know what other presumably fresh looking foods offers this array of diversified hitchhikers so I can avoid them as well.

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