Sunday, 28 February 2010

Garlic - The Less Popular View

In my second year of raw food, I was excited to be contacted by a journalist who wanted to write an article about me for a women's magazine and possibly make a TV series too. He was very enthusiastic about raw, and we chatted about various things, finding lots of common ground, until...the subject of garlic came up. I happened to say that, after being raw for a while, I'd come to dislike the taste of garlic, and had found some information to suggest that perhaps garlic wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and could even be something health-conscious people should be avoiding.

He was shocked that I could suggest such a thing. He swore by garlic, and told me about the various ailments that garlic is said to be beneficial for. I did say it was a controversial area, but he appeared not to be able to entertain the concept of garlic being anything but a wonderfood. I didn't hear from him again much after that, and I often wonder if my doubts about garlic had raised some doubts in his mind about me!

On raw food forums, I've seen garlic lovers get a little upset at any criticism of garlic. It's dangerous territory, I go! In my article on the hallowed garlic, I won't be providing 'balance' as in putting forth the pro's and cons. You can all find the pro's of garlic by simply googling 'garlic health food' and you'll find millions of words on what a wonderful thing it is for us. Rather, I'll try to provide (some) 'balance' to those millions by presenting you with some information/thoughts on garlic that you don't hear so often.


When I was a child in the Sixties in the UK, garlic didn't enjoy the reputation it holds today. Most people disliked the odour, let alone the taste. But with books such as Elizabeth David's Mediterranean Cooking, package holidays in the Seventies, and the foodie-ism of the Eighties, garlic enjoyed a surge of popularity in cooking, and health writers began to extol the virtues of garlic as a health food.

The mainstream has a love affair with garlic. It can do no wrong. I used to love it myself until raw. Then, as so often happens when we go raw, we start to experience things differently, with our senses, intellectually...we talk, we read, we think, we meditate...and our old cherished beliefs are thrown up in the air and our eyes are opened to other possibilities.

Is garlic a natural food for us?

Garlic is not a food at all. Not many people would enjoy popping a clove of garlic into their mouths and having a good chew, or a bowl of cloves if they were hungry.

Garlic in breastmilk can give a baby colic. It is one of the things its pure body doesn't like. Garlic is one of those substances like stinky ('aged') cheese (mould), chili, alcohol etc that relatively healthy, vibrant, responsive small children with relatively unadulterated taste buds and desires, generally dislike. That should tell us something.

As children get older, they are conditioned into 'accepting' garlic in small amounts until, because they've come to associate it with pleasant situations, because older people they admire like it, and because it's been cunningly slipped into all sorts of foods (even crisps!), they learn to like it. In some households, garlic is in so many meals (I used to have a vegan cookbook that had garlic in just about every meal bar the desserts) that children get so used to the taste that they grow up to be adults who feel that meals taste bland without it. In this way, garlic perverts the tastebuds just as salt, chili and other substances do, resulting in our (sadly) rejecting food in its natural state.

After I'd been raw for a few months, I no longer liked the taste of alcohol. For someone who'd liked a drink or five for the past 30 years, that was quite incredible. But, alcohol came to taste like it had done when I'd first tried it as a child - not good. Same happened with garlic. Before raw, I was certainly a garlic-lover (someone once told me that he could find me quite attractive but would need a gas-mask I ate so much garlic). But, even just a few months into raw I was finding that the amounts of garlic that (some) raw food recipes recommended rendered the meal inedible for me - it tasted so unpleasant. I started halving, then quartering the amounts, and now use it in tiny amounts only if I'm making a raw dish for cooked-food people.

What happens when we eat garlic?

As everyone knows, our breath stinks of it. Breath the same day as eating garlic isn't too bad, as everyone can identify the smell as garlic. But the day after, although garlic-breath doesn't smell like garlic anymore, the garlic that had been ingested the previous day results in even worse breath that smells...disgusting. The sulphur?

We also exude garlic through our pores. That suggests to me the body is trying very hard to expel it. Also, I'd noticed way before going raw that garlic would always make me thirsty. That indicates to me that, like salt, the body is demanding water to try to neutralise the effects of something harmful, to flush it out. As Dr Doug Graham puts it so well, 'the solution to pollution is dilution'.

Does everyone love garlic?

Garlic has certainly been revered by many in the past. But some have gone against the flow...the Roman poet Horace wrote that garlic 'is more harmful than hemlock'. Ancient Hindu texts ('The Laws of Manu') forbade eating garlic as 'unclean' (unhealthful).

Tibetan monks don't eat garlic. Some yoga teachers and Buddhists believe that garlic interferes with meditation. Ancient Indians believed garlic would lure people away from spiritual endeavours.

Dr Robert C Beck, DSc, in research carried out in the 1980s (and, no, I don't have a source) found that it had a detrimental effect on brain function. And he recalls from his days as a pilot in the 50s a flight surgeon telling pilots not to touch garlic three days before a flight as it would double or triple their reaction time.

Some people do report 'brain fog' after eating garlic (and I'm one of them).

Garlic has antibiotic properties

Indeed it does, through the action of allicin. It's interesting that some garlic advocates, whilst shy of conventional antibiotics as prescribed by doctors, will see the 'antibiotic' properties of garlic as a plus, because it's a 'natural' antibiotic. Well, that's OK then...except that it isn't.

'Antibiotic' (Concise Oxford Dictionary): '(substance) capable of destroying or injuring living organisms, esp. bacteria.'

Bacteria are our clean-up agents. As everyone knows, bacteria are essential for our well-being. Now, just for the sake of argument, I'll go with the popular 'good and bad bacteria' theory (I don't actually agree with it, but...maybe an article on that in ten years' time?) I haven't read anything to suggest that that crushed garlic coursing through our digestive system actually knows the difference between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys'. The number of times I've heard people confidently declare that garlic only kills the 'bad' bacteria - could someone show me the study that proves this?

If you are a gardener, and have grown garlic you may have noticed that your garlic will be untouched by bugs. Nothing eats it. Insects won't eat it because it will kill them. In fact, garlic grown amongst plants deters insects. Garlic is a pesticide.

Garlic has medicinal properties

Certainly does. Countless studies have shown that garlic has positive effects on certain symptoms in unhealthy people.

And, like all medicines, there have also been a host of reported adverse effects after ingesting garlic. They're in the same category as many on the list of 'side-effects', that patients are warned may occur, that you would find in the leaflet in a medicine bottle box. Sure, they haven't been proven (they've come from case reports), but this simply means that no studies have been financed to prove/disprove them. Here are some of them: oesophagal and abdominal pain, small intestinal obstruction, contact dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma, bleeding, myocardial infarction, urticaria, angioedema and ulcero/necrotic lesions (Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 2001 Vol 1, no 1, pp63-83 - the author does cite sources).

The Natural Hygiene view of medicine is that medicine per se is toxic. It may indeed suppress certain symptoms, but at the same time it gets up to all sorts of other tricks in the body -the results of which are not so 'beneficial'. People are duped into thinking they've discovered a 'miracle cure' just because one symptom has vanished, but, sadly, the 'cure' is an illusion. There is always a price to pay for ingesting things that we really shouldn't be putting into our bodies, whether pharmaceutical or 'natural'. Short-term gain leads to longer-term pain; the suppression of one symptom will simply be swapped for more problems later on. But although many people know that, they so often still prefer the 'quick fix' cure than change their lifestyles.

Does the fact that garlic reduces cholesterol, 'balances blood sugar' (etc) mean healthy people should be eating it?

As you've probably guessed from the last section, the answer as I see it must be 'no'. As it wouldn't be logical for a healthy person to take medicine (even daily).

Does the fact that aspirin (may) 'reduce the risk of a heart attack' (in very unhealthy people with heart problems) mean that healthy people who are not at risk of heart attack, should take an aspirin each day? Maybe the very unhealthy person who will not change the lifestyle that led to heart problems in the first place would find the risk of gastrointestinal upsets and stomach bleeding from aspirin a reasonable trade-off. But this would not apply to the healthy person.

So, if someone with high blood pressure is taking a medicine (or even garlic?) to reduce high blood pressure and/or lower blood pressure, regardless of whether it is actually a good idea for that person to be taking that medication rather than addressing the root causes of the problem so that they don't have to take the medicine with its various side-effects, should a healthy raw fooder with no blood pressure problems be ingesting that medicine?

It would be daft, wouldn't it?

So, as garlic is clearly an antibiotic, and clearly a medicine, rather than a food, why are so many raw fooders still adding garlic to their food? I guess one answer could be 'I like the taste'. Sure, just as some of us used to like the taste of meat, sodium chloride, coffee, alcohol...


A raw vegan (or raw vegetarian low-dairy) diet will reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and Gabriel Cousens MD has showed us how the raw food diet can reduce and eradicate the need for Type II diabetes medication.

I know that most of the world won't be switching to raw any time soon, but does it really make sense for healthy raw fooders, or new raw fooders on the path to health, to mix medicine with their meals?