Garlic has a strong odour some people find offensive. Ask the irate gentleman who wrote to condemn garlic the last time I mentioned it in this column.

“The stuff smells terrible and gives me severe heart-burns,” the writer said in effect. “Anyone eating it should be ostracised, along with people who smoke in public.”

Imagine equating tobacco smoke with the odour of garlic! While this seems a bit unfair, it indicates to me that there’s no middle ground when it comes to garlic. One either likes it with a passion or dislikes it to an extreme.

But whether you enjoy garlic, suffer it quietly, or detest it absolutely, you may be missing out if it isn’t a regular part of your diet. Evidence is mounting that eating garlic or taking it as a supplement is one of the smartest moves you can make when it comes to your well being.

At an international garlic symposium in Germany in 1995, for example, scientists gathered to summarise world-wide studies on garlic’s health benefits. The studies had high falutin’ titles in scientific jargon, but when translated into plain words the inference was clear. Garlic fights bad cholesterol, garlic powder is an anti-heart disease agent, garlic has a positive effect on high blood pressure, garlic may aid the body in producing anti-cancer agents, and so on.

As I said, the language was scientific but the tone was positive. That so much research was devoted to assessing the benefits of garlic is astounding and, if nothing else, an indication that it is more than a highly odorous herb.

There was another message in the studies. You don’t have to eat raw or cooked garlic with your food to obtain its health benefits. Garlic supplements in tablets or powder do the job as well – and they avoid that offensive by-products known as “garlic body odour” and “garlic breath”.

Currently garlic research is being done in nearly every developed country in the world. According to the garlic “home page” on the internet, the areas of interest include “cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, antibacterial properties, antifungal use and much more.”

The internet page also mentioned that over 12 studies published around the world confirmed that garlic in several forms reduces high cholesterol – in some studies by as much as 12 per cent using supplements.

But enough of the science and studies guff. Even if, garlic was no more than a harmless plant, there’s another good reason for using it in your food. Garlic adds zing, zest and zip to most vegetable and meat dishes and often turns bland recipes into gourmet delights.

On the lighter side, garlic is held in esteem around the world. There is a garlic capital of the world – the community of Gilroy, California, which hosts an annual garlic festival.

Above I called garlic an herb but a news release from Gilroy’s Chamber of commerce noted that it is neither a spice, herb nor vegetable and is a member of the lily family.

Gilroy isn’t the only area that celebrates the wonders of garlic. In Great Britain there’s a garlic information centre which offers books, studies and oodles of information on the medical benefits of garlic.

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