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In this latest installment of our Superfoods Series, we feature the letter G. The 7th letter of the alphabet offered many great options, but we narrowed it down to two must-haves for athletes: garlic and ginger.
The nutritional value of garlic has been known for hundreds of years, and garlic is often praised as a healthy, heart-protective food. Among garlic’s unique components is allicin, a sulfur compound produced when a garlic clove is chopped or crushed (also responsible for its odor), which contains strong anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-viral properties. Garlic can also inhibit blood vessel constriction. One study even suggests it can enhance athletic performance by increasing VO2 max.
Garlic not only helps reduce blood triglycerides and cholesterol, it can also lessen inflammation. It even counters oxidative stress (damage to blood vessel linings caused by over-reactive oxygen molecules), which puts blood vessels at risk for unwanted clogging. Garlic’s various sulfur compounds—ajoene (which has blood-thinning and anti-clogging properties, preventing the formation of unwanted plaque), allicin and Vitamin B6—make it a healthy addition to any meal.
Several studies have suggested that garlic also plays a role in regulating fat cells in the body. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, one of garlic’s sulfur compounds has the potential, by reducing inflammation, to prevent the conversion of pre-fat cells into full-blown fat cells.
Garlic also scores high on the antioxidant scale—in the cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems—a benefit that is perfect for athletes. When unstable oxygen molecules threaten to cause damage to the body’s cells and tissues (sometimes promoting a variety of diseases), antioxidants such as the Vitamin C and selenium contained in garlic can help expel these harmful cells from the body.
Ginger is a stimulating spice widely known for its ability to alleviate nausea and gastrointestinal distress. It also prevents symptoms of motion sickness. Ginger also contains the effective anti-inflammatory gingerols, a compound that protects the body against free radicals. Specifically, it has been suggested that gingerols reduces the production of nitric oxide (a harmful free radical), and suppresses pro-inflammatory compounds made by cells in the joints and immune system. Some research even supports the capacity of ginger to inhibit cancer cells.
Especially important for athletes, ginger can enhance cardiovascular circulation—lowering LDL cholesterol in the arteries, stimulating healthy blood flow and giving cells easier access to vitamins, minerals and oxygen. For this reason, the spice is often used for slight cold or flu relief.
Both garlic and ginger deliver the most nutritional value when consumed in raw form. But an easy way to incorporate both foods into your diet is to make a stir fry; simply chop up ginger and garlic and throw them into a healthy veggie/protein mix. Or try adding them to a sauce, as in the recipe below.
Garlic-Ginger Stir Fry Sauce
- 4 large cloves or 1.5 tbsp. garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. fresh grated ginger or 1/4 tsp. dried ginger powder
- 1 chopped green onion, white portion only
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 3 tbsp. soy sauce
- 3 tbsp. white wine, rice wine or sake
- 1 tsp. sugar or honey
- 1/2 cup water
Combine soy sauce, wine, sugar and water in a bowl; set aside. Warm sesame oil in a saucepan over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add garlic, ginger and green onion to the pan. Saute for 30 to 45 seconds, stirring occasionally. Ingredients should begin to get aromatic but not brown. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.
Source: whfoods.com, livestrong.com