Why is Garlic Hard to Digest?


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Garlic is a powerful aromatic vegetable that can make any dish flavorful. It is a favorite additive to Indian and Western cuisine. You can mix it into a dressing, dry, grind, use it as a spice rub, or roast and add it to shole dishes.

But don’t be deceived by how pleasant garlic can make your food. When it comes to digestion, garlic is tricky. Why is that so? Should you eat or avoid garlic? This article discusses the topic in greater detail to help determine if you should continue adding it to your diet.

Benefits of Garlic on the Digestive System

While garlic is difficult to digest, it has positive side effects on the digestive tract. A 2015 meta-analysis established that garlic could reduce the risk for gastric cancer. It doesn’t matter what quantity of garlic is consumed. Once it got into the digestive tract, it had impressive positive results.

Garlic has a strong aroma resulting from a high concentration of phytonutrient allicin, which has a high sulfur content. Therefore, eating garlic is excellent for cleansing the digestive tract and preventing colon cancer.

Besides, garlic has antibacterial properties that fight E. coli and salmonella, two germs known to cause food poisoning. But that doesn’t mean that people should carelessly handle food, hoping that garlic will prevent food poisoning.

Garlic also has probiotic properties. Other probiotic foods like bananas, leafy greens, and whole grains create a healthy balance of the microorganisms in the digestive system. So even as its antibacterial properties take effect, garlic creates the perfect environment for good bacteria to thrive. The ultimate impact of that is improved digestion.

Adverse Effects of Garlic on the Digestive Tract

Despite its many benefits, garlic can result in various digestive problems. In most cases, those with certain conditions are the most affected. This section discusses some digestion-related conditions whose symptoms worsen after eating garlic.

1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Syndrome

One of garlic’s most significant adverse effects on the digestive system is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It’s characterized by gastric acid flowing back to the esophagus. Acid reflux can irritate the esophageal lining, causing discomfort.

If garlic is causing gastroesophageal reflux disease, you should consider removing it from your diet. Apart from lifestyle changes, you may also take some over-the-counter medications to mitigate the symptoms.

Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

  • Chest pain
  • Regurgitation of sour liquid or food
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn or a burning sensation in the chest
  • A lumpy sensation in the throat

2. Food Poisoning

Despite being able to promote healthy digestion, garlic can also cause food poisoning. However, food poisoning results from poor handling rather than the active components of garlic—the biggest culprit in garlic-infused oil.

Most people prepare garlic oil at home and store it wrongly, exposing people to botulism. Botulism spores exist naturally in the environment and may contaminate garlic bulbs. However, bacterial spores are harmless when exposed to oxygen.

But, once covered by oil, they find a perfect environment where they can thrive and multiply in great numbers. As long as garlic oil sits for days at room temperature, it’ll cause botulism. Since clostridium botulism is tasteless and odorless, there will be no warning signs of their presence in the garlic oil. You’ll only realize you’re in trouble once you develop the symptoms of botulism.

If you frequently prepare homemade garlic oil, keep it in the refrigerator and consume it as soon as possible. Ideally, you shouldn’t keep it beyond three days. Alternatively, add some vinegar to acidify the oil and neutralize the harmful bacteria.

Common Botulism Symptoms

Garlic causes food-borne botulism, which can result in food poisoning. In addition, the botulism bacteria release toxins that affect the nervous system, muscle control, and the respiratory system, which can be deadly.

The following are the common symptoms of botulism:

  • Paralysis
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Problems talking or swallowing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Droopy eyelids or facial weakness
  • Abdominal cramps

Eating raw garlic is the perfect way to avoid this kind of food poisoning. Alternatively, you could prepare garlic oil correctly and store it for only a few days.

3. Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is characterized by constipation, bloating, and poor absorption of nutrients. It is an autoimmune condition that damages villi in the small intestines, rendering nutrient absorption nearly impossible.

It is mainly caused by gluten intolerance. That’s because people with celiac disease cannot properly digest gluten. Common foods that cause celiac disease include wheat, barley, rye, and brewer’s yeast. It creates a sensitive stomach that reacts to gluten and complex sugar in various foods.

Thus, people with celiac disease may also react to FODMAPs—as such, stopping a gluten-free diet doesn’t necessarily result in relief from symptoms of the disease. In that case, it is necessary to eliminate FODMAP foods like garlic and onions.

FODMAP intolerance is more pronounced in those who recently received a celiac disease diagnosis. With time, the digestive system heals, reducing the reaction to complex sugars. The following are the symptoms of celiac disease:

  • Bloating
  • Upset stomach
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Short stature
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Gas
  • Seizures
  • Dull skin and thinning hair
  • Canker sores in the mouth
  • Irregular monthly periods, infertility, or miscarriage

Controlling celiac disease involves changing your diet. Essentially, you need to get rid of gluten. If a gluten-free diet does not work, you should eliminate foods such as garlic and onion. In addition, you’ll remove short-chain carbohydrates from your diet and improve your digestive health.

4. Garlic Intolerance

Despite its appeal to taste buds, garlic has adverse effects on those whose bodies cannot tolerate it. It comes as a result of consuming garlic in excessive amounts. While it may not affect the digestive system, garlic sensitivity has devastating effects on the rest of the body. Thus, it may cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Digestive Issues: Garlic sensitivity can result in digestive problems like nausea, burning sensation in the stomach, cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Unexplained Fatigue: People suffering from garlic sensitivity may experience fatigue the day after. At its severest, it may manifest itself as extreme fatigue. It is characterized by lethargy, overall weakness, and a foggy brain.
  • Garlic Body Odor: Consuming garlic in excessive amounts can cause a change in body odor in virtually anyone. However, garlic intolerance can result in a severe case of garlic body odor. Once it gets into the body, garlic releases sulfur into the lungs. When you breathe out, the air smells of garlic.
  • Insomnia: Eating lots of garlic can result in sleep-related issues. For ordinary individuals, garlic can help them sleep better. However, you may have trouble sleeping well if you have garlic insensitivity.
  • Low Blood Pressure: One of the health benefits of garlic is the ability to reduce blood pressure. That’s important, especially for those suffering from hypertension. However, if you have garlic sensitivity, the reduction in blood pressure can be extreme, endangering your health.

5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome comes in the form of daily bloating and diarrhea. It is so frequent that at least 20% of the population may suffer from it. Characterized by constant stomach pain, IBS is not treatable by any means other than diet control.

By carefully managing your diet, you can manage the symptoms and promote healthy digestion. Common foods that may trigger irritable bowel syndrome include wheat, dairy, and fatty foods. However, many individuals with IBS can blame it on their garlic consumption.

IBS Symptoms

IBS symptoms vary from one individual to another. They can be mild or severe. However, the most common ones include the following:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Bloating or cramping
  • Excess abdominal gas
  • Change in bowel movement patterns
  • Diarrhea that alternates with constipation
  • Stool with mucus

Why Is Garlic Bad for IBS?

Garlic contains fructans in plenty. Fructans are a group of carbohydrates that occur naturally and cause digestive problems. If you suffer from fructans intolerance, your body might be unable to properly digest garlic, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and wheat products.

If you have irritable bowel syndrome, you must avoid consuming garlic. Garlic is not only difficult to digest but can also worsen the symptoms of IBS. In that case, you need a low-FODMAP diet that recommends not to overeat garlic.

What Consists of a Low FODMAP diet?

FODMAP refers to a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are difficult to digest. Foods with high FODMAP content, including fructans, can worsen IBS symptoms. Conversely, with a low-FODMAP diet, you can cut down on fructans and reduce bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Why do fructans adversely affect the digestive system? According to nutritionists, human digestive enzymes cannot fully break down fructans. So, due to poor digestion, fructans start fermenting, causing diarrhea and bloating.

That’s why you should consider eliminating garlic from your diet. Other foods you should be concerned about include leeks, wheat, and onions. With help from a qualified dietician, you should be able to embark on a low-FODMAP diet today.

How to Make Garlic More Digestible?

There are many recipes involving cooked or raw garlic. Garlic can be more accessible or difficult to digest, depending on how you prepare it. Mostly, garlic is easy to assimilate into the body. However, some forms of cooking make it heavier and increase its spicy taste, which causes bad breath.

If you want to make garlic more digestible, there are several tricks you must consider implementing. Here is how to make garlic and other cruciferous vegetables more digestible:

1. Consume it Raw

Eating raw garlic is the best way to ensure its healthy digestion. Fresh garlic contains beneficial digestion enzymes that become dormant due to the heating effects of cooking. Therefore, in its natural form, garlic can promote healthy digestion and help you avoid incidents of garlic sensitivity.

2. Combining with Aromatic Herbs

You can also take advantage of the many benefits of garlic by combining it with aromatic fresh herbs. Examples include basil, ginger, rosemary, oregano, mint, basil, and parsley. You may also use herbaceous plants like fennel, anise, and coriander. It is the best way to eliminate the bad breath that comes as a result of eating garlic.

3. Remove the Garlic Core

Did you know that removing the garlic core can help you make it more digestible? The heart is the green-colored inner part that hinders healthy digestion and promotes bad breath.

4. Eat it Fresh

The human digestive system often finds handling old, yellowing garlic challenging. Such garlic may cause bloating and make you feel uncomfortable. So, you should only choose fresh, compact garlic.

5. Use Appropriate Cooking Methods

Cooking garlic can make the difference between ease and digestion difficulty. For healthy digestion, you should only sauté garlic rather than fry it. Instead of browning or frying garlic, pour it into the pan with the oil. The other ingredients can come first.

6. Pair Garlic with Healthy Foods

What foods do you pair with garlic? For example, you should avoid using garlic with excessively fatty foods. That’s because the other foods can make the garlic heavier and difficult to digest.

The Right Way to Eat Garlic and Promote Healthy Digestion

Did you know that you can promote healthy digestion by eating garlic correctly? Garlic increases immunity, controls high blood pressure, reduces bad cholesterol, and improves your food’s flavor. But what’s the right way to eat garlic? The following are suggestions for eating garlic the right way:

1. Eat Raw Garlic

Eating raw garlic is recommended since it is the best way to introduce critical digestive enzymes. All you need is one for any of your meals. You may also mix your fresh garlic with some you had cooked before to benefit from it.

Raw garlic effectively controls blood cholesterol levels when eaten on an empty stomach. That’s because fresh garlic contains allicin, which thins the blood and prevents clotting. However, you should eat your garlic first thing in the morning.

You can mince, chop, or crush garlic to release the healthy compounds. Instead of eating it alone, mix it with fresh basil or tomatoes. It’s best for making foods such as garlic bread, salads, and pasta.

2. Cook with Garlic

Instead of eating raw garlic, you can use it for cooking other foods. It is an excellent additive to any recipe because it improves the flavor of food. Ideally, one or two garlic cloves are enough to use in the preparation of a dish.

You can chop, mince, or crush fresh garlic cloves before adding them to your recipes. After the initial preparation, you should let it sit for 15 minutes. You may cook garlic with other foods in any of the following ways:

  • Simmering to prepare garlic soup
  • Marinating tofu or meat in minced garlic
  • Pasta, garlic, and greens
  • A vegetable dish with garlic
  • Mashed potatoes with garlic

3. Garlic Oil

Instead of using raw garlic to prepare your dishes, you can prepare garlic-infused oil. It’s possible to prepare garlic-infused oil at home or buy some from your local store. Besides acting as an excellent additive to various foods, garlic oil can act as a rub for relieving psoriasis and similar conditions. However, it can be challenging to digest.

If you opt for homemade garlic oil, prepare it correctly. Refrigerate soon after preparation and use it within three days. For prolonged shelf life, add in some vinegar to kill botulism bacteria. If you don’t, you might end up with a case of food poisoning.

4. Garlic Tea

If you cannot eat fresh garlic, why don’t you find a creative way to consume it? You don’t need to do much to prepare your garlic tea. Mince, chop, or crush a clove of garlic and steep it in hot water. Wait for a few minutes and strain out the garlic residue.

Garlic tea helps you ingest the best of the vegetable’s active ingredients and makes it possible to eat less of the cruciferous vegetables. After all, you would have strained garlic residue and retained the tea.

5. Sprinkle Garlic Powder on Food

If you lack time to mince, chop, or crush fresh garlic, get some garlic powder from the local store. Garlic powder is convenient to use and only requires sprinkling on your foods. It supplies the same benefits as fresh garlic, albeit on a diminished scale.

You don’t need large quantities of garlic powder to flavor your food and promote healthy digestion. The correct amount of garlic powder is up to one teaspoon. Use it to make soups, sauces, and other dishes.

The Bottom Line

Garlic is challenging to digest since human digestive enzymes cannot handle the complex sugar. While many people may not experience issues after consuming garlic, some have severe problems due to underlying medical conditions. Examples of such conditions include IBS, GERD, and garlic sensitivity.

Eating fresh garlic is best since it contains digestive enzymes that help promote healthy digestion. Besides, fresh garlic provides the best nutritional value and is unlikely to cause food poisoning or botulism.