The benefits of allium foods are highly-touted and are becoming more and more well-known. The term "allium foods" refers to the family of vegetables of the genus Allium, which includes garlic, onions, shallots and leeks, among others. Nearly every culture has some kind of allium that features prominently in common dishes, and such foods are used extensively in the United States. These foods are generally inexpensive, have very long shelf lives whether they're refrigerated or not, and pack a powerful punch in antioxidants and other beneficial properties.
Primary benefits. Garlic is the superstar in this category, and has shown to have antibiotic, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to carrying a full load of antioxidants, which may help prevent cancer. The Mayo Clinic states, "Garlic is well known for its potential benefits to heart health, especially lowering high levels of lipids in the blood. And, some evidence indicates that garlic may relax smooth muscles and dilate blood vessels." Most of the vegetables in the allium family have similar properties, but in varying degrees. All are considered helpful in lowering "bad" cholesterol, preventing atherosclerosis, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. There may even be a link between consumption of allium and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
How to get the maximum benefit. While any consumption of allium foods may be beneficial, the best way to get the nutrients they have to offer is to eat them raw. These make excellent salad vegetables, and they deliver the most flavor and texture when they're uncooked. Alternatively, fresh chopped garlic can be added to cooked dishes in the last few minutes of heat exposure, or onions and shallots can be lightly steamed separate from the main dish to avoid cooking it as much. Dried garlic or onion powder has lost a lot of the beneficial nutrients of the fresh vegetable, but it's more concentrated and can still be beneficial. There are supplements on the market that attempt to deliver all of the nutrients of garlic, but nothing can quite replace the raw form.