If you’ve ever heard of garlic being called “The Stinking Rose”, figuring out where the first part of it came from doesn’t take time at all! The latter, however, could be either because of how healthy garlic is, or how delicious it tastes. Either way, it’s a fitting title.
Historically, garlic has been grown for over 5000 years, across the globe. Ever since, it has accumulated a vast heritage of supernatural, culinary and scientific distinction.1
Here’s summarising the countless health benefits of garlic.
Garlic and Overall Health
Garlic is a very rich source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese. It also contains trace amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B1 – probably the reason garlic supplementation has been shown to prevent and reduce the severity of the flu and common cold.2, 3 Overall immunity is also increased since it has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity.4
Garlic is even a good source of selenium, which keeps thyroid function strong and consistent, along with iodine. Scientists call garlic a “seleniferous” plant, because it can absorb selenium from the soil even from regions with unfavourably low amounts.5
When the hormone ‘oestrogen’ begins to decline during menopause, issues like heart disease and osteoporosis occur. A study on menopausal women found that an indicator of oestrogen-deficiency was reduced with a daily dose of a garlic extract. That’s possibly because certain compounds in garlic can act like oestrogen.6
Some evidence suggests that garlic can enhance the way our body uses iron, by increasing a protein called ferroportin. This protein is like a transporter that removes stored iron from our cells and makes it available wherever needed. More research is required to understand how this happens – this can be useful in cases of iron deficiency and anaemia.7, 8
Did you know that garlic was given to the original Olympic athletes in Greece?1 It may help with exercise performance by increasing muscle endurance.9
All this in such a low calorie food – and there’s more!
Garlic and Diseases
Most of the health effects of garlic (possibly including many listed above) are caused by one of its many sulphur-containing compounds, called allicin. This compound is even responsible for the signature garlic smell.
The sulphur compounds in garlic also increase the enzymes that detoxify the body. This helps us in two ways:
1] Some of these enzymes have antioxidant properties. This is why garlic may be useful for everything from skin protection and cognitive health, to lowering the risk of diseases like cancer.4
2] It can counter the ill-effects of toxic pollutants and heavy metals. One study showed that garlic given to the employees of a car battery plant reduced levels of lead (an excess of which can lead to organ failure) in their blood. In this four-week period, some signs of toxicity they were experiencing were also diminished.10
Most notably, however, are the effects of garlic on cardiac health. This is because it is known to:11
– Reduce blood pressure by making blood vessels relax.
– Reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol, which causes many heart problems.
– Decrease blood clotting (clots can sometimes block narrowed blood vessels).
The Charaka-Samhita, a 2000-year-old medical text from ancient India, recommends garlic for the treatment of heart disease and arthritis.1
Garlic is now also being considered as an addition to weight management products. Other than its taste, garlic may be able to deter the formation of fat cells from their predecessors. It also showed some promise in reducing the inflammation (undesired immune response) in fat cells, the underlying cause of obesity-related diseases. This work is still very premature, but seems promising.12
Using Garlic in Our Diet
Found in several dishes in almost every cuisine, garlic complements most savoury dishes – particularly soups, sauces and breads.
You can increase the health benefits you receive from garlic by chopping or crushing it. That’s because allicin is made by an enzyme in garlic that only comes into play when the clove is ruptured. It’s best to let it sit after you’ve chopped it or crushed it for at least 5 to 10 minutes to allow this to happen.13-15
It’s also best to consume garlic raw. This preserves the healthy sulphur compounds in garlic and also the vitamin C. If you don’t like it raw, add it 5-15 minutes towards the end of the cooking time, to retain maximum flavour and nutrition. Avoid cooking it only in oil because oil heats up to very high temperatures.14
Worried about garlic breath?
One of the sulphur compounds in garlic cannot be broken down during digestion, which is why it needs to be released through our breath and sweat. There’s good news, though: substances in apples and milk seem to get rid of garlic breath by breaking down that specific compound. Lemon juice, green tea, parsley and spinach may also help.16
As you can see, garlic’s big reputation is well-deserved! Transform a meal into a healthy and tasty one by using this humble ingredient in your kitchen!
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12. Keophiphath M, et al. The Journal of nutrition 2009, 139(11): 2055-2060.
13. Mukherjee S, et al. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 2009, 57(15): 7137-7144.
14. Cavagnaro PF, et al. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 2007, 55(4): 1280-1288.
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16. Munch R, Barringer SA. Journal of Food Science 2014, 79(4): C526-C533.