Garlic is bursting with flavor and aroma, and apparently, with health benefits, too. In fact, it is among the top ten healthiest foods on the planet! But the question is, are you consuming enough of it?
From fighting common colds to lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease, there are truly tons of reasons why you need to savor garlic in your regular nutrition.
Read on as we break down in a list the uses of garlic, its benefits to health, and possible side effects. We’ve also included tips on how you can add garlic to your diet so you can reap its health perks.
What is Garlic?
Garlic is a perennial plant that belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family along with onion, leek, and chive. It grows underground in the form of flavorful bulbs, which produce a powerful aroma, and are covered in a papery skin.
Garlic has long been used for medicinal and culinary purposes. It was believed that garlic prevents and cures a vast array of health conditions including bronchitis, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, intestinal worms, diabetes, and fevers.
Garlic is also commonly used as a flavoring ingredient. It is typically added to recipes as a flavor enhancer or roasted and used for condiments and spreads.
Garlic: Nutrition Facts
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows that garlic is a great source of important nutrients that offer several health perks.
According to the USDA Nutrient Database, a hundred-gram of garlic packs the following vitamins and minerals:
- 149 calories
- Fiber (2.1 grams)
- Potassium (401 milligrams)
- Calcium (181 milligrams)
- Phosphorus (153 milligrams)
- Vitamin C (31. 2 milligrams)
- Magnesium (25 milligrams)
- Sodium (17 milligrams)
Garlic also contains iron, zinc, vitamins A, B-6 and K, and small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
What are the Health Benefits of Garlic?
Rich in important nutrients and powerful compounds, garlic is prized for its impressive benefits to health. Let’s take a closer look at how garlic can benefit your health and wellness:
It prevents common colds and other infections
Several studies show that garlic has the potential to prevent and treat several diseases due to its antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.
Its principal bioactive compound called allicin was also found to play a crucial role in fighting microorganisms that cause common colds and other infections.
One study found that people who took allicin-containing garlic supplement during the cold season had significantly fewer colds compared with the placebo group.
It was also found that the garlic takers if infected with colds, recovered much faster. The study attributes these favorable effects to garlic’s active component, allicin.
It helps control blood pressure
Garlic has also been touted for its ability to lower blood pressure. Studies also show that garlic is effective in reducing blood pressure in patients with uncontrolled hypertension.
The study found that patients with treated but uncontrolled hypertension recorded a lower systolic blood pressure after taking four capsules of aged garlic extract daily over a three-month period.
Another study concluded that garlic exhibits the potential to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive individuals “similarly to standard BP medication”.
It reduces the risk of heart disease
According to the World Health Organization, ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also revealed that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, followed by cancer. These data highlight the importance of heart health.
Luckily, garlic has also been prized for its ability to prevent and treat various cardiovascular and metabolic diseases such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.
A scientific review of studies concluded that garlic consumption has a significant cardioprotective effect in both human and animal studies. Authors of the review, however, emphasized that the proper use of garlic should be optimized.
It prevents cognitive decline
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia or mental decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Additionally, Alzheimer’s deaths have also increased to a whopping 145% between 2000 and 2017.
It’s a good thing that garlic also contains antioxidants that fight oxidative damage, which can contribute to such cognitive diseases.
One study found that aged garlic extract (AGE) and its active compound S-Allyl cysteine (SAC) contain “significant neuroprotective and neurorescue properties”.
The authors of the study concluded that the combination of AGE and SAC can be used to develop future drugs to cure Alzheimer’s disease.
It prevents the risk of cancer
Garlic was also found to possess chemo-preventive powers, with studies finding a link between increased garlic intake and reduced cancer risk.
The National Cancer Institute, in fact, recognized garlic’s potential in preventing certain types of cancer including cancers of the breast, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, and colon.
One French study found that an increased intake of garlic, onion and cereal fiber lowered the risk of breast cancer in patients diagnosed with primary breast carcinoma.
A population-based study also discovered that increased consumption of fruits and veggies including garlic prevented several chronic diseases including pancreatic cancer.
It may improve athletic performance
Garlic has been used in ancient Greece to reduce fatigue, provide strength, and improve the work capacity of laborers. Garlic was also given to Olympic athletes in Greece as a “performance enhancing” agent.
One study showed that garlic reduced heart rate at peak exercise and improved exercise tolerance of patients with coronary artery disease. A separate study concluded that garlic may be a promising anti-fatigue agent.
It regulates blood sugar
Not only is garlic helpful in lowering blood pressure but blood sugar as well. One study found that garlic consumption helped lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Researchers also concluded that garlic may help manage diabetes complications in affected individuals.
A separate study conducted on diabetic rats showed that raw garlic not only reduces blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides but reverses the abnormal quantities of protein in urine as well.
In another study, it was found that garlic significantly improved blood cholesterol levels in type 2 diabetes patients. The findings of these studies suggest that garlic may be beneficial for diabetic patients.
It prevents hair loss
Alopecia is the partial or complete absence of hair from body parts where it usually grows such as the head. Some of the main causes of alopecia include an abnormality in the immune system that affects hair follicles, genetics, and stress.
Garlic is also being used to treat alopecia or baldness. One study showed that the use of garlic gel significantly added to the therapeutic efficacy of topical betamethasone valerate.
The study concludes that garlic gel can be an effective complementary topical treatment for alopecia.
How Can You Add Garlic to Your Diet?
If you want to maximize the antimicrobial properties of garlic, it is best to use or consume it raw. Cooked garlic, however, still contains promising health effects. In fact, research shows that home-cooked garlic retains its antioxidant properties.
If you’re not sure how to maximize garlic’s culinary purpose, though, below are some appetizing ways to do just that:
Use garlic in sautéing your green veggies like kale, broccoli, and spinach
Add finely minced garlic to your homemade pesto, salad dressing, guacamole, and dips
Add chopped garlic and onion to canned tomatoes to make a salsa
Sprinkle your buttered toast with raw minced garlic
Blend garlic into hot sauce and use it for your tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas
What are the Potential Risks of Consuming Garlic?
Garlic is considered generally safe for consumption. However, some people may experience mild garlic side effects such as bad breath, gas, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting.
Some people also reported allergic reactions after taking garlic. If you have digestive problems, use garlic with caution as it can irritate the gastrointestinal tract as well.
People who will undergo surgery are, meantime, not advised to take garlic as it may increase the risk of bleeding. It is advised to stop garlic consumption two weeks prior to scheduled surgery.
Raw garlic may also cause irritation or even severe damage when applied directly to the skin, especially in people with overly sensitive skin.
It is also known to interact with certain drugs, particularly isoniazid, medications prescribed for HIV/AIDS, and saquinavir. Garlic was also found to have a moderate interaction with birth control pills, cyclosporine, warfarin, lovastatin, and anticoagulant drugs.
Before adding garlic to your diet, make sure to see your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking certain medications.
Garlic is full of impressive health potentials. Adding it to your diet may help prevent and treat certain health conditions like colds, infections, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
However, it is best to seek professional advice regarding garlic consumption if you have certain health problems or are taking prescription drugs as garlic may cause side effects and interactions.
Otherwise, feel free to add it to tasty recipes and savor the health benefits of garlic!