Garlic doesn’t hold back — not on its spicy taste nor on its pungent aroma. However, if you stop and take a closer look at the benefits of garlic, there really is a lot to love about this ancient bulb.
Garlic is the bulb of the Allium sativum plant. It comes from the same family as the onion, leek, chive, and shallot. And, the health benefits of garlic have actually been hailed for thousands of years…
Let’s dig down a little deeper.
The History of the Magic Bulb
It’s believed that garlic has been a part of human civilization from as far back as 2700 BC (as it was used in ancient China). Though the Sumerians of ancient Iraq (2600–2100 BC) are also believed to have been cultivating it around the same time.1 Believe it or not, Sanskrit records show that it was being used medicinally around 5,000 years ago in the region of India and Nepal. The early Egyptians, Chinese, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans have also shown evidence of using garlic as medicine.2
In ancient China, it was an extremely popular remedy for depression, owing to its stimulating effects. In ancient Indian medicine, it was used as a tonic to enhance appetite, to boost strength, and to treat coughs, rheumatism, and hemorrhoids. The Tibetans used them for stomach-aches
The Egyptians fed garlic to their slaves to make them strong and hardy. Their ancient tombs even contained clay sculptures and illustrations of the bulbs. King Tutankhamen himself was accompanied by garlic when he was laid to rest. And in ancient Israel, the bulbs were used as a blood pressure enhancer, to warm the body and to ward off parasites.3
Also, the great Greek physician, Hippocrates, who’s widely considered the “father of medicine”, embraced the spicy cloves as a remedy for lung complaints, purging toxins, and for abdominal growths.
In 1858, Louis Pasteur, the father of vaccinations and pasteurization, declared that garlic could kill bacteria, and as recent as the early 1900s people wore necklaces of our favorite stinky herb to ward off infectious diseases.4,5
Fact or Fiction: Are These Ancient Beliefs Legit?
Because garlic has had an epic history in folk medicine, many of us turn to it when we’re sick. But do these health benefits of garlic actually hold up in modern medicine?
In many cases, yes.
Researchers have long studied the effects of garlic in modern clinical trials and they’ve come across some interesting results…
The Benefits of Garlic
→ It can have an effect on the common cold: Research has shown that garlic may boost your immune system, leaving you less likely to get a cold or with the ability to recover faster.6
→ It can help with high cholesterol: In an analysis of sixteen trials, and 952 subjects, researchers found that garlic may indeed reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol.7
→ It may assist with cardiovascular risk factors: Another study showed a moderate decline in high blood pressure and a significant reduction in lipid peroxidation (which causes cell damage) in subjects treated with 250mg per day of garlic pearls.8
→ It aids heart health: There are currently many clinical studies linking garlic consumption to a reduced risk of chronic heart conditions.9
→ It may fight infections: Allicin is a compound found in garlic that’s shown significant antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral behaviors, including against the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.10 Allicin has proved so impressive over multiple studies that many believe it should be further investigated as an add-on to existing antibiotics.11
→ It may be protective against abnormal cell growth: Another potent compound found in garlic is allium. Allium is currently being actively studied for its seemingly protective properties on abnormal cell growth, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract.12
→ It may support and boost the immune system: In a study of 50 people with inoperable tumors, immune activity improved after taking an aged garlic supplement for 6 months.13
→ It may support brain function: An antioxidant-rich aged garlic extract may help prevent cognitive decline by protecting neurons death and improving learning and memory retention.14
→ It may reduce blood sugar levels: Scientists found that raw, cooked, or aged garlic extract can all help to regulate blood glucose and potentially lower the effects of some chronic blood sugar complications.15
Fun Ways to Add Garlic to Your Diet
Enjoying the benefits of garlic is easy if you’re an avid clove consumer who loves nothing more than eating whole pickled cloves from a jar. However, if you’re not totally in love with the taste of garlic there are still plenty of ways to reap the benefits of garlic in your cooking with a little more subtlety.
Here are some great ways to add this superfood to your diet:
- Add finely chopped garlic to pep up your kale, spinach, or broccoli.
- Roast potatoes with entire cloves and some olive oil. They’ll not only flavor the potatoes but you can eat the whole clove when you’re done.
- Take a raw garlic clove and slice it open. Rub one half over a freshly toasted sandwich for an instant taste boost. If you’re game, eat the clove afterward!
- Add minced, raw cloves to salad dressings.
- Rather than taking on the calories of garlic bread, make a dipping sauce from olive oil and minced cloves and dip small servings of bread instead.
- When you’re suffering from a cold, add a crushed garlic clove (or two!) to your hot lemon and honey tea. You can strain the garlic clove before serving or if you love the flavor, keep it in there.
- Bake a caramelized garlic tart.
- Toss minced cloves and green onions in with your scrambled eggs for a double allium boost.
- Add fresh garlic and a drizzle of olive oil to hummus before serving.
- Highlight the bulb as the chief ingredient in a roasted garlic soup.
- Roast mushrooms with fresh garlic and thyme.
- Pickle your own cloves just in time for cold and flu season.
- Ferment your own cloves for a homemade probiotic treat.
One Hardy Health Profile
Aside from all the wonderful health benefits of garlic that keep research scientists excitedly studying this magnificent bulb, garlic is also rich in nutrients.
A one-ounce serving of garlic contains:
- Manganese: 23% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)
- Vitamin B6: 17% of the RDA
- Vitamin C: 15% of the RDA
- Selenium: 6% of the RDA
- Fiber: 0.6 g
- Protein: 1.8 g
- Carbohydrates: 9 g
And all with just 42 calories.
The Truth About Garlic Breath
Just like the yin and yang, life often puts forth a seemingly contradictory opposite. There are the benefits of garlic and then there’s one powerful stench. In folklore, it is said that the bulbs can ward off vampires. But wearing a garland of garlic bulbs can be enough to ward off the living as well.
Garlic, much like onion, produces sulfuric compounds. When you chop or crush it, that wonder compound allicin is released but unfortunately, it also metamorphoses into some pretty smelly compounds. The worst one being allyl methyl sulfide. As many of us know from experience, this compound tends to not only affect the smell of our breath but also our sweat!
The good news is that researchers recently found that raw apple, raw lettuce, or mint leaves can significantly decrease all of garlic’s “volatiles” that are responsible for bad breath. This is because they contain chemicals that can destroy those sulfuric compounds.16
Perhaps a minty apple and lettuce digestif is in order after your next meal? Or you can invest in some odorless garlic supplements.
In the amounts that we usually consume in our cooking, the health benefits of garlic are pretty safe. However, some people may experience heartburn or an upset stomach from the spicy heat of raw cloves irritating the gastrointestinal tract.
Garlic has been found to interfere with the effectiveness of some drugs and may increase the risk of bleeding, so if you’re taking any blood thinners or if you need to undergo surgery, you should talk to your doctor before turning to garlic supplements.17
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