health benefits of garlic
A little bit of garlic in a dish can go a long way—and also really elevate your meal. Its pungent scent and identifiable taste can be traced back to garlic’s abundant sulfur compounds. It’s those same compounds that give this little allium its robust health properties.
But is garlic really the disease-fighter you think it is? We dug into the science and found a few reasons to add more garlic to your diet.
First, what’s in a clove of garlic? Here are the nutrition facts:
In a clove of raw garlic, there are:
- Calories: 5
- Protein: 0g
- Fat: 0g
- Saturated fat: 0g
- Carbohydrate: 1g
- Sugars: 0g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sodium: 1mg
In a clove of cooked garlic, there are:
- Calories: 3
- Protein: 0g
- Fat: 0g
- Saturated fat: 0g
- Carbohydrate: 1g
- Sugars: 0g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sodium: 5mg
Looking at these numbers it’s that much clearer that there isn’t much difference nutritionally between raw and cooked garlic. And so if there’s one form you prefer over another, lean into it. From a macronutrient perspective—meaning fat, protein and carbohydrate—garlic doesn’t deliver a lot. But there are some health reasons to eat up.
What are the science-backed health benefits of eating garlic?
In the past, garlic has been used and recommended for its anti-infective properties: lab studies have shown garlic to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties. Garlic is also a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the “good” bacteria in your digestive tract, which further supports your overall health (learn more about prebiotics and why they’re good for you). Add to the list some specific health boons, which we’ve outlined below.
Improves blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, lowering it has the potential to both reduce your risk of stroke and developing heart disease. A meta-analysis that looked at over 900 people—published in The Journal of Nutrition in February 2016—found that those who took garlic supplements significantly lowered their blood pressure, if they had high blood pressure. (Those with normal or “prehypertensive” blood pressure didn’t reap notable rewards.)
What is it about garlic that is so helpful? Experts think the compounds in garlic deliver a one-two punch: both relaxing arteries and reducing their constriction, which are actually separate mechanisms that can help. (Learn more about the best and worst foods to eat for healthy blood pressure.)
Garlic can help lower high cholesterol
Research shows that garlic supplements can slightly lower cholesterol levels—if taken for at least 2 months. On average, total cholesterol dropped 17 points and LDL dropped 9. Still, a small reduction in cholesterol can have a sizeable impact on your future heart disease risk: a mere 8 percent decrease in cholesterol has the potential to lower your cardiovascular disease risk by 38 percent. More research is needed, but eating more garlic won’t hurt and may even help. (Eat more of these 10 foods to help lower cholesterol.)
May help prevent blood clots—in higher doses.
In a study that compared garlic supplements at 3 doses to Plavix (a blood clot prevention prescription medication), researchers found higher doses of garlic pills to be quite effective at blood clot prevention. That said, other research didn’t find any benefit to taking garlic pills for preventing blood clots. Thus, the scientific jury is still out, but taking garlic supplements or eating garlic won’t hurt, per se.
Boosts your immunity
Research shows that garlic supplements might help cut the number of colds you have, how long you’re actually sick, and reduce illness symptoms. And also because of its anti-inflammatory properties, garlic could also protect you against future chronic disease.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that aged garlic extract helped decrease cold and flu symptom severity and decrease the number of days of work or school missed due to illness. Garlic won’t fight off colds, but it may help reduce symptoms. Again, there’s no magic pill to enhance immunity (these tips on healthy immunity and what to eat and avoid can help) but eating more garlic doesn’t seem like a bad place to start.
What’s the best way to eat garlic?
Again, it depends on your preferences. There are plenty of healthy garlicky recipes, you can add garlic to fish, vegetables, pasta, casseroles, soups and more.
But for the biggest nutrition punch you want to make sure you crush or chop it thoroughly and let it sit for a few minutes, which will activate enzymes that make those sulfur compounds that much more available to your body. Put another way, it makes the health benefits greater when you crush or chop your cloves—then wait—before eating garlic.
Living in an era where the nitty gritty details of disease and illness are readily available on the web has made people realise – immunity matters.
Certainly, unless we come up with a vaccine for every known condition, there’s no way we can make sure that we’ll never be infected. But if there’s anything that modern medicine has taught us, it’s that our first line of defence is the integrity of our health.
There are lots of different ways to help your immune system with the work that it does. And among the most direct channels through which we can impact our body’s natural defences is our diet.
Organic food sources have shown the most promise in terms of boosting our immune response, and among the most effective is none other than garlic. Packed with properties that fight off infections and enhance physiological processes, garlic might just be the health defence we need in these perilous times.
Antibiotic and Antiviral Effects
The most well-published and heavily researched reason for garlic’s immune boosting effects involves its ability to obliterate bacteria and viruses. Believed to help keep infection at bay, garlic was employed in both World Wars to combat gangrenous growth on open wounds.
The unassuming vegetable does this by way of its potent sulphur content. When chewed, crushed, sliced, or otherwise mechanically deformed, a compound in the bulbs called alliin is converted to allicin.
This main active ingredient is unstable and easily converts into a broad range of over 100 different kinds of sulphuric compounds. That’s basically how garlic gets its signature aroma.
Once they enter your system, these compounds work hand-in-hand with white blood cells and improve the body’s response to foreign invaders like viruses and bacterial infections.
Doctors and pharmacists have yet to discover a cure or a vaccine for the common cold. But some studies have found that consuming garlic can improve your resistance to certain viral infections.
One such study provided one group of respondents with a garlic supplement and another group with a placebo. They discovered that those who took garlic were 63% less likely to contract the common cold.
Those of the garlic-taking respondents that did get the cold manifested symptoms for a much shorter period of time. These individuals were sick for only a third of the duration of the time compared to those who took placebos.
Improved Heart Health
Medical studies have discovered that garlic might provide benefits in terms of heart health, especially when it comes to high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Some researchers vouch for the antioxidant benefits of garlic, which are said to help reduce free-radical damage to the lining of the blood vessels. This in turn can help normalise blood pressure and improve circulatory function.
But more than that, the intake of garlic has been linked with reduced levels of homocysteine. High levels of this amino acid are directly connected with increased concentrations of cholesterol.
And because your body works as a whole, optimising the function of the heart and circulatory system can directly affect the immune response.
And of course, let’s not forget garlic’s role in combating inflammation. Researchers discovered that garlic is full of
This benefit has been widely studied in the fields of cancer and arthritis treatment, where inflammation is one of the main concerns for management.
Scientists and doctors suggest that garlic can shift inflammation from a pathologic-mediated pro-inflammatory reaction to a host-mediated immune response.
Simply put, this means that the dietary intake of garlic can support the body in regulating certain pathological inflammation responses. In effect, garlic may play a role in the deceleration of tumour formation and the management of arthritic symptoms.
Known as one of garlic’s most shining benefits, the antifungal properties of this miracle herb have been found to single-handedly eliminate various mild to moderate skin infections.
Proven effective against jock itch, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and even yeast infection to name a few, garlic has even been found to work better at inhibiting and treating certain fungal infections than some types of pharmaceutical formulations.
Even for skin infections where garlic can’t completely clear away the infective agent, it has shown benefits in that it can inhibit the spread of fungus or bacteria. Used as a supplementary treatment alongside medication, garlic can minimise the risk of an infection getting out of hand.
The Many Wonderful Ways to Use Garlic
A word to the wise – heat has been found to degrade the wealth of chemical compounds, sulphurs, and antioxidants in garlic. So, if you want to reap the full power of its benefits, you might be better off taking that stuff raw.
But there are a multitude of ways through which you can enjoy the advantages of this miracle vegetable instead of simply chewing it as is, and each unique method brings a little something different to the table.
Garlic oil is essentially garlic-infused olive oil. To make the magical elixir, all you need to do is toss a few chopped garlic cloves into a jar of extra virgin olive oil and have it steep for a night or two. Do note that it’s recommended to use heart-healthy oil like olive oil instead of any typical cooking oil to further enhance the immune-
When stored properly in a fridge, this oil formula can last for up to a month. Garlic oil benefits us in that it can be used in a wide variety of ways. Used for cooking, the oil can naturally and effortlessly infuse your food with the healthy benefits of the miracle vegetable. As a salad dressing, you can expect the same thing.
But what’s particularly interesting about garlic oil is that it can also be used as a topical treatment. Used to prevent infection on wounds and as a treatment for fungal infections like ringworm and athlete’s foot, garlic oil can become your all-in-one healing staple.
Mince a few cloves, toss them into a jar of water, and leave it in the fridge overnight. That’s how easy it is to make garlic water. Although it might not have a shelf life as long as that of garlic oil, this garlic infused solution also provides a wealth of benefits.
One of the main benefits of drinking garlic water is that low-tolerance taste buds might find garlic water to be far more manageable than the burning flavour of raw garlic. Garlic water can also be used to clean wounds and wash other sorts of skin infections.
And of course, let’s not forget that preparing a litre or two of garlic water can make it much easier to get your daily dose of the vegetable’s benefits throughout the day. Simply carry it to work or on your next trip to the gym to get a refreshing splash of immune boosting goodness.
Here’s one for those with a more evolved palate. Combining the benefits of garlic with the delightful taste of sweetened tea, garlic tea is a simple recipe that’s perfect for those lazy afternoons at home.
In a cup of hot water, add one or two minced cloves of garlic. Then add a teaspoon of honey and mix it all together. Steep the garlic until its juices infuse with the water, and down the beverage as is, with the little minced bits of garlic still incorporated.
This doesn’t only provide you with the benefits of garlic, it also incorporates the well-known health advantages of hot water and another powerful antioxidant food – honey.
Garlic with Honey
On the topic of honey, some people have found that combining the sweet nectar of Mother Nature with the potent chemistry of garlic can prove to double their effects. And while it might seem like an odd combination, it’s worth noting that honey’s thick syrupy consistency can mask the raw, spicy flavour of the potent vegetable very well.
Although research is scarce, there are publications that claim that eating garlic and honey on an empty stomach can optimise digestion. Together, these two powerful natural health remedies work to release toxins from the gut, clearing away waste material and preparing your system to optimally digest whatever food you eat throughout the day.
Anyone suffering from issues concerning digestion might find it beneficial to combine honey and garlic to jump-start and support healthy food metabolism. Two tablespoons of honey mixed with a clove or two of minced garlic taken as a morning supplement can help bring these benefits to bloom.
It’s true – subjecting garlic to direct heat is discouraged for those who want to leverage the full benefits of the vegetable. But even then, cooking the ingredient won’t completely erase what it can do for your body. Albeit at a milder rate, cooked garlic can still permeate your system with its health and immune boosting properties.
One tasty way to enjoy the benefits and the flavour of garlic would be to turn them into chips. Sliced thinly and fried until golden brown, fried garlic chips can have you snacking all day long. When prepared in canola or olive oil, the benefits are further highlighted by the heart-healthy benefits of your chosen oil.
The main benefit of fried garlic is that it is more
Black garlic is literally what its name suggests – it’s garlic that’s turned black. Made through a process of fermentation, black garlic is an up-and-coming trend that’s gaining the attention of the health-conscious. To make it, you’ll need a slow cooker, some patience, and a few bulbs of peeled garlic.
Aged for two to three weeks in high humidity and heat, black garlic undergoes certain chemical reactions that may impact its overall effects when consumed. According to research, black garlic might contain slightly more antioxidants than regular garlic. It’s also been found to show higher biological activity than its unprocessed counterpart.
While studies are scarce, a few publications suggest that eating black garlic can increase the benefits of the vegetable, and pose a variety of other advantages that garlic on its own might not produce. These include weight loss support and increased libido, to name but two.
Finally, it helps to know that while black garlic might be slightly more potent, it’s also far easier on the gut. Individuals who find that white garlic doesn’t completely agree with their stomach might discover that black garlic is much more tolerable, working its magic without causing any upset.
Nature’s Pharmacy in a Single Bulb
Way back when modern medicine was yet to take shape, garlic was nature’s all-in-one pharmacy. Packed with the chemistry that combats everything from infections and inflammation, to digestion, heart health and more, garlic proves to be a wonderful natural solution against a wealth of common conditions today.
And even with the evolution of medicine, we find that garlic remains a staple in the diets of many health-conscious consumers worldwide. If not for its overwhelming health benefits, then simply for the flavour it lends to any unassuming dish.
Certainly, it’s not going to be a vaccine or a remedy for all the diseases, illnesses, and infections that plague our world, but anyone who wants to stay on the safe side of disease might find that there’s not a lot to lose with a clove or two a day.