Fried, roasted, or raw—there is no doubt that garlic can add flavor to most of the savory dishes we cook and make them extra delicious. This is one of the reasons why garlic is considered a culinary classic and is used in every cuisine in the world. But garlic is not just an irreplaceable ally in the kitchen—it is also a medicinal master. Throughout the years, studies have shown that garlic is one of the most beneficial food ingredients.
Garlic was used by ancient civilizations for its nutritional value and also as a medicinal remedy. Legend says that Egyptian pharaohs gave garlic to the slaves who were building pyramids to keep them strong. And during World War I, garlic was used as an antiseptic to clean wounds. The tradition of using garlic as a food ingredient and medicine has continued to present time. Garlic is a great source of vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, and other minerals such as calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. In addition to its nutritional value, garlic as medicine can enhance our health thanks to one of its sulfur compounds, called allicin, that forms when a garlic clove is chopped or chewed. So, what exactly are the health benefits of garlic?
Garlic for Cold and Infections
One study, conducted over a 12-week period between November and February, evaluated the effects of a garlic supplement and revealed that the group that took garlic had fewer colds and recovered faster than the group that took a placebo. Another study found that aged garlic extract reduced the severity of cold and flu symptoms. These experiments show that garlic might help prevent colds and other infections by exterminating the bacteria that cause them.
Garlic for Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
Heart attacks and strokes are often caused by high blood pressure, so it is crucial to keep hypertension under control. Experiments found that garlic supplementation can reduce blood pressure in people at risk. In one study, aged garlic extract at high doses was as effective as drugs at reducing blood pressure. Another study used aged garlic extract as a treatment for people who couldn’t control hypertension with medication, and the results showed that taking four capsules of aged garlic extract daily for three months lowered blood pressure. These experiments show that high doses of garlic supplementation or aged extract can work as well as some medications, improving tolerability and reducing side effects that standard medicines can have.
High cholesterol is also a common cause of heart disease, and garlic can lower the levels of bad cholesterol, also called LDL cholesterol. A study compared the effects of garlic powder tablets, anethum (medicinal herb) tablets, and placebo tablets in patients suffering from hyperlipidemia (high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood), and found that garlic tablets reduced LDL cholesterol, while anethum and placebo had no effect.
Garlic for Diabetes
High cholesterol is connected to diabetes, so garlic can have a positive impact on people who suffer from this condition. A study showed that garlic reduced LDL cholesterol and also moderately raised HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in patients with type 2 diabetes. Another experiment conducted on rats showed that garlic may improve the health of diabetics. The rodents received a daily extract of raw garlic for seven weeks and experienced lowered glucose (blood sugar), cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Garlic for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Garlic has antioxidant properties. Extracts of fresh garlic, aged over a prolonged period to produce aged garlic extract (AGE), contain antioxidant phytochemicals and may help prevent oxidative modification of DNA, which plays a role in aging and disease. As high cholesterol and heart disease increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, garlic can help lower the risk of developing these conditions by reducing high blood pressure and bad cholesterol thanks to its antioxidant properties. AGE enhances the cellular antioxidant enzymes and prevents cognitive decline by protecting neurons from Abeta, the staple of Alzheimer’s disease. Given these great benefits, it is easy to see how garlic could also help you live longer.
Garlic for Cancer
Garlic, often combined with other vegetables and fruits, also seems to play a role in cancer prevention and treatment. Studies show that garlic might help to prevent certain types of cancer, especially those that occur in the gastrointestinal tract. A study of cancer patients showed that garlic consumption, combined with onions and cereal fibers, also reduced the risk of breast cancer risk. Another study on pancreatic cancer found that pancreatic cancer risk was lower in people who ate larger amounts of garlic and onions. Garlic intake might also be effective in cancer treatment by inducing cell cycle arrest when added to cancer cells.
Garlic for Bone Health
Rat experiments showed that garlic can reduce bone loss, and studies conducted on women found that garlic can have a positive effect on postmenopausal osteoporosis. Menopause is one of the important causes of osteoporosis, which results from estrogen deficiency—and research shows an association between increasing inflammatory cytokine activity and postmenopausal bone loss. The experiment produced some evidence for an immunomodulatory effect of garlic, as well as the modulation of cytokine production.
Cooking with Garlic
In addition to all these excellent health benefits, it’s easy to include garlic in your diet because it can be incorporated into most savory recipes. Garlic is also an alternative to salt, which can raise blood pressure. Just take a clove of garlic, mince it and sprinkle it on top of your favorite recipes. Minced garlic is the perfect addition to a simple vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, and pepper!
There are many garlic varieties. Most recipes don’t call for a specific type of garlic, but becoming familiar with the basic varieties can help you experiment with the flavors that different types of garlic bring to the table. Common varieties include softneck garlic, hardneck garlic, creole garlic, and black garlic.
Softneck garlic is the most common type—this variety is best consumed raw or lightly cooked. Hardneck garlic has a strong, almost spicy flavor—it is perfect for meat roasts and vinaigrettes. Creole and black garlic are rarer; the first is typical of warmer climates and appreciated for its pungent flavor; the second has a rich taste and can add a great umami flavor to your dishes.
Regardless of the variety you choose, keep in mind that the compound allicin forms when garlic is crushed and it is raw. If you cook it before crushing it, it will lose some of its health benefits. Consume garlic raw, or cut it, and leave it out for a while before you incorporate it into your dishes—experts suggest allowing garlic to stand for 10 minutes after chopping before cooking it.
For health benefits for adults, the World Health Organization recommends a daily dose of about one garlic clove, consumed raw. Store garlic at room temperature and keep it dry (to prevent it from sprouting). If you have a bleeding disorder, talk to your doctor before increasing your garlic intake.