Garlic is a must have in the kitchen. Not only it’s a staple ingredient in cooking but it also offers many health benefits.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a perennial plant belonging to the genus Allium and is closely related to the onions, leeks, chives, shallots and scallions.
Native to Central Asia, garlic has been cultivated for thousands of years and was used as a food and medicine in ancient times. In fact, it was conventionally used in ancient civilizations to reduce fatigue and increase the work capacity of laborers. Moreover, garlic was given to Olympic athletes in ancient Greece as it was believed to enhance their performance .
Today, garlic is cultivated throughout the world and is commonly used in many cultures as a seasoning or condiment due to its unique flavor and aroma.
Raw garlic has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor, which mellows and becomes sweet with cooking. The garlic’s pungent smell and aroma come from the sulfur-containing compounds, like alliin, allicin, ajoene, and diallyl disulfide. Among the Allium species, garlic contains the highest concentration of sulfur compounds.
Garlic Nutrition Facts
Garlic is low in calories and high in vitamin B6, vitamin C and manganese. It also a rich source of sulfur compounds, particularly a substance called allicin that is responsible for many of the health benefits associated with garlic.
Additionally, garlic contains a number of phenolic compounds, such as anthocyanins and phenolic acids. These polyphenols have been shown to have antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.
According to the USDA FoodData Central, a 3-gram clove of raw garlic contains:
- 4.5 calories
- 1 g of carbohydrate
- 0.2 g of protein
- 0.1 g of fiber
- 0.9 mg of vitamin C
- 0.1 mg of manganese
Benefits and Uses of Garlic
1. Prevents cancer
Multiple studies have shown an association between increased garlic intake and reduced risk of certain cancers.
A French study of 345 breast cancer patients found that increased garlic, onion and fiber consumption was associated with a statistically significant reduction in the risk of breast cancer .
In another study conducted at the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China, people who ate raw garlic at least twice per week during the 7 year study period had a 44 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer .
Additionally, one study conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area found that pancreatic cancer risk was 54 percent lower in people who ate larger amounts of garlic and onions compared with those who ate lower amounts. The study also showed that increasing the overall intake of vegetables and fruits may protect against pancreatic cancer .
2. Lowers blood pressure
Garlic supplements have been shown to reduce high blood pressure in those with untreated hypertension.
One study looked at the effects of aged garlic extract as an additional treatment to existing antihypertensive medication in patients with treated, but uncontrolled, hypertension.
The researchers found that those who took four capsules of aged garlic extract (960 milligrams) daily for 3 months had a reduction in systolic blood pressure of 10 mmHg than those treated with a placebo .
3. Prevents heart disease
Garlic has cardioprotective effects which can slow the buildup of plaque in arteries and help prevent the progression of heart disease.
In a randomized, double-blind study, researchers gave patients (aged 40 to 75 years) with metabolic syndrome either a placebo or a dose of 2,400 milligrams of aged garlic extract (AGE) daily.
A follow-up screening conducted a year after the initial screening showed that those taking the AGE experienced slower plaque accumulation and reduced soft plaque compared to the placebo group .
4. Lowers blood sugar levels
Several studies suggest that garlic may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin secretion in people with type 2 diabetes.
A meta-analysis study in 2017 looked at the effects of garlic supplements in the management of type 2 diabetes showed a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose within 1-2 weeks in the group taking 0.05-1.5 g of garlic supplement daily .
5. Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s
Garlic consumption may also help prevent cognitive decline and stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
A study published in Phytotherapy Research showed that a raw garlic extract could inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in human brain, which are involved in Alzheimer’s disease .
Another study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry found that aged garlic extract (AGE) can prevent the neuroinflammation in Aβ-induced rats. Neuroinflammation is an important factor contributing to cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease .
6. Prevents common cold and flu
Due to its antibacterial and antiviral properties, garlic is highly beneficial in preventing cold and flu.
In one study, people took either garlic supplements or a placebo for 12 weeks during cold season. Those who supplemented with the spice were less likely to get a cold, and if they did get a cold, they recovered faster than the placebo group .
To get the most out of its health benefits, chew one clove of raw garlic at least once a day. If you can’t bear the taste, try cutting cloves into pieces and swallowing them down like pills.
7. Treat acne
Garlic contains antibacterial agents which can kill acne-causing bacteria. Plus, garlic has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the swelling caused by breakouts.
Take a clove of raw garlic and cut it into few small pieces. Press the pieces to extract the juice and rub it on your pimple. Leave on for five minutes and then wash off with clean water.
8. Treat athlete’s foot
Garlic also fights fungus. If you have athlete’s foot, apply one clove of crushed garlic (mostly the juice) to the affected area. Leave it on for 30 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
Alternatively, you can soak your feet in a footbath consisting of warm water and crushed garlic for 30 minutes twice a week.
9. Acts as a natural antibiotic
Garlic has long been used as a natural antibiotic across the world. It has significant antimicrobial activity that help protect against certain infections.
For example, one study suggested that allicin could inhibit the growth of a variety of microorganisms, including antibiotic-resistant strains .
It also has been shown to strengthen the body’s immune defenses by increasing the number of white blood cells, which fight infections .
How Many Garlic Can You Eat in a Day?
The recommended daily amount of garlic ranges from 2-5 grams (about one clove) of fresh garlic. Supplement doses range from 600 to 1,200 mg per day.
Please note that some people may experience gastrointestinal upset, indigestion, and diarrhea when taking excessive amounts of raw garlic. In addition, garlic can increase the risk of bleeding so speak with your doctor before consuming raw garlic if you take blood thinners or are having surgery.
How to Choose and Store Garlic
When buying garlic, look for bulbs that are firm to the touch and plump. The outer skin should be dry with no dark, powdery patches under the skin.
For the best flavor and maximum health benefits, buy fresh garlic. Garlic in flake, powder or paste form is convenient, but it is not as good as fresh garlic.
Garlic is best stored at room temperature in a cool, dark and dry place with good air circulation. Whole garlic bulbs should keep fresh for several months. Keep in mind, however, that garlic’s lifetime decreases once you start removing cloves from the bulb.