You likely know garlic well, as it is a popular ingredient in almost every culture’s cuisine around the world. Considered a potent sulfurous vegetable (yes, it’s considered a vegetable—it’s part of the onion family), the effects of garlic can be imbibed in a variety of ways from raw to fermented and sautéed to capsuled as dietary supplements.
Garlic’s nutritional qualities make it a highly medicinal food that has positive effects on overall health. The health benefits of garlic are confirmed by research, which shows it as an integral ingredient to fight degenerative disease, build a strong and healthy defense system, and so much more. Definitely makes the garlic breath worth it, doesn't it?
Learn some of the most powerful ways that garlic benefits your health, while also enhancing the flavors of your food.
1. Boosts Immune System
From eating raw garlic to taking dietary supplements of an organosulfur obtained from garlic, garlic has been shown to have supportive immune-boosting properties. Garlic is a triple-threat—antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial.
Garlic is also known for its high antioxidant levels, especially rich in four main chemical classes: alliin, allyl cysteine, allyl disulfide, and allicin. These antioxidant levels help protect your cells keeping you healthy and strong.
Although you have likely heard that garlic aids in the prevention of the common cold, studies showing its benefits against cold and flu viruses remain limited.
One study in 2011, however, examined a group of 146 participants receiving either a garlic supplement (allicin) or a placebo daily over 12 weeks. The participants were assessed for various cold and flu symptoms. The results showed a resounding benefit with taking garlic for immunity. The frequency, duration, and intensity of cold symptoms were each positively impacted by a regular dose of garlic.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Known as hypertension, chronically elevated blood pressure, aka high blood pressure, is a common condition. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nearly one in every three adults in the U.S. are affected by high blood pressure.
One popular remedy, tracing back to ancient texts as far as 1500 BC, is consuming garlic. Garlic is known to support healthy blood pressure through stimulating nitic oxide, causing a vasodilating response in the circulatory system.
One study based on a meta-analysis looked at 20 trials with a total of 970 participants. When participants were using garlic, there was a mean decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared with the placebo.
There is consistent evidence that garlic is a reliable and effective method in treating hypertension and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Garlic is a safe and tolerable alternative or complementary treatment to include in any high blood pressure protocol.
3. Helps Prevent Cancer
The strong aroma of garlic cooking on the stovetop goes beyond its delicious scent. The sulfur compounds that give garlic its robust flavor and smell are the same components that provide many cancer-fighting properties. Many of the phytonutrients found in garlic cloves have been associated with cancer prevention.
Eating more garlic has been shown to enhance cancer-fighting properties in a variety of cancers.
One study looked at a group of 345 participants diagnosed with primary breast carcinoma. According to the study, breast cancer risk decreased with increased consumption of garlic (combined with onion and cereal fiber).
A 2018 study examined the molecular and cellular activity of various cancer cells with garlic extract. The results showed inhibited growth of these various cancer cells in vitro and vivo (in a test tube and a living organism). The potency of the garlic extract was also shown to diminish with heat and processing suggesting that garlic is somewhat volatile.
Garlic is a promising ingredient to include in your diet for cancer prevention and inhibition.
4. Detoxifies and Supports Liver
Detoxication is a natural function of the human body when it is in a healthy state. Your liver is considered the primary detoxification organ. Ensuring you are detoxifying efficiently simply leads to greater wellness and health.
There are two primary phases of liver detoxification:
- In phase one, the liver supports the first line of defense against toxicity. In this phase, the liver breaks down toxins through oxidation.
- In phase two, the liver toxins that have been altered in phase one can now be conjugated (or linked to a molecule that will allow its excretion). This process is reliant on adequate nutrients, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and protein.
Research shows that garlic contains some of the specific amino acids and antioxidants that may be helpful in the phase two detoxification process, making garlic a great addition to your diet for optimal detoxification and cleansing.
5. Includes Anti-inflammatory Properties
Inflammation is a condition associated with almost every disease in the body. While inflammation can be acute or chronic, the treatment or management of inflammation in the body is imperative for health and vitality.
According to Harvard Medical School, food can be inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Processed foods high in sugar, additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients lead to more inflammation, while whole foods—low in sugars and high in antioxidants and phytonutrients—are more anti-inflammatory.
Garlic is one of these anti-inflammatory foods. One study looked at the inflammation response with regards to arthritis. The results showed a clear decrease in inflammation and arthritis symptoms. With high levels of sulfur compounds, specifically thiacremonone, garlic helps regulate the inflammatory response in the cells.
Garlic could be a useful addition to any anti-inflammatory regimen.
6. Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that acts on various functions of the brain and everyday living. Memory, cognitive function, and mental clarity are some of the aspects of brain function that are directly and negatively impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
Garlic has been shown to contain some of the necessary antioxidants and phytonutrients that protect the brain from the risk of the specific type of oxidative stress that can lead to worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Ways to Enjoy Garlic
Raw Garlic: Quick Kale Pesto
Raw garlic is a strong and pungent food that is versatile and tasty. Often used in dressings and pesto, raw garlic can pack quite a kick.
- 1 bunch of kale
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 cloves raw garlic
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/2 lemon, seeded and juiced
- 1/2 cup water (more or less depending on desired thickness)
- 1 pinch of salt (to taste)
- 1/2 cup nuts or seeds of choice (pumpkin, pine nut, walnut, sunflower)
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
Blend all ingredients in food processor.
Add water slowly to thin out the texture of the sauce.
Toss with your favorite pasta or zoodle, add as a topping to grilled salmon, steak, or tofu, or enjoy as a dip for your favorite raw vegetables.
Roasting garlic sweetens the flavor and softens the spice.
Try wrapping the entire garlic bulb in tin foil and baking in the oven or over a medium-hot grill. Once soft, mash on a piece of French baguette, combine with olive oil to spread on pizza dough in place of tomato sauce, mix into your favorite salsa, or mix into your mashed potatoes for a delicious mashed potato variation.
Black garlic is also known as fermented garlic and comes with many health benefits. the fermentation process enhances garlic’s antioxidant potency.
Try black garlic in spaghetti sauce, stir-fry sauce, atop a salad, or added to chili for an extra special flavor and nutritional boost.
Simmered Garlic: Medicinal Garlic Soup
Garlic soup is a highly medicinal soup that helps boost your immune system while reducing inflammation throughout the body. Many versions of this soup are found in an array of cultures from Spanish to French and Polish to Mexican. The recipe below calls for five to six whole heads of garlic—and that may sound like a lot of garlic—but with the right flavors to balance the soup (such as salt) you will find you quickly develop a love of this potent remedy.
- 5–6 whole heads of garlic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter or ghee
- 2 onions sliced
- 32 ounces of broth (chicken or vegetable)
- 2 cups milk of choice
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Sea salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350. Halve the heads of garlic across the cloves (do not peel). Pour the olive oil into a baking dish and place the garlic head halves cut side down on the dish. Cover to roast for approximately one hour or until cloves of garlic are fragrant and starting to brown.
While garlic is roasting, melt butter in a large pot and add sliced onions. Sauté over medium heat, stirring constantly until onions are translucent. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes.
Let garlic cloves cool slightly, then carefully pick up the shell of the garlic heads. Add peeled garlic cloves to the onion mixture in the pot.
Add broth. Simmer for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add milk of choice. Blend the soup until smooth. Serve warm.
The positive health effects of garlic seem to be endless. It is a dynamic and medicinal food that supports overall health and vitality as well as being a complementary treatment for many of today’s common health issues, so trust us when we say the garlic breath is definitely worth it. There are endless ways to include garlic in your diet so be sure to give a few a try and take advantage of all the garlic benefits that you can.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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