7 Health Benefits of Garlic, According to a Nutritionist
Garlic may just be one of the most satisfying aromas and flavors used in cuisines around the globe. But it can also boast some pretty impressive health benefits. Here are seven reasons to incorporate more of this mouthwatering veggie into your eating routine, and a few tips for dealing with the worth-it garlic breath.
Garlic offers immune support
Some “immunity shots” incorporate garlic, and for good reason. Historically, garlic has been used to ward off illnesses, fight infections, and treat wounds. In fact, research lends credibility to garlic’s immune-bolstering capabilities. In one study, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11697022 146 volunteers were assigned to receive either a placebo or a garlic supplement daily for 12 weeks throughout the winter. The garlic group experienced significantly fewer colds compared to the placebo group, and they recovered faster if they did get infected.
Newer research confirms that aged garlic extract may enhance immune cell function. In the study, healthy adults between 21 and 50 received either a placebo or aged garlic extract for 90 days. While there was no difference in the number of illnesses between the groups, those who received garlic had reduced cold and flu severity, fewer symptoms, and a smaller number of missed days of work or school.
It can boost heart health
In a recent review of previously published studies, scientists summarized the many ways garlic protects heart health. These include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as reducing artery stiffness and blood markers for inflammation. Other research shows that compared to a placebo, aged garlic extract can help slow the rate of progression of coronary artery calcification, a risk factor for cardiac events, including heart attack and stroke. In people with high cholesterol, garlic has been shown to reduce both total cholesterol and “bad” LDL, while slightly improving protective ”good” HDL. Researchers say the 8% reduction in total cholesterol seen in studies is associated with a 38% reduced risk of coronary events by age 50.
Garlic fights high blood pressure
Around the world, about 25% of adults have high blood pressure, and the condition is linked to seven million deaths each year. In one meta-analysis, garlic supplements were found to be more effective at curbing blood pressure compared to a placebo, especially in people diagnosed with hypertension. Another study found that garlic supplements have the potential to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension, while simultaneously lowering cholesterol and stimulating the immune system.
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It can protect from cancer
Garlic and other vegetables in the allium family, including onions and leeks, have been linked to a reduced risk of several types of cancer, including of the stomach, throat, prostate, and colon. Natural compounds in garlic are known to help selectively kill off cancer cells, and prevent cancer from growing and spreading.
Garlic supports brain health
In addition to supporting learning and memory, aged garlic extract may also help prevent cognitive decline by protecting brain neurons. The veg also helps fight against the brain changes known to be a precursor to neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s.
It's good for your gut
Garlic functions as a prebiotic, food for beneficial bacteria in the gut tied to immunity and positive mood. Research has also shown that aged garlic extract positively improves the diversity of microbes in the gut, including an increase in the number of beneficial and immune-stimulating bacteria.
It improves bone health
A high consumption of allium vegetables, including garlic, is associated with protection against hip osteoarthritis, the most common disabling joint condition affecting older adults. Scientists believe the plant’s natural compounds help fend off the breakdown of joint cartilage and bone.
Best ways to consume garlic
While many of the studies referenced above involve garlic supplements, I don’t recommend taking them without the guidance of your physician or a dietitian. In supplemental form, garlic can interact with medications or other supplements, or potentially trigger unwanted side effects that may include digestive upset, dizziness, insomnia, and increased bleeding risk.
Instead, reach for whole garlic. To maximize its effectiveness, crush fresh garlic, and then let it sit at room temperature. Research shows that this step releases an enzyme that boosts levels of garlic’s health promoting compounds, which peak about 10 minutes after crushing. After this resting time, add garlic to homemade extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette dressing, sautéed greens and other veggies, sir-frys, soups, stews, and savory nut butter sauces.
Getting rid of garlic breath
As for that garlic breath, the best way to combat it is to chew on fresh herbs, like mint or parsley, after a garlic-rich meal. Munching on an apple or lettuce can also help neutralize the sulfur compounds that give garlic its distinct scent.
Or try black garlic. Free from additives and preservatives, black garlic is made from whole garlic that’s been aged for a month in a special fermentation process under high heat. This process causes the garlic to develop a dark color, soft texture, and sweet taste. It’s been shown to pack twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic, and bonus: it won’t give you garlic breath like its unfermented cousin.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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