When it comes to health, we are all constantly on the lookout for ways to boost our health and overall wellness. Often, we look to food as a means by which to achieve these goals. That seems to make logical sense. We’re all constantly told ‘you are what you eat’. If that is indeed the case then it is vital that we take a long, hard look at what we’re putting into our bodies. One food which seems to have an outstanding track record when it comes to health benefits is garlic. Garlic has long been held in high esteem. In fact, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates apparently used to prescribe garlic for all manner of health conditions. These benefits are not just based on ancient history. Modern science has since confirmed that garlic does in fact benefit the body.
What is garlic?
Garlic is a plant in the onion (allium) family. It’s closely related to onions, leeks and shallots which also fall within the onion family. It comes in the form of a bulb and each bulb contains around 10-20 cloves. It grows pretty much everywhere in the world which is what makes it such a popular flavouring for so many dishes. It’s best known for its use in cooking where it provides a strong smell and elevates the taste of dishes. Although these days, we know garlic for its kitchen properties, historically it was only used as a medicine. Major ancient civilisations including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Babylonians and Chinese all used it for its medicinal properties. It’s now widely understood by scientists that these health benefits are due to the sulphur compounds which are related when garlic is crushed or chopped.
What health benefits does garlic offer?
Many of us enjoy the addition of garlic in meals like pizza, pasta and stir fry. But the benefits of adding garlic to your food might be more far-reaching than simply making your food taste good.
Full of nutrients and low in calories
Garlic, relative to its small size and calorie content is incredibly nutritious. According to Healthline, just one clove of garlic contains:
- 2% of your daily value of Manganese
- 1% of your daily value of Vitamin C
- 2% of your daily value of Vitamin B6
- 1% of your daily value of selenium
- 0.06 grams of fibre
- Calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B1
And this same amount contains just “4.5 calories 0.2 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbs”. It seems that garlic contains a little of almost every single nutrient which the body requires. This means that garlic is nutrient-dense without being calorie-dense. Making it one of the few options for adding flavour without excess calories.
Garlic, mostly in the form of supplements have long been used to boost the immune system. This is something we could all benefit from in 2021 whilst Covid-19 and its various strains and mutations are still at large. A 12-week long study found that introducing a daily garlic supplement reduced the prevalence of colds in participants by 63%. Other studies have found that it can also help to reduce the symptoms associated with colds and flu. The duration of the illness was also reduced by up to 70%. Despite these statistics, many scientists still maintain that more research needs to be done in order to prove definitively that garlic helps to combat illness. However, it seems that a garlic supplement could only really be beneficial.
Reduce blood pressure
Heart attacks and strokes are currently some of the worlds leading killers. These diseases are largely caused by high blood pressure (hypertension). Garlic, again in supplement form, seems to have a significant impact on reducing blood pressure. One study found that “600–1,500 mg of aged garlic extract” was as effective for reducing blood pressure as the drug Atenolol over a 24 week period. The dosage to achieve this effect is quite high and equates to about 4 cloves of garlic a day.
There are two types of cholesterol, one is good and one is bad. LDL is the ‘bad’ one and HDL is the ‘good’ type of cholesterol. In sufferers of high cholesterol, taking garlic supplements reduced the total and/or LDL cholesterol by up to 15%. Garlic appears to have a direct impact on LDL cholesterol and works to lower it but has no effect on the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Garlic is full of antioxidants that aid in supporting the body to protect against ‘oxidative damage’. Oxidative damage comes from free radicals and contributes to the ageing process. Garlic supplements have been shown to increase antioxidant enzymes. They also reduce significantly ‘oxidative stress’ in people with high blood pressure. The combination of reducing cholesterol and blood pressure alongside the antioxidants is hugely important. Studies have shown that it may be beneficial in reducing the risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is worth mentioning however that again, these benefits only come from a high dosage of garlic supplements.
The addition of garlic or garlic supplements into the diet seems to have an overall beneficial impact on humans. However, it’s almost impossible to prove that garlic helps you live longer. What it does do is decrease risk factors such as high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol. The fact that it aids the immune system also seems to indicate that overall, garlic can have a beneficial impact on the body which may help you live a longer, healthier life.