Did you know brides in Greece carried bouquets of herbs and garlic on their wedding day instead of flowers? Maybe they wanted their marriage to be healthy. Civilizations down through the ages have used garlic for culinary purposes and for its health benefits. Garlic a staple in the Mediterranean diet, one of the healthiest diets in the world. Long known for its powerful taste and aroma that stays on the breath, garlic is in the same genus as another vegetable with a potent odor, the onion. What is less appreciated are the many health benefits that garlic offers. Read on and discover some compelling reasons to spice up your diet with fresh garlic cloves.
The Active Ingredient in Garlic
Garlic is an abundant source of a potent sulfur compound called allicin. Allicin gives garlic its characteristic aroma and is responsible for many of its health benefits. Besides the possible health benefits of allicin, garlic contains a surprising number of vitamins and minerals including vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium, and selenium. But the advantages of a diet rich in garlic extend beyond its nutritional profile and that’s what makes garlic so intriguing from a health standpoint.
Health Benefits of Garlic: Heart Health
Of all the spices people use to enhance the flavor or food, garlic might be the most heart-healthy of the bunch. One study compared blood pressure control with 600 to 1,500 milligrams of garlic extract relative to a popular blood pressure medication called atenolol. The garlic extract lowered blood pressure as much as atenolol. You could get an equivalent amount of garlic by eating 3-4 cloves of garlic daily. Some research suggests garlic modestly lowers blood LDL-cholesterol, although the verdict is still out. Some studies show garlic has little or no benefit on cholesterol. As you know, higher LDL-cholesterol is linked with a greater risk for heart disease.
Another way garlic may be beneficial for heart health stems from its effects on blood clotting. Garlic acts as a natural blood thinner. Blood thinners work by keeping platelets from sticking together to form a clot. Such clots can lead to a heart attack or stroke. A study published in the Nutrition Journal showed the active ingredients in garlic could slow progression of heart disease in people who already have it. Some research shows garlic lowers levels of homocysteine in the blood, a marker for inflammation as well as a higher risk for heart disease.
Health Benefits of Garlic: Effects on Exercise Performance
Some research suggests that garlic improves exercise performance by reducing fatigue and increasing exercise capacity. In animal studies, garlic enhances exercise endurance, giving the animal the ability to exercise longer. Research in humans has yielded conflicting results, although one study showed men and women with heart disease who supplemented with garlic oil for 6 weeks had improved exercise endurance.
Another study showed athletes that took an allicin supplement experienced less perceived exertion when they exercised and had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their bloodstream after working out. Could garlic help with recovery from exercise too? More studies are needed.
A study in obese rats showed those that were supplemented with aged garlic extract were protected against insulin resistance and weight gain when they ate a high-fat diet.
Health Benefits of Garlic: Brain Health
What’s healthy for your heart is also good for the blood vessels in your brain. Research shows aged garlic extract increases nitric oxide production inside blood vessels. Nitric oxide helps blood vessels dilate, including blood vessels in the brain, leading to a drop in blood pressure. Plus, garlic has antioxidant benefits. Antioxidants help offset the effects of free radicals that damage cells in the brain.
Health Benefits of Garlic: Keep Colds at Bay?
If there’s one illness that’s defied a cure, it’s the common cold. While not a cure for this common ailment, garlic may help keep colds at bay. In a 12-week study, almost 150 participants took garlic extract or a placebo for 4 months during the winter. Those who took the garlic supplement experienced two-thirds fewer colds. Plus, those who did end up catching a cold bug recovered faster. Keep that in mind as the cold season rolls around.
Garlic may not just fight viruses but also battle other tiny microorganisms that cause infection including bacteria and fungi. A study showed a cream made from one of the active ingredients in garlic worked as well as an anti-fungal medication for treating skin infections caused by fungi. Who would have thought?
Enjoy the Health Benefits of Garlic
While many of the studies used garlic supplements, you can get a comparable amount of garlic, along with the active ingredient allicin, by eating 2 or 3 cloves of garlic a day. The bad news? You may have to keep a pack of breath mints on hand due to garlic’s pungent aroma that lingers on the breath. An alternative to standard garlic is aged black garlic, available at some natural food markets. Aged black garlic has a rich, smoky flavor with a less pungent aroma.
Ready to tap into the health benefits of garlic? Get adventurous and add garlic to dishes you make at home. You can buy garlic already pureed into a paste as well as garlic oil at most supermarkets these days. Adding a little garlic to foods you prepare can really ramp up the flavor – and the health benefits. When preparing garlic, cook it lightly or eat it raw. Exposing garlic to high heat may destroy some of its health benefits.
If you’re taking a blood thinner or have a blood clotting disorder, don’t take a garlic supplement or add large quantities of garlic in your food. Talk to your doctor first. Since garlic has blood-thinning properties, it can increase your risk for bleeding.
Enjoy the health benefits of garlic!
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