It’s an aromatic kitchen cure, it’s been a medicinal staple for centuries, and if you believe the folklore, it even has the power to ward off vampires. The health benefits of garlic are abundant and longstanding. And it’s no secret that if Big Pharma could patent this healing herb, they would. Let’s take a closer look at why.
One of the most important health benefits of garlic is the role it plays in cardiovascular health. Chock-full of protective agents, including antioxidants to antimicrobials, garlic’s most potent disease-fighters are likely its sulfur compounds.
These sulfur compounds—namely allicin—help regulate blood pressure and circulation and can support optimal cholesterol levels. And all of these factors keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape and effectively combat heart disease.
Immune and Infection Protection
My favorite garlic story is about four condemned criminals who, in the 18th century, were forced to bury people who had died of the bubonic plague. Much to everyone's surprise, they didn’t succumb to the disease themselves. Their secret: They drank a concoction of mashed garlic in wine. In fact, to this day, you can still purchase a garlic potion in France called vinaigre des quatres voleurs (four thieves’ vinegar).
Obviously, one of the best-known health benefits of garlic is protection against infection. Allicin has potent antimicrobial activity and is effective against a variety of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. Bandages soaked in diluted garlic juice are reported to have saved many a wounded limb in World Wars I and II. Allicin also has antimicrobrial action when taken orally. Garlic, either fresh or in supplement form, is particularly effective against fungi, such as Candida albicans.
A number of epidemiological studies suggest that people who eat garlic often have a lower risk of developing different types of cancers, including malignancies of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast. Other studies reveal that the more garlic one consumes, the lower the risk of developing colorectal and stomach cancer.
Clinical trials are limited. So although I’m not willing to boldly claim that protection against cancer is one of the top health benefits of garlic since it lends such a nice taste and aroma to so many dishes, it can’t hurt to incorporate a clove or two into your daily menu.
Unlock the Full Health Benefits of Garlic
These health benefits of garlic coupled with its versatile culinary uses make it the most widely used herb in the whole world. One caveat: In order to reap the full health benefits of garlic, chop or crush it and set it aside for at least 10 minutes while you do your other kitchen prep work. This allows time for the enzyme allinase to go to work on the compound alliin to create the protective phytonutrient allicin, which, as I mentioned earlier, is thought to be responsible for most of garlic’s heath boons. After allicin has time to form, continue with your recipe and enjoy this potent garlic health benefit.
Here’s a delicious garlicky recipe you can try. Bon Appétit!
Garlicky Green Beans
Makes 4 Servings
1 large chopped onion
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
6 cloves minced garlic (remember to wait 10 minutes after mincing before cooking!)
1 teaspoon salt or salt substitute
¼ cup water
In a large nonstick skillet, sauté onions in olive oil until they become transparent. Add beans, garlic, and salt, and continue to cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add water, cover, and steam until beans are tender. Just before serving, remove lid, turn up heat and boil off any excess liquid.
Nutritional Info (per serving)
Calories: 68; total fat: 2 grams; cholesterol: 0 mg; sodium: 54 mg; carbs: 11 grams; fiber: 4 grams; protein: 2 grams