Garlic is a popular ingredient in many cuisines—there are even restaurants entirely dedicated to the pungent cloves. Whether you use it as a base flavoring for soups and sauces or roast the cloves to spread on bread, garlic packs a lot of big-time flavor.
But the best part? Garlic is also great for your health. From vampire-repelling lore to improving heart health, there are plenty of reasons to liberally season your food.
Here’s why garlic should always be a big part of your diet.
What is garlic?
What we think of as garlic is actually the bulb of a flowering plant. Garlic is part of the allium genus, which also includes onions, leeks and shallots. Originally native to South and Central Asia, and northeastern Iran, it is now grown worldwide.
Garlic has been used in food for thousands of years, including the ancient Egyptians. Its powerful smell can be both a blessing and a curse—smells great in food, but maybe not so great for your breath afterwards. Perhaps that’s how the vampire repellent lore began.
The plant has also been used in folk medicine as an antibiotic, to treat arthritis and snake bites, coughs and more.
When eating garlic, you’ll need to peel off the papery skin first. Sometimes the green part of the plant is sold as “green garlic,” which has a milder flavor. If you’re looking for garlic flavor without the spice, green garlic can get the job done. Most people separate the cloves and mince them, but roasted and pickled garlic are all popular uses.
Garlic’s health benefits
Garlic offers a multitude of health benefits, including:
- Better immune function: Eating raw garlic might be too much for some folks, but it can help prevent colds, coughs and other viral illnesses. Try eating a couple of chopped raw cloves daily for natural health protection.
- Lowers blood pressure: Strokes and heart attacks are two of the leading killers worldwide. High blood pressure contributes to heart disease, so keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level is key. Eating garlic, or taking supplements, can lower your blood pressure and hypertension. If you use supplements, try to take the equivalent of four cloves of garlic per day.
- Reduces cholesterol: Garlic can lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels by about 10 to 15 percent. That’s just one more way that eating garlic can help protect your heart and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Antibiotic properties: Garlic contains allicin, an antibiotic that can help fight off fungi, protozoa, viruses and bacterial infections. Not only can you use it as an antibiotic on its own, but it will help boost any prescription antibiotics you’ve been instructed to take.
- Prevents cancer: Preliminary research indicates that garlic can also reduce your risk of colon cancer by up to 35 percent, when eaten regularly in conjunction with other fruits and vegetables. Just one more reason to add garlic to everything you can.
- Can prevent cognitive degeneration: Because garlic is high in antioxidants, it can be useful in helping prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. Antioxidants fight against free radicals and oxidative stress, both of which have been linked to cognitive degeneration.
- Boosts liver function: Our bodies have systems to get rid of the toxins we encounter every day in our food and environment. Garlic helps boost liver function by helping liver enzymes produce glutathione, a compound which helps the body flush out chemicals and other waste.
As you can see, garlic has a whole lot of flavor—and a whole lot of health benefits. Even if you’re not a fan of the powerful flavor and scent, garlic supplements can fill the gap. It’s a safe, natural and easy way to help boost your body’s natural immunity and reduce the risk of developing nasty diseases.
Remember, the way you prepare garlic will affect its flavor (and sometimes its health properties). Raw garlic is spicy and pungent, while roasted garlic brings out its natural sweetness. Or mince it and sauté it to bring out the depth of its flavor, while cutting down on the spiciness a bit.
However you choose to use garlic, this wildly popular bulb has stood the test of time. There are records of garlic use in many ancient societies: while the Italians have a reputation for using plenty of garlic in their cuisine, it came to their country much later. When you’re looking to add more garlic to your diet, one thing’s for certain: you won’t lack recipes from around the world.