Smells incredible, tastes delicious, and also …healthy? One of the all-time greats—garlic is the best and easiest way to add flavor to any dish. Crush it, chop it, smash it, bake it, fry it—it’s truly such a versatile root vegetable. But did you know that there are also a lot of nutritional and health benefits to eating garlic as well?
Let’s take a look!
Understanding Garlic: 101
You may already know that garlic is a flowering plant that grows from a bulb beneath the soil.
Inside one clove of garlic, you’ll find:
- Calories: 4
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 1 gram
- Fiber: 0 grams
What you may not know is that nearly 60-80 percent of the world’s garlic is grown and comes from China. While the jury is still out, opponents of Chinese-grown garlic cite a lack of safety standards and less-than-sanitary growing conditions. If you want to be sure you’re getting US-grown (usually California-grown!) garlic, look for garlic that’s certified organic and labeled with its domestic source. You can also buy from a local farm or CSA.
Records show that we humans have been using garlic for at least 4 thousand years, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. And all that goes without mentioning that it’s been used in tons of folklore as a method for warding off spooky things like vampires. Kinda silly, huh?
Here’s the real scoop.
1. Garlic is True Immunity-Boosting Goodness
It’s true—garlic is incredible for your immune system. It contains compounds that help the immune system fight foreign invaders. When garlic is crushed or chewed, a compound called allicin is activated, and it’s thought to give garlic its immune-boosting properties. Chopping raw garlic and letting it sit for ~10 minutes before cooking is thought to activate and preserve its medicinal properties.
Garlic may also improve your body’s stress response, which is another way it helps boost your immune system. Garlic is thought to reduce the body’s production of stress hormones (such as norepinephrine) that are produced by your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands, or adrenals as they’re sometimes called, are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. They produce hormones that regulate many systems in your body, from metabolism, blood pressure, your immune system, and response to stress, among other things.
Garlic is also considered a prebiotic, meaning as it’s digested, it serves as a food source for the bacteria in your intestines. A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for immune health since about 70-80% of your immune cells are located in the gut.
To feel the immune-boosting and overall benefits of garlic, you should eat at least one clove two to three times per day. While we believe real food is best, should you choose to supplement with a garlic supplement, the standard dose is 600-1,200mg.
However, it’s important to note that studies of garlic’s effect on the immune system remain inconclusive because it’s such a complicated system.
2. Garlic is Great for Your Heart
Garlic does wonders for your dish’s flavor profile, but did you know it’s also great for your heart? Garlic has been thought to help your heart and cardiovascular system for quite some time. Researchers are beginning to understand what exactly garlic gives those benefits. According to a study from Emory University School of Medicine, “garlic oil, diallyl trisulfide, helps protect the heart after a heart attack and during heart surgery. Mice that received this component after a heart attack had 61% less damage to the affected cardiac tissue than untreated mice.”
Additionally, there’s a 2015 study that found that consuming garlic helps reduce hypertension and even blood pressure.
3. Garlic: A Cancer Treatment Wonder?
Surprisingly, yes. Kind of. Ever-so-slightly. Take this with a grain of salt because the studies are not overwhelmingly conclusive. However, there are a few recent studies that show that an increase in garlic consumption has also resulted in a decrease in cancers of the upper digestive tract. Additionally, it’s been shown that garlic can decrease the risk of stomach cancer, as well as prostate cancer.
What’s your favorite thing about garlic? Let us know in the comments! And if you want to experience the benefits of garlic for yourself, try some of our favorite garlic-containing Snap Kitchen meals: