It might be known best for its pungent smell and flavor, but the nutritional benefits of garlic prove it packs a punch in more ways than one.
Basic properties of garlic
Closely related to shallots, leeks, and chives, garlic is the bulbous root of the allium plant, in the onion family. Each bulb, or “knob” of garlic can contain anywhere from four to 20 cloves. Before garlic was used to enhance flavor in dishes, it was used by many ancient civilizations for its medicinal properties.
Why is garlic good for our health?
When chopped, crushed, or chewed, garlic releases a sulfuric compound called allicin. Allicin is responsible for garlic’s health benefits and also provides its undeniable smell and taste. Meagan Ballard, M.S., a registered dietitian with INTEGRIS Corporate Wellness, shares why garlic should be a dietary staple.
“One clove of garlic provides four calories, no fat, cholesterol, no protein, no sugar, and only one milligram of sodium. It also contains calcium, selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and manganese,” Ballard says. “One clove contains about three percent of your daily recommended value in these nutrients. This may not seem like much, but garlic is a great thing considering it adds wonderful flavor to dishes with little calories and sodium while still meeting a percentage of your daily vitamins and minerals.”
Meagan’s Tip: To avoid garlic breath when eating fresh garlic, pair it with apples, parsley, spinach or lemon juice.
Regular consumption of garlic has been shown to lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels and to help lower blood pressure. Garlic contains antioxidants that can help protect against cell damage and aging. The benefits of garlic don’t stop there — some experts say garlic can help the body naturally produce more white blood cells, and garlic has been used for centuries to reduce fatigue and increase physical performance.
Garlic as part of an anti-inflammatory diet
Garlic is a key part of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid. Juli Johnson, APRN at INTEGRIS and expert in Dr. Weil’s integrative medicine practices, is a proponent of using garlic as a natural immune system booster.
“I, like Dr. Weil, am also a fan of garlic,” Johnson says. To get the maximum health benefits from fresh garlic, Johnson recommends chopping, slicing or mashing the cloves, and then letting them sit for 10 minutes, away from heat, before cooking. This allows the allicin – the active component of garlic – to form, as it needs air to do so. Once the allicin is formed, it does not deteriorate while cooking.”
“I always increase my consumption at the first sign of a cold. I recommend one to two cloves daily for recurrent yeast infections as well. Eating garlic may reduce the frequency and number of colds when taken for prevention,” Johnson says.
How can I incorporate garlic into my diet?
When it comes to cooking with garlic, the possibilities are endless. Because it comes in several forms, from cloves to minced pieces to powders, pastes, and extracts, you can add it into almost any savory dish to enhance the flavor.
“What can you add garlic to? Everything!” says Ballard. “Although garlic powder may not have as many nutritional benefits as fresh garlic, it is a low-sodium and low-calorie addition to make your dish more flavorful. Sprinkle on fresh vegetables for roasting, meats before cooking, or in homemade soups. Fresh garlic can be added to many things as well. Stir-fries, marinades, homemade salad dressings, sauces, stews, soups, and the list goes on!”
Did you know? If raw, peeled garlic comes into contact with an acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, the garlic can turn from an off-white color to bluish-green. The color change does not mean the garlic is unsafe to eat – only that a natural chemical reaction has occurred.
Sautéed, roasted, dried, or raw – any way you prepare it, garlic can add the perfect kick of flavor. Just be careful not to burn your garlic, as high heat can ruin the allicin’s healthy properties.