A wreath of garlic may keep vampires away, but this flavorful veggie may also offer protective benefits to your health. One of the world's oldest cultivated plants, garlic has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Early research suggests the sulfur compounds in garlic may control cholesterol and protect against certain chronic diseases.
Closely related to onions, garlic is from the lily family. Approximately 90 percent of the garlic in the United States is grown in California. Containing only 5 calories per clove, chopped garlic is a healthy, sodium-free flavoring for your dishes. A diet high in sodium causes hypertension, or high blood pressure. Cut the sodium in your recipes by substituting freshly chopped garlic for high-salt flavorings, such as garlic salt.
The natural sulfur compounds in garlic may control cholesterol and protect against atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. A study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality discovered that garlic significantly reduced cholesterol levels in adults. The link between garlic and cholesterol is controversial, and some studies dispute these findings. Further research will determine if the amount of fresh garlic in the average diet provides these cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Garlic may also contain natural anti-cancer agents. Several animal and cell culture studies concluded that garlic has a protective effect against kidney, mouth, throat, colon and breast cancer cells. Garlic compounds may also protect against the bacteria that cause stomach cancer. Though these early studies are promising, they are not conclusive. The American Cancer Society does not promote consuming garlic excessively or taking garlic supplements for the purpose of preventing or treating cancer.
Fresh garlic bulbs should be white and firm. Some garlic varieties have a bitter green sprout in the center of the clove, so remove this sprout before chopping. Uncooked garlic has the strongest flavor, so add chopped garlic near the end of the cooking process for a powerful garlic taste. For an easy meal on a cold night, make garlic soup. Peel an entire head of garlic and chop in your food processor. Add the garlic to simmering water with thyme, vegetable stock, chopped onions and your favorite vegetables. Cook thoroughly and season to taste.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Garlic
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Garlic
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Is Garlic Good for Your Heart?
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Garlic, Nutrition, Selection, and Storage
- Medline Plus: Sodium in the Diet
- American Cancer Society: Garlic
- American Heart Association: Phytochemicals and Cardiovascular Disease
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: The atherosclerotic heart disease and protecting properties of garlic: contemporary data.
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.