Description and History
Garlic – also known as Allium sativum belongs to the onion genus species ‘Allium’ and is a close relative of the chive, shallot, onion, leek, and rakkyo (1). With a history of over seven thousand years of human use, garlic is indigenous to Central Asia and has since been a staple seasoning and medicinal herb in the Mediterranean, Europe, Asia, and Africa (2).
The unique combination of sulfur-containing nutrients and flavonoids make Allium vegetables such as garlic an integral requirement in a healthy diet. There is research evidence recommending at least one serving of an Allium vegetable – like garlic – in a meal plan daily (3).
Garlic is a great flavouring ingredient traditionally used to add taste, aroma and additional nutrition to the food. Health experts and culinary specialists recommend adding raw pressed or chopped garlic at the end of cooking process to take the full advantage of the nutritional, culinary and medicinal benefits derived from this Allium species.
In terms of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) a typical serving size of 3 cloves of garlic offers no significant value, however, garlic is very low in calories with high nutritional value, specifically delivering impressive amounts of manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C and selenium (4).
Here’s a detailed nutritional breakdown of garlic (5):
- Calories: 13 kcal
- Protein: 1g
- Fat: 0g
- Carbs: 3g
- Dietary fibre: 0g (1% of RDA)
- Manganese (8%)
- Vitamin B6 (6%)
- Vitamin C (5%)
- Selenium (2%)
- Calcium (2%)
There are books written solely about garlic – a herb affectionately referred to as “the stinky rose” on account of its many therapeutic benefits. It is an all-around wonder drug, rich in several powerful sulfur-containing compounds such as dithiins, sulfoxides, and thiosulfinates (6), (7).
These elements contribute to its characteristic pungent odour and most of its health-promoting and medicinal effects. Some of the health benefits of garlic include cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and cancer prevention benefits.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Garlic
While most of the research carried out on garlic and its effect on the human cardiovascular system have focused primarily on garlic in its powder, oil and aged extract form, food studies conducted on this herb depict it as having important cardio-protective properties. As such, garlic has clearly been proven to reduce cholesterol and blood triglycerides (8).
While garlic’s abilities in triglyceride and cholesterol reduction provide significant health value, it is by no means this herb’s most compelling benefit when it boils down to cardioprotection. Garlic’s top-level benefit comes in the form of the blood vessel and cell protection from oxidative stress and inflammation (9).
The unique set of sulfur-containing compounds found in garlic keep us safe from damage to blood vessel linings. This damage is often caused by highly reactive oxygen molecules increasing our risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack. These compounds also protect us from oxidative damage that causes unwanted inflammation and blocked blood vessels resulting from clots (10).
In addition to this, garlic has the ability to lower blood pressure (11).
The many beneficial properties of garlic on our cardiovascular system cannot only be attributed to its sulphur components but are also a result of its vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and selenium. The selenium and vitamin C found in garlic play an integral role in our body’s antioxidant system while vitamin B6 helps prevent heart disease by reducing homocysteine levels resulting from the cellular biochemical process referred to as the methylation cycle (12).
Anti-inflammatory properties of Garlic
Preliminary research conducted mostly on animals and centred on garlic extracts rather than garlic as a whole food, point to evidence that our respiratory and musculoskeletal system also benefit from anti-inflammatory properties of garlic (13), (14), (15). Aged garlic extract has been proven to improve inflammatory conditions in the case of allergic airway inflammation.
Antiviral and antibacterial properties of garlic
From a medicinal perspective, the antiviral and antibacterial properties of garlic are probably its most legendary feature with civilizations dating back to the Egyptian era, prescribing it for medical uses such as the treatment of abnormal growth, parasite and insect infestations, circulatory ailments and general malaise (16).
Garlic is a powerful herb not only in controlling viral and bacterial infections but also in protecting the body against infection by other microbes such as fungi or yeast and worms.
Cancer prevention properties
Research evidence indicates that garlic possesses important anti-cancer properties. The consumption of garlic on a daily basis (regarded as high intake) has been observed to lower the risk of almost all types of cancer except for breast and prostate cancer while the moderate consumption of garlic (i.e. the intake of garlic roughly several times per week) has been continually found to reduce the risk of renal and colorectal cancer (17), (18).
The variance between high and moderate consumption of garlic could be a real difference that implies we need to consume more garlic if we want to maximise on the cancer-related benefits of garlic.
How to select and store
It is always best to purchase fresh garlic if you wish to reap its maximum flavour and nutritional benefits (19). While garlic found commercially available in flake, paste and powder form may seem more convenient to use, it offers less health and culinary benefits.
It is recommended always to purchase fresh garlic, and most importantly, opt for one that is plump with unbroken skin. To ensure you do not get garlic that is shriveled, soft, mouldy or about to sprout, gently squeeze the garlic bulb between your fingers to gauge its firmness and ensure it is not damp.
Garlic should be stored loosely covered or uncovered in a dark and cool place away from sunlight or excessive heat (20). Storing it this way helps it retain its flavour and maintain freshness. Garlic bulb, depending on its variety and age, will stay fresh for roughly a month if stored in appropriate conditions.
A single raw garlic, pressed or finely minced is more flavourful than a dozen cooked whole cloves. When sautéing garlic, avoid burning it as the flavour may turn intensely bitter. A simple rule of thumb when it comes to using garlic is, the finer it is cut, the stronger the flavour. Pressing or finely chopping a garlic clove makes more surface to be exposed to the air resulting in a chemical reaction to release that potent flavour and strong aroma.
Sources for this article
- Authority Nutrition
- Nutrition Self Data