Garlic: the health benefits

A basket with whole cloves of garlic

Often referred to as a ‘wonder herb’ or ‘super food’, garlic certainly lives up to its reputation. Prized for many thousands of years by nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors and herbalists, garlic has been used to treat anything from asthma to arthritis.

Its healing properties as an antiviral and antibacterial agent have also been used widely and very effectively. And did you know that despite its pungent smell, garlic is considered to be a natural aphrodisiac!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, reveals why garlic is so acclaimed and how you can use it to boost overall health.

What is garlic and how does it work?

For those of us who have been enjoying the great outdoors, the smell of wild garlic is unmissable. Garlic is actually neither a spice nor a herb, but generally referred to as a ‘botanical’. It is from the same family as onions and leeks; hence it tends to be used in similar ways in cooking.

Garlic cloves contain a phytonutrient called alliin which breaks down into the active ingredient allicin.  These are sulphur compounds also responsible for its strong odour. It is the allicin in garlic that’s mainly responsible for its pungent odour as well as its medicinal benefits.

Garlic bulbs and cloves

Interestingly, the enzyme responsible for activating garlic, becomes less active when exposed to heat: for some, fresh raw garlic is considered to have the most health benefits. This would also explain the fact that cooked garlic doesn’t produce as strong an odour as raw.  As eating raw garlic is not particularly sociable, there are still many health benefits to be gained from including garlic into your cooking or raw dishes.

Did you know?  Garlic breath can be combatted by chewing fresh parsley.

The health benefits of garlic

Garlic is probably best known for its heart-loving properties with the potential to reduce blood pressure and also lower cholesterol production in the liver.  It helps reduce harmful cholesterol and raise levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Garlic is also a natural anti-coagulant that helps prevent the blood from clotting too much.

Heart with a protective sheild image on top

When it comes to viruses, garlic can be eaten raw which helps to remove excess mucus from the lungs and reduce nasal congestion, generally caused by colds or upper respiratory tract infections. Whilst everyone needs a little watery mucous to lubricate and protect the lungs, it can become thick and excessive, otherwise known as catarrh. For this reason, people often increase their intake of garlic when they have a cold.  Try including it in a chicken broth which also has antiviral effects.  And always use fresh garlic rather than powdered.

Close up on woman's stomach with hands making a heart shape to show a healthy tummy

Garlic can also support a healthy digestive system, protecting the beneficial gut flora from harmful invaders, especially when exposed to contaminated food and drink.  This is the reason why many people take a course of garlic pills prior to foreign travel to help protect against the dreaded traveller’s diarrhoea.  However, it can also work as a laxative and diuretic, so it maybe best taken prophylactically before the trip rather than eating it excessively during, although cooked garlic has less potent effects.

Additionally, garlic has demonstrated significant anti-fungal activity, particularly in cases of Candida albicans or yeast overgrowth, in the digestive tract.  Candida can be problematic to treat and causes unpleasant digestive upsets as well as fatigue. These infections can often be alleviated by using a garlic liver cleanse, because it contains enzymes and sulphur compounds which help flush out toxins.

How to use garlic in your daily dishes

There are very few dishes where garlic can’t make an appearance!  Anything from chicken Kiev to roasted lamb to garlic and cheese portobello mushrooms.  Additionally, vegetable side dishes such as broccoli, which can be lightly stir fried, really benefit from being cooked with garlic.  Plus, any vegetable soup, stir fry or stew should have garlic as the first ingredient in the pan.

FResh vegetable stir fry in a wok

Garlic has so many culinary uses and is also very easy to prepare; just separate and peel the cloves and use either crushed or whole. And if you’re feeling very brave, remember raw is most beneficial so why not add some into your salads, especially as the summer season is here!

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

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