Antibacterial, detoxifying and bone friendly, these are just some of the properties of garlic. Discover the characteristics and the numerous benefits of this food.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a bulbous plant native to Central Asia and related to chives, onion, shallot and leek, used for thousands of years not only for its characteristic pungent flavor but also for its benefits which guarantees health.
There are numerous testimonies of garlic in history; it seems that the ancient Egyptians exploited its properties, also giving it to the slaves who built the pyramids to increase their resistance and to prevent them from getting sick.
In ancient Greece, Olympic athletes would chew garlic before participating in games to enhance sports performance. Even Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BC), known today as “the father of Western medicine”, exploited the benefits of garlic by prescribing it for a wide range of conditions and diseases: from respiratory problems, as a pesticide, to improve digestion and reduce fatigue.
Garlic is mentioned in numerous texts such as the Odyssey, Indian medical books and the Bible. The properties of garlic today are widely exploited for a series of conditions associated with the circulatory and heart system such as atherosclerosis, hypercholesterolemia, heart attack, coronary heart disease and hypertension but also for the prevention of some cancers. On the market we can also find garlic in tablets or mother tincture.
Varieties of garlic: which are the most common?
Garlic is one of the most used ingredients in cooking; below we list the most common varieties and characteristics:
- White garlic: it is the most common variety and is characterized by its very strong flavor, in fact, it is the strongest from an aromatic point of view. Two types of DOP also belong to this variety of garlic, namely Polesano garlic which has a more delicate aroma and Voghiera garlic which has a sweeter aroma;
- Pink garlic: it is characterized by a more delicate flavor and in fact it is more suitable to be used raw. Compared to white garlic it has a lower shelf life. Primaticcio garlic and Vessalico garlic belong to this variety of garlic, both grown in Italy;
- Red garlic: red garlic not only stands out for its color, but also has a particularly intense flavor that tends to spicy, moreover, compared to white and pink garlic it has a smaller bulb. Many types of garlic grown in Italy belong to this variety, among the most famous: garlic from Nubia which has received the Slow Food presidium, garlic from Sulmona and garlic from Maremma;
- Black garlic: in recent times, moreover, the so-called black garlic, coming from the East, is also spreading, whose nutritional characteristics differ slightly from the normal garlic we are used to. Black garlic is obtained from the fermentation and subsequent oxidation of white garlic bulbs, this process gives the cloves the typical black color and soft consistency. It is characterized by its delicate flavor and good digestibility.
Garlic: characteristics and nutritional values
Rich in properties but low in calories, garlic is a good source of various minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus and selenium, as well as some vitamins, especially vitamin C: and some B vitamins.
However, what makes garlic so beneficial is the presence of several sulfur phytochemical compounds, the same ones found in onion, leek, shallot, broccoli and cabbage. The most active sulfur-containing molecule in this bulb is alliin and when fresh garlic is damaged (by cutting or crushing it), alliin is converted into allicin by the action of an enzyme, alliinase. Allicin is also responsible for the pungent smell of garlic, a defense mechanism developed by the plant to protect itself from pests. Let’s now see the table with information on the main nutrients present in garlic.
Nutritional values per 100g of garlic:
- Waterfall: 58.58 g
- kcal: 149
- Proteins: 6.36 g
- Fat: 0.5 g
- of which saturated: 0.089 g
- Carbohydrates: 33.06 g
- of which sugars: 1 g
- Fibers: 2.1 g
- Potassium: 401 mg
- Soccer: 181 mg
- Phosphorus: 153 mg
- C vitamin: 31.2 mg
- Choline: 23.2 mg
- Glycemic index: 25
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Garlic: properties and health benefits
All these elements give garlic properties and characteristics useful for supporting health on several fronts. In short, garlic is good for the immune system, reduces blood pressure, helps lower cholesterol and has a detox and antibacterial action, but not only. Let’s see in detail what are the benefits that regular consumption of this food brings to health.
✓ Strengthens the immune defenses
Consuming garlic is known to improve the function of the immune system and it could be very helpful to regularly integrate it into your diet if you are particularly prone to colds. In fact, a study carried out on 146 volunteers and lasted 12 weeks, showed that the daily consumption of garlic would reduce the number of colds by 63% compared to placebo. The average duration of cold symptoms was reduced by 70%, from 5 days in the placebo group to just 1.5 days in the garlic group.
✓ Garlic reduces pressure
Several studies, including the meta-analysis, have demonstrated the ability of garlic to lower blood pressure, an effect particularly evident in already hypertensive subjects. According to studies, the amount of allicin needed to achieve the hypotensive effect would be equivalent to about four cloves of garlic per day. In this case, however, it is preferable to opt for specially designed garlic supplements.
✓ Lowers cholesterol
Regular intake of garlic reduces total cholesterol and / or bad (LDL) cholesterol by about 10-15%, while it does not appear to have any effect on raising good cholesterol (HDL) or reducing triglycerides.
✓ Improve sports performance
Garlic was one of the first substances administered to improve sports performance, it was in fact supplied to Olympic athletes in Greece to increase performance. Studies carried out on rodents have shown that garlic helps physical performance but human studies are still few and with controversial results.
✓ Detox action of garlic
At high doses the sulfur compounds in garlic have been shown to protect against toxic damage caused by heavy metals. A study, which lasted four weeks and which involved employees of a car battery company (and therefore overexposed to lead), would have shown that the supplementation of allicin (1200 μg, three times a day) would be able to reduce blood lead levels by 19% and would also improve many other clinical signs of toxicity such as headache and blood pressure. Furthermore, garlic would have a detox action on the liver, favoring its purification.
✓ Bone health
Studies in rodents have shown that the intake of garlic, as well as onions, can minimize bone loss by increasing estrogen levels. The intake of garlic and onions has also been shown to have beneficial effects on osteoarthritis.
Rich in vitamin C and sulfur, garlic has antibacterial properties thanks to the high percentages of these components. In fact, it is considered a natural antibiotic. Also, when added regularly to the diet, it helps fight intestinal parasites.
Raw and cooked garlic: nutritional differences and which one to prefer
Garlic is known for its numerous beneficial properties (antibacterial, antioxidant, anticoagulant) determined by numerous micronutrients. In general, as we have seen above, we can say that garlic is characterized by the good content of vitamin C and folate, while, among the mineral salts, the content of potassium, phosphorus and calcium stands out. Despite this, the active ingredient that confers most of the beneficial properties is allicin. All of these micronutrients are heat sensitive, therefore, cooked garlic will have a milder flavor than raw garlic but also less micronutrients.
Therefore, in order to fully benefit from all its nutritional properties, it is preferable to use it raw and cut so that it releases all the allicin contained within it. Furthermore, raw garlic is more digestible than cooked garlic as it promotes the release of gastric secretions. For those, however, who do not like raw garlic, it is still possible to consume it cooked in various preparations trying not to cook it for too long.
Some tips for eating raw garlic
Eating raw garlic allows us to benefit from its many properties, in particular it is advisable to eat one or two cloves a day, preferably chopped so that it releases as much as possible allicin, its active ingredient. Contrary to popular belief, raw garlic is easier to digest because it promotes the release of gastric secretions, in addition, there are some methods that allow you not to weigh down your breath and improve digestion.
- To make it more digestible it is advisable to remove the soul (the innermost part) since it is this part that is most indigestible, causing poor digestion;
- When using raw garlic to season dishes it is preferable to combine it with aromatic herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary which improve digestibility;
- To prepare a good dressing based on raw garlic without weighing down the breath, you can make a sauce using apple cider vinegar and possibly aromatic herbs. In fact, both apple cider vinegar and aromatic herbs neutralize the aroma of garlic;
- Eating an apple after a meal that featured raw garlic is a very effective remedy for preventing bad breath.
Garlic: how much to eat and how to use it
An optimal solution to ensure the therapeutic effects of garlic seen above, is to take supplements specifically formulated with garlic extracts. If we want to consume fresh garlic, however, the quantity to be taken to obtain beneficial effects is one or two cloves that should be taken once a day, possibly raw.
The best way to consume garlic and absorb its beneficial properties is certainly to combine it with other ingredients, inserting it regularly in our everyday recipes. In addition to classic garlic, oil and chilli, we can use raw garlic as a condiment for grilled vegetables (aubergines, courgettes, etc.), in meat mixtures, in fish, in combination with legumes, etc.
A somewhat peculiar way to take this food is in the form of tea, here are the ingredients for garlic tea:
- 1 clove of organic garlic
- The juice of ½ lime or organic lemon
- 1 teaspoon of raw organic honey
Directions: boil a saucepan of water and, in the meantime, thinly slice the garlic clove. Put the garlic slices in a cup and pour the boiling water over them. Cover the cup with a saucer and let it rest for 10 minutes. Add the juice of half a lime and half a tablespoon of honey.
Fresh garlic should be stored in a dry and cool place, preferably in the dark, away from heat sources, in this way it will keep for several weeks. Even sprouted garlic should not be thrown away and can be consumed without problems. It is also possible to freeze the garlic cloves to always have them available.
But garlic can also have other uses : by mixing crushed garlic with extra virgin olive oil it is possible to create an ointment to be passed on corns and calluses to soften them and make them slowly regress, it is an excellent repellent for mosquitoes because “it masks the smell emitted by the body ”and is also a good ingredient for medicinal herbal teas.
Garlic: contraindications and potential negative effects
One of the main contraindications of garlic is certainly that of bad breath. Garlic is rich in sulfur which, once it enters the digestive process, triggers a decidedly pungent odor that our body emanates both through the breath and, if taken in massive quantities, through sweat. To counteract the problem of bad breath , it is useful to take garlic with a little fresh parsley.
However, garlic is a safe food for most people even if it can cause some more or less important side effects:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: the consumption of garlic during pregnancy and breastfeeding is safe, provided that massive intakes are avoided;
- Stomach or digestive problems: Garlic can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, so it is important to take it with caution if you suffer from stomach or digestive problems.
- Low blood pressure: garlic has the property of lowering blood pressure, it is therefore important to evaluate with your GP if and how much garlic to take if you are taking hypotensive drugs.