Garlic is the ancient food that’s somehow survived reputed involvement in dark tales of vampires and ghouls to become one of the world’s most popular and versatile seasonings.
But what’s so special about a simple bulb of garlic?
Used by everyone from the ancient Egyptians to the Chinese, garlic currently features as a base ingredient for dishes across Asia, the Middle East, southern Europe and Latin America. Native to Central Asia and North Eastern Iran, garlic has been also used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years.
Accredited Practising Dietitian, Joel Feren, explains that some of garlic’s many health claims have survived the test of time because it is an incredible vegetable. Here's you can use garlic to benefit your health.
"We also know that garlic has some antimicrobial properties. That’s why it’s affectionately known as nature's penicillin.”
Health hack #1: Boost your immunity by eating a garlic-rich diet
“We know that garlic is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin B6, and contains a small amount of minerals like zinc, selenium and manganese,” Feren, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, tells SBS.
"These particular nutrients are important in immune function. We also know that garlic has some antimicrobial properties. That’s why it’s affectionately known as nature's penicillin.”
This also explains how so many people believe that garlic may prevent a cold or lessen its severity.
To investigate this claim, a study was conducted in the UK almost 20 years ago. Researchers gave 146 volunteers a placebo or garlic supplement capsule every day for 12 weeks. The group, which was given garlic tablets, had significantly fewer colds and were more likely to recover faster if infected compared to the placebo group.
However, more research is needed to demonstrate the impact of eating a small amount of garlic compared to taking a supplement or eating kilos to treat a cold.
“But you’d actually have to have quite a lot of garlic in your diet for it to have this effect, if it works – that would be about two to four cloves a day.”
Health hack #2: Fight bad cholesterol with garlic
“There's a little bit of conjecture around this claim it but there is some evidence to indicate that eating garlic can help reduce LDL cholesterol, which is the nasty type,” says Feren.
“But you’d have to have quite a lot of garlic in your diet for it to have this effect if it works – that would be about two to four cloves a day.”
Health hack #3: Use garlic to reduce your blood pressure
Research also suggests that the sulphur-based compound found in garlic called allicin may help to reduce blood pressure.
“This compound may help to relax the blood vessels,” Feren explains. “By relaxing the blood vessels, you're actually reducing the pressure within your blood vessels so that the heart is able to pump blood [around the body] more efficiently and under less strain than it would if it wasn't as relaxed.”
Feren explains that there’s one caveat: if you are being treated by a doctor for high blood pressure, always follow their advice and medication instructions.
Health hack #4: How to cook with garlic if you’re sensitive to it
Garlic contains fructan, a type of FODMAP, which some people are sensitive to. In such people, eating garlic could lead to irritable bowel symptoms.
“If you have any issues with fructan, you may still be able to include garlic in your diet but you will have to be able to be strategic with how you do it,” says Feren.
“One hack is to infuse extra virgin olive oil with garlic. To do this, try frying off some garlic in a pan. By doing this, the garlic will release the flavour without necessarily releasing the fructan.”
Health hack #5: Eat garlic but kill that smell
The downside of garlic is that if you do eat too much of it, your breath may smell. This is because the process of chopping or crushing garlic releases the sulphuric compound allicin, which then breaks down into four other smelly compounds.
Lucky for us research from the US, published in Journal of Food Science in 2016, sought to investigate how to mask the scent of garlic on our breath using other foods.
The study looked at the deodorising effects of consuming raw, juiced or heated apple; raw or heated lettuce; raw or juiced mint leaves, or green tea straight after eating garlic.
It found that while green tea did nothing to kill off the garlic stench, raw lettuce and mint leaves significantly decreased all of the garlic breath volatiles. “Apple juice and mint juice also had a deodorising effect on most of the garlic volatiles but were generally not as effective as the raw food,” the study reads.
Although more research into the garlic breath cure is needed, the study does provide some useful food tips to try if you're desperate to eradicate the scented traces of garlic. So next time you use a lot of garlic in your cooking, follow through with some raw mint or lettuce to possibly prevent the lingering aroma of garlic breath.
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