Five reasons to eat more garlic

Garlic bulbs on a wooden board. Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos
Garlic bulbs on a wooden board. Photo: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

We’re all familiar with garlic’s flavour credentials - but how much do you know about its health-enhancing qualities?

This foodie favourite doesn’t just pack a punch in the culinary stakes... packed with manganese, vitamins C and B6 and selenium, it’s also highly nutritious.

Of course, the usual rules apply: eating tons of garlic, or popping garlic extract supplements, won’t ‘undo’ other unhealthy habits, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest it’s a worthy staple.

Here are five reasons to include garlic as part of a healthy, balanced diet...

Garlic could help protect the brain

Some studies have also linked garlic with lower risks of developing age-related brain diseases, including dementia. It’s believed this could be due to garlic’s antioxidant contents - which, in the case of garlic, largely lies in its sulphuric compounds, the stuff that also makes it stinky! Antioxidants play a role in protecting the body from oxidative stress, basically helping ‘mop up’ free radicals associated with cell ageing and damage. A University of Missouri study published in 2015 found that another garlic component, a carbohydrate derivative called FruArg, may be beneficial in protecting the brain against ageing-related disease. Lead author Zezong Gu, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the MU School of Medicine, commented: “Scientists are still discovering different ways garlic benefits the human body.”

Anti-inflammatory properties

Many of us think of inflammation as the acute reactions that happen when, say, our skin is injured or irritated, we have an infection and the affected area gets red and swollen, or problematic joints flare up. Inflammation can also be something that lingers internally however, throughout the body as a chronic condition we may not even be aware of - and there’s growing interest in the role this possibly plays across a wide range of ailments and diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. That’s not to say we should be popping Ibubrofen pills willy-nilly, but there is evidence that diet is an important factor, along with a healthy lifestyle (being active; not smoking; drinking in moderation...). Garlic’s often hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties, thanks again to all that sulphur.

Beating high blood pressure

Consuming high levels of salt is one of the single biggest risk factors for high blood pressure, and associated conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Keeping salt intake within the recommended amounts (for adults, this is 2.4g of sodium, or 6g of salt, per day) can significantly reduce your risk - and play a part in managing high blood pressure if you are diagnosed. Looking for alternative ways to flavour food can be a good place to start; jazz up sauces, soups, stews and dressings with garlic, rather than reaching for the salt shaker. Studies have also found that garlic extracts can directly reduce blood pressure too, backed up by recent analysis of data published in the Journal of Nutrition, which compared the effect between groups treated with garlic extract or a placebo. GP and nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer notes: “While its effects start within five hours, and wear off over 24 hours, there is an accumulative benefit so that blood pressure gradually continues to fall over two to three months of treatment.”

Artery aids

As nutritionist Rob Hobson points out, black garlic - which is basically fresh garlic that’s gone through a particular fermentation process (and it’s quite the trendy ingredient right now, thanks to it’s sweet flavour and fruity texture) - has additional heart health-boosting qualities. An LA BioMed study found black garlic supplements are linked with a reduction of certain types of plaque build-up in the arteries of people with metabolic syndrome (the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity), which suggests it could help prevent heart disease in certain high-risk groups. Black garlic’s not as easy to come by as the traditional white stuff, but TheFoodMarket.com sells 50g pots of Balsajo Original Black Garlic (£3.99; www.thefoodmarket.com), and Healthspan have Black Garlic supplements (£12.95 for three-month supply, www.healthspan.co.uk).

All about the allicin

Additionally, allicin, a powerful antioxidant/antibacterial/anti-fungal compound - an active ingredient that’s released when fresh garlic is chopped or crushed (to reap the benefits, experts say garlic is best eaten raw) - has also been linked with protecting heart health, including helping reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, along with a long list of other potential health boons, from supporting the immune system to improving blood circulation.