Garlic. Roasted in olive oil, it can melt in your mouth like butter, while chopped and raw, it can taste pungent and sharp. Either way, this herb-like vegetable offers significant benefits — on the inside and out. (Not to mention it’s delicious!)
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“It’s the organic sulfur compound allicin in garlic that gives it its pungent smell and makes it a healthy addition to your diet,” says dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD.
Jeffers offers six surprising ways that garlic boosts your health:
1. Boosts immunity: Who knew boosting your immunity can be as simple as eating more garlic? According to one study involving 41,000 middle-aged women, those who routinely ate garlic, fruits and vegetables had a 35% lower colon cancer risk. Keep in mind that benefits came from raw and cooked garlic – not supplements.
2. Works as an anti-inflammatory: Research has shown that garlic oil works as an anti-inflammatory. If you have sore and inflamed joints or muscles, rub them with the oil. The Arthritis Foundation even recommends it to help prevent cartilage damage from arthritis.
3. Improves cardiovascular health: Research indicates that it can have a positive impact on your arteries and blood pressure. Researchers believe red blood cells turn the sulfur in garlic into hydrogen sulfide gas that expands our blood vessels, making it easier to regulate blood pressure. The good news is that you may be able to put your blood pressure medication away, so consult with your doctor if adding more garlic to your diet could be helpful for you.
4. Gives you better hair and skin: Garlic’s antioxidants and antibacterial properties can clear up your skin by killing acne-causing bacteria. One study shows rubbing raw garlic over pimples can clear them away. Be aware, though, that it could cause a burning sensation on your skin. Consult with your dermatologist first before putting acne on your skin if you are using any other products, too.
5. Protects your food: Those same antibacterial properties in fresh garlic can kill the bacteria that lead to food poisoning, including salmonella and E.coli. Don’t use garlic as a substitute for proper food sanitation and food handling, though.
6. Treat athlete’s foot: Garlic also fights fungus. If you have athlete’s foot, soak your feet in garlic water or rub raw garlic on your feet to attack the itch-causing fungus.
Maximize the garlic
Did you know you can make tea from garlic? It’s true! You can steep chopped garlic in hot water and cover the taste with honey. However, sometimes taking advantage of garlic’s benefits gets a little complicated. Heating it or putting it in a recipe can change its pH balance. The enzymes from the allicin need a few minutes to start working, so let it sit after you mince, crush or chop it.
“You’ll get the most benefit from raw garlic,” she says. “But if you choose to cook it, don’t heat it above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures kill the allicin, so add garlic to your recipes when you’re almost done cooking.”
A few words of caution
Garlic’s health benefits are plenty, but don’t add too much to your diet too quickly, as tempting as it may be. Overdoing it can cause discomfort, including upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea, body odor and bad breath. (Pass the gum, please!)
“You may also get a stinging feeling on the skin if you handle significant amounts of fresh and dried garlic,” says Jeffers. “To avoid garlic-induced skin lesions, wear kitchen gloves.”
On rare occasions, garlic supplements can cause headaches, fatigue, appetite loss, muscle aches, dizziness and allergic reactions such as asthma attacks or skin rashes. If you take blood thinners, taking a garlic supplement can increase the medication’s effect, making it even harder for your blood to clot. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any garlic supplement.