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What is garlic?
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, and is a hardy perennial belonging to the Liliaceae family. Other members of this family include onions, leeks, chives and shallots. They are distinguished by their pungent aroma and distinctive flavour.
The bulb is the most commonly used part of the garlic plant and is typically composed of eight to 20 individual teardrop-shaped cloves enclosed in a white, parchment-like skin.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides, then check out some of our delicious garlic recipes and a video on how to crush garlic.
Want to try planting your own garlic at home? Read these tips on how to grow garlic, at GardenersWorld.com.
Nutritional profile of garlic
One clove (4g) of garlic provides:
- 4Kcal / 16KJ
- 0.3g protein
- 0.0g fat
- 0.7g carbohydrates
- 0.2g fibre
- 25mg Potassium
5 health benefits of garlic
1. Contains compounds with medicinal properties
Much of garlic’s therapeutic acclaim is down to an active compound called allicin. This sulphur-containing compound gives garlic its pungent smell and distinctive taste. Luckily for us cooks, the action of chopping or crushing stimulates the production of allicin. But, it is thought that the application of heat may inhibit some of the perceived medicinal properties, making it best to add garlic late in the cooking process.
2. May reduce the risk of heart attacks
Much research has focused on garlic’s potential in reducing the risk of heart disease and helping to manage cholesterol levels. Several studies suggest that garlic makes platelets (the cells involved in blood clotting) less likely to clump together and accumulate on artery walls; this means garlic acts like an anticoagulant and by so doing reduces the risk of heart attacks.
Garlic may also lower blood pressure through its ability to widen blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely.
3. May have anti-cancer properties
The sulphurous compounds in garlic have been studied for their ability to inhibit cancerous cells and block tumours. That said, much of the evidence for garlic in relation to colon, prostate, oesophageal and renal cancer is observational, with only small numbers of subjects included in the studies. As a result, the effect garlic has in relation to cancer remains uncertain and more studies are needed.
4. Has antimicrobial and antifungal properties
Garlic has a long history of use as an infection fighter against viruses, bacteria and fungi. It has been referred to as ‘Russian penicillin’ to denote its antibacterial properties, which is once again attributed to the compound allicin. Some skin conditions, such as warts and insect bites, may also respond to garlic oil or a crushed raw garlic clove.
5. May support bone health
Animal studies suggest garlic may minimise bone loss by increasing oestrogen levels in female rodents. A study in post-menopausal women found a similar effect when a daily dose of dry garlic extract (equivalent to 2g of raw garlic) was consumed.
Studies also suggest the consumption of garlic may give some relief from the inflammatory symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Health benefits of wild garlic
The health benefits of wild garlic and clove garlic are very similar. They both contain a variety of compounds with medicinal properties, including antibacterial and antifungal effects. But wild garlic has been found to have an even greater effect on lowering blood pressure than regular garlic.
Is garlic safe for everyone?
Garlic poses few safety issues and allergies are rare. If you take garlic supplements for cholesterol management, have your cholesterol levels checked after three months. The recommended daily amount of garlic ranges from ½-1 whole clove per day (around 3000-6000mcg of allicin).
Please note that some people may experience indigestion, intestinal gas or diarrhoea when taking high doses of garlic.
Recipe suggestions for garlic
A simple aïoli is a great accompaniment for roasts, fish or as a dip: Homemade aïoli Salmon & prawns with dill & lime aïoli
Make your own delicious garlic bread: Garlic & basil ciabatta Quick tomato soup with cheesy garlic dippers
Cook with mushrooms: Garlic mushroom burgers Mushrooms on toast Garlicky mushroom penne
Pair with prawns: Stir-fry prawns with peppers & spinach Lemony prawn bruschettas
Add flavour to mashed potato and stews: Roast sweet potato squash & garlic mash Garlic mash potato bake Spicy root & lentil casserole
Garlic is great with chicken: Garlic chicken with herbed potatoes
Want more? Take inspiration from our garlic recipes.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the past 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.