Garlic is a plant in the Allium (onion) family. It is closely related to onions, shallots, and leeks and technically considered a vegetable. Garlic has been used for centuries not only for cooking but also used in traditional medicine. Today, we now know that some of these health benefits stand to be true.
One of the great things about garlic is that it is full of nutrients and is so easy to add to almost any dish.
Keep reading to find out all about garlic facts, history, nutrition, benefits, and more!
Did You Know?:Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove. There are about 10–20 cloves in a single bulb, give or take.
Table of Contents
- History & Facts
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume Garlic
- Potential Risks
- Frequently Asked Questions
History & Facts
The use of garlic is written into history as far back as the sixth century BC and has been noted to be an important part of medicine to the ancient Egyptians (1). It is suspected that garlic was even used in the Greek Olympics, giving it to athletes to increase their stamina (2).
Garlic has been used for centuries for varying treatments of ailments and medical conditions. In ancient Indian and Chinese traditional medicine garlic was used to improve respiratory issues and digestion. It was also used to treat leprosy and parasitic infection (3). At one point, garlic was said to be used as a treatment for issues like arthritis, constipation, chronic pain, antibiotic for infectious diseases, bites, and gynecologic diseases. Some cultures have used it to ward off evil spirits (4).
Did You Know?:Garlic plants can grow up to 1.2 meters in height!
Although garlic is typically eaten in small quantities, garlic has a ton of great nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Typically, one clove of garlic weighs around 3 grams. Per one clove of garlic there are (5):
- Calories: 5 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 0.2 grams (g)
- Fat: 0.01 total grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 1 gram (g)
- Fiber: 0.06 grams (g)
Garlic is considered a nutrient-dense food, meaning it is packed with tons of nutrients compared with the low number of calories it contains. Although it doesn’t look like much, there are a ton of micronutrients packed into each clove of garlic which we will discuss next.
Vitamins & Minerals
In one clove (around 3 grams weighed) of raw garlic, there are the following vitamins and minerals (6):
- Calcium: 5.43 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 0.05 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 0.75 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 4.6 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 12 milligrams (mg)
- Sodium: 0.5 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin A: 0.3 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin C: 1 milligram (mg)
- Folate: 0.1 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 0.7 milligrams (mg)
- Beta Carotene: 0.15 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 0.5 micrograms (mcg)
In addition to the plethora of vitamins and minerals above, garlic contains a large number of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals contain high amounts of antioxidants, which help to decrease inflammation and oxidative stress (7).
Summary:Garlic is low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Garlic has been used for years medicinally for its variety of health-promoting properties and benefits. Scientists have found that when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed, or chewed, sulfur is released which is the active component that many of these benefits stem. Research tells us that just 1-2 cloves of garlic can provide substantial benefits.
It May Decrease Inflammation
Garlic contains a high number of phytochemicals and antioxidants, both of which help to decrease overall inflammation in the body. Decreasing overall inflammation may help with decreasing the number of harmful cells in the body being produced called reactive oxygen species (8). This may help treat symptoms of chronic inflammation like body pain, fatigue, weight gain, mental health, and infections. When there is decreased inflammation in the body, it helps to decrease the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (9).
Not only does garlic contain compounds that have an anti-inflammatory effect, but they have the opposite as well. Studies have found that garlic contains compounds that can help improve immune systems and prevent problems like illness and infection (10).
Summary:Garlic is high in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which may help decrease inflammation. Decreasing inflammation in the body can help decrease the risk of several chronic diseases.
It May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
When it comes to garlic and its health benefits, one of the main focuses of studies is the effect it may have on heart-related conditions and diseases. One of the big contributors to heart disease is high cholesterol. With high cholesterol in the body, plaque can build up in the arteries of the heart, making it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries, resulting in an increase in the risk of heart disease.
Studies on garlic have found a significant decrease in total cholesterol levels and decreasing the amount of plaque in arteries when compared to a placebo (11). Another study found that garlic when compared to a lipid-lowering medication, was found to be equally effective in decreasing lipid levels (12).
High blood pressure is another risk factor for heart disease. Research studies have shown significant decreases in blood pressure when taking garlic versus placebo (13).
Summary:Studies have shown that garlic may help to decrease the risk of heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol, and the amount of plaque in arteries.
It May Reduce Cancer Risk
Because of the several benefits that garlic has boasted in the past, studying the effect of garlic on cancer is a big area of research. Several studies have suggested that garlic contains possible cancer-protective properties (14). Garlic was found to reduce the growth rate of cancerous cells and even prevent cancer overall (15). Other studies have found garlic slowed the growth of tumorous cells and has an inhibitory effect on them (16).
Summary:Research has found that garlic contains compounds that may help prevent cancer, slow the rate of growth of cancer cells, and slow tumor growth.
Ways to Consume Garlic
Typically, garlic is used as more of a spice or type of herb than a vegetable. Because of the strong flavor it boasts, it is usually eaten in small amounts, unlike the 100-gram serving of nutrition facts you read above. And although the typical dietary guidelines say to make half of your plate fruits and/or vegetables, you won’t want to follow that recommendation for garlic.
Whichever way you prepare it, you will still reap its nutrients and benefits. Different ways that you may want to try eating it include crushing it, peeling it, roasting, sautéing, or boiling it. Some people even eat the clove whole or take it in capsule form without adding it to foods. If the flavor is a bit stronger than your preferences, preparing it in a way that uses heat can help decrease the strength of the flavor of it.
Other ways that you may want to try garlic could include:
- Adding it to your favorite salsa
- Mixing it with guacamole
- Blending it with other seasonings for cooking
- Making a pesto
- Adding it to a tasty bruschetta (tomato and Italian spices are a favorite)
- Mixing into your favorite dressing or aioli
- Making a compound butter to add to dishes like steak, toast, or cooked vegetables
- Juicing it and adding it to a blend of other fruit juices
Summary:Garlic is typically added to various dishes and recipes and is used more as a spice or herb rather than a vegetable.
There is little risk when it comes to eating garlic or taking garlic supplements. However, people with certain medical conditions may need to be aware of the slight risks it can increase.
- It Can Increase Odors: Because of its potent smell, garlic can cause bad breath (17). Consuming excessive amounts of it can also cause overall body odor in some people. To combat bad breath, try eating it with lemon afterward or keeping a toothbrush nearby. You could also try neutralizing the bad breath with a glass of milk.
- It May Cause GI Distress: For some people, garlic may cause flatulence, upset stomach, and heartburn. This is because garlic is high in fructan, which is a type of carbohydrate that ferments and can cause digestive distress for some (18). You can try consuming it in small doses to see if it has any of these effects individually.
- It Can Interfere with Certain Medications: If you are on blood thinning medications like warfarin, talk to your healthcare provider before taking garlic as a supplement (19). Garlic may also interfere with the effectiveness of some drugs like saquinavir, which is a drug used to treat HIV infection (20).
Summary:Overall garlic is safe to consume for most people. However, it can cause bad breath and even body odor when it is consumed in large amounts. Additionally, it may cause digestive issues and interfere with medications like blood thinners and HIV medications.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes garlic spicy?
Allicin is the compound responsible for the “hot” sensation you may get when eating garlic alone or in certain foods. It is present in the garlic naturally and gets stronger once the garlic is crushed or chopped. If you want to mellow out the spiciness, try cooking the garlic or adding some cream. This will remove some of the allicin.
Why is my garlic turning blue?
You may notice garlic turning blue-green in certain scenarios. One of the most common ways this can happen is when cooking with certain ingredients like lemon, for example. Because garlic contains sulfur, when it is exposed to an acidic environment like lemon, the garlic interacts with it causing a change in color to greenish blue. This can also happen when pickling garlic. If this ever happens to you, just remember it is still perfectly safe to eat.
How should I store garlic?
The easiest way to store unpeeled and uncut garlic is by placing it in a dry, dark place with mild temperatures (60-65 degrees Fahrenheit). If it is already cut, it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Unpeeled, whole garlic stored properly at room temperature can last for up to 6 months but it is recommended to use it before then. This prevents the chances of mold from growing. A single unpeeled clove usually lasts around three weeks.
Fun Fact:The average person eats about 2 pounds of garlic per year.
For thousands of years, garlic has been believed to be a treatment for many health conditions due to its medicinal properties. As you’ve read today, science has confirmed several of these beliefs to be true. Garlic contains a ton of nutrients in a small serving size, with a hefty amount of nutrients like phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Garlic can be prepared and eaten in a variety of ways and can be added easily to almost any dish. You typically only need a clove or so because of its potent flavor. Some people take it in capsule form just for the benefits.
If you have certain health conditions or are on certain medications, talk to your doctor before having garlic regularly. Otherwise, enjoy!