You don’t need a health or nutrition expert to tell you that garlic is as good for your health as it is for seasoning your food. The little allium is a tonic for the ages. It was even a favorite of the Greek healer Hippocrates, whose saying, “Let food be thy medicine,” is often quoted.
Almost every day, garlic finds its way into something that I cook, whether that is chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, aglio e olio pasta or a sauce or dressing that adds zing to a main dish or salad. Because summer is upon us, I’m sharing an easy recipe for Tunisian Melon Salad, which makes a refreshing side dish on hot days.
The minty dressing combines garlic and North African spices with lime and honey. You won’t be able to stop eating this salad – it also makes a great summer dessert!
GARLIC: A HEALER IN THE EASTERN AND WESTERN MEDICAL TRADITIONS
Because garlic seems to interact and fortify many body systems, it is sometimes regarded as an adaptogen. On his website, herbalist and acupuncturist Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., describes garlic as “one of the few herbs that was and still is used in all three great healing systems of the world – Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional European Medicine.”
Garlic, or “Da Suan,” has been known and used in TCM for about 2,000 years. Eastern healers continue to choose it for detoxification, circulation and energy, promotion of breastfeeding and ridding the body of parasites.
Dr. Hobbs explains that garlic has “special influence on the TCM organs, such as the spleen (which transforms and assimilates food and has to do with metabolism and energy production); and the kidney, which stores vital energy and sends it out to other organs and tissues; and the stomach, which ripens and rots food to get it ready for the spleen.”
GARLIC HEALTH BENEFITS FOR YOUR ❤
Similarly, doctors in the Western tradition have relied upon garlic for centuries and continue to perform research on the pungent bulb’s properties. Although garlic has a reputation for reducing the severity of colds and flu and it’s an antifungal that takes care of athlete’s foot, many researchers are intrigued by garlic’s cardioprotective properties.
Several studies have shown that garlic can make blood vessels more elastic, which makes it good for conditions like peripheral artery disease and intermittent claudication. In addition, there’s a body of research on garlic’s blood-thinning, anti-clotting effect. Blood thinners are often prescribed to lower the risk of stroke and heart attack.
One of the organosulfur compounds in garlic, allicin, seems to keep platelets in the blood from sticking together. In a study comparing several different members of the onion (alliums) family, garlic was found to be more effective at preventing clotting than onions, chives, shallots, leeks and bunching onions. It also had the highest amount of allicin.
HOW GARLIC WORKS ITS HEALTH MAGIC
One possible mechanism for these happy cardiac effects is that garlic boosts nitric oxide production. Increased nitric oxide production helps to protect the inner lining of blood vessels from inflammation and oxidative injury caused by free radicals.
Garlic may also help with vasodilation by causing the body to produce hydrogen sulfide, which acts to relax and open blood vessels, possibly in conjunction with nitric oxide.
In addition to keeping vessels clear by reducing inflammation and free radical damage, garlic can lower LDL and total cholesterol by the same mechanism as statins. It reduces the amount of cholesterol made by the liver.
The cholesterol-lowering effect, however, may only persist if you continue to eat garlic every day or take daily supplements.
Some studies show that garlic can also lower blood pressure by as much as medications although results are mixed. One study found a reduction of systolic blood pressure as much as 11 mm Hg while another found it lowered diastolic blood pressure by only 3.8 mm Hg. According to the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University, blood pressure medications drop systolic blood pressure 9.1 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure 5.5 mm Hg on average.
GARLIC HEALTH BENEFITS FOR CANCER?
Many studies have examined garlic for its potential against cancer. It acts in ways that would seem to be anticarcinogenic. For instance, garlic is known to help the body get rid of damaged cells that might grow into cancer.
In other words, it encourages apoptosis, the death of cancerous and pre-cancerous cells. Garlic downregulates genes that are anti-apoptotic and upregulates others that are pro-apoptotic.
Another way it might fight cancer is by preventing tumors from growing. Some of the organosulfur compounds in garlic appear to short-circuit the spread of cancer by preventing the increase in blood vessels needed to fuel its growth. Several studies have demonstrated this property of garlic including this one using aged garlic extract on colorectal carcinoma cells.
PROBLEMS WITH GARLIC CONSUMPTION
One reason for garlic’s status as a centuries-old cure-all is that there are very few downsides to garlic (unless you’re a vampire). Undesirable side effects include bad breath, body odor and gastrointestinal distress.
Although it can disturb the GI with heartburn and nausea, garlic is a prebiotic that feeds helpful probiotics like Bifidobacteria in your gut. It helps them create good-for-you short-chain fatty acids like acetate, butyrate and propionate.
In very high doses, garlic can harm the liver. One study found that doses of about 0.5 g/lb (75 g per day for a 150-lb person) and higher were toxic in rats. This is a mega-dose of garlic. For comparison, most research uses 40 mg to 1.2 g per day, the amount in one or two cloves of garlic.
Another potential problem with garlic is the blood-thinning effect. Caution is necessary if you are taking a prescribed blood-thinner like warfarin. You should also be cautious of garlic in conjunction with other supplements that have anti-clotting action like fish oil or turmeric. (There are many supplements that have blood-thinning effects.)
This is particularly important if you have a planned surgery. Best-selling nutrition author Dr. Michael Greger points out that the American Society of Anesthesiology advises stopping garlic intake a week before elective surgery.
GARLIC CAN INTERFERE WITH MEDICATIONS
Blood thinners aren’t the only medicines affected by regular garlic intake. Garlic can also cause antiretroviral drugs for HIV not to work as well. It decreases the plasma concentrations of non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), the protease inhibitor saquinavir and other types of protease inhibitors.
(Perhaps this is why garlic may diminish the effects of colds and flu? In fact, some people take a chopped, raw clove of garlic in a spoon with honey when they feel a cold coming on. Here is a video that shows you how to do this and not suffer from garlic breath.)
Garlic can possibly interfere with many common medications including birth control pills, certain antibiotics, specific chemotherapy drugs, losartan, verapamil, glucocorticoids, antifungals, and many others.
Supplementation is most concerning, but daily consumption of garlic can be a factor. It’s best to check with your doctor or healthcare provider for interactions and other factors that need to be considered before supplementing or using garlic on a daily basis.
GARLIC’S MAJOR HEALTH BENEFITS
- Antifungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant
- Better blood vessel function:
- Improved elasticity, suppleness
- Prevents clotting
- Cancer preventative
- Encourages the death of damaged cells (apoptosis)
- Inhibits growth of blood vessels to tumors (angiogenesis)
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers LDL and total cholesterol
- Prebiotic for gut health
DRAWBACKS TO GARLIC
- Bad breath and body odor (high doses)
- GI distress
- Blood-thinning (good or bad effect, depending)
- Can interfere with many medications
- HIV, anticoagulants, antihypertensive, antibiotics, birth control pills, etc.
GARLIC IN RECIPES: MAXIMIZING THE HEALTH BENEFITS
Allicin, one of the healthy organosulfur compounds in garlic, is formed by an enzymatic reaction that happens when the garlic clove is damaged or cut. Like many nutrients, it is inactivated by too much heat. If you’re going to cook with garlic and don't want to lose all the allicin, let the garlic rest for about 10 minutes after mincing or smashing. Alternatively, you can cook it on high heat for three minutes or less or sweat it on low heat.
Dr. Greger recommends garlic and onions for supple arteries and for blood thinning on his website, Nutritionfacts.org, but warns that you shouldn’t cook them “to death.”
COOKING AND RECIPES WITH GARLIC: NUTRITION AND TASTE
Now, here is the best part about garlic – making food with it! Below you’ll find a very simple recipe for melon salad with a minty dressing that contains raw garlic. Garlic may not sound like a natural partner for sweet honeydew, but mint and chile form a bridge between the two ingredients. Try it; you’ll like it!
Using raw garlic preserves its health-promoting nutrients. I’ve plunked raw garlic into a lime-infused dressing recipe and using it raw makes a saucy salad, whether you toss all together in a vinaigrette or a creamy concoction. Other recipes that make the most of raw garlic are pestos. Here’s a recipe roundup the SpruceEats that features many different pestos and dishes with pestos.
I made this salad with honeydew, but almost any ripe, sweet- and tender-fleshed melon-like casaba, Crenshaw, or canary will be fine. For optimum sweetness and flavor, try to find melons that are locally grown.
When melons are transported long distances, they must be picked before fully ripe. To ripen a melon, you can place it in a paper bag to boost plumpness and juiciness. (With watermelons, however, this tactic does not work. Watermelons are not ideal for this salad anyway!)
Tunisian Melon salad
- 1 garlic cloves, large
- 1 lime Use zest and juice
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons honey add more to taste
- ½ teaspoon ras el hanout
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- pinch of kosher salt
- 5 cups cubed honeydew or other sweet, tender-fleshed melon
- ¼ cup fresh mint finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons pistachios dry roasted
- Torn fresh mint leaves for garnish
- Finely mince the garlic and set aside for at least 10 minutes.
- When the garlic has finished resting, combine lime zest and juice with olive oil, honey, spices and salt inside a small jar with a tight lid. Add garlic and secure the lid on the jar.
- Put the cubed melon in a medium bowl. Top with chopped mint.
- Shake the dressing vigorously. Pour a generous amount over the melon and mint and toss to combine. (If your lime is very juicy, you may not need all the dressing.)
- Sprinkle with pistachios and fresh mint leaves.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled.