Garlic has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes and, as in the case of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” has even been mythologized as a way to ward off evil.
From the Greeks to the Tibetans and Romans, garlic is infused in our collective history. Before it became a regular addition to pasta dishes, it was known in ancient China as a remedy for depression.
The Egyptians also felt garlic had potential and fed it to their slaves to make them strong. And in India, it was thought to cure lack of appetite, weakness, cough, skin disease and more.
More recently, garlic has cultivated an image as a so-called “superfood” for its medicinal and therapeutic qualities. Packed with vitamins C and B6, manganese and selenium, the bulbous plant is portrayed as a way to help lower high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and possibly help protect against bowel and stomach cancers.
But it’s far from being a cure-all miracle food. Although research has suggested that garlic offers some health benefits, those effects have been shown to be modest.
“While there has been some promising research, specifically when it comes to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, adding more garlic to your diet will not necessarily bring about tremendous health benefits,” says Hillary Joel, an outpatient dietitian at Tidelands Health. “But garlic is great for adding flavor and spice to meals, so although we still aren’t sure exactly how beneficial it might be to a person’s health, it’s certainly worth incorporating into your diet.”
Even if garlic doesn’t provide a mythical health boost itself, there can be indirect advantages of sprinkling it in, Joel says. Because the flavor of garlic can substitute for salt, it can be a way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
“When it comes to heart health, you want to try and limit your consumption of salt and saturated fat,” she says. “With the flavor garlic brings to a dish, you can often reduce the amount of salt you might normally add.”