Usually, the word “superfood” makes you think of dark greens like kale, or whole grains like quinoa. But what if that tiny bit of minced garlic you added to the pan was also a champion for your health? You might not think of this pungent aromatic as a health food, but garlic does *so* much more than just flavor your marinara sauce.
The powers of garlic have been studied around the globe for centuries. In ancient Greece, athletes allegedly ate garlic in an attempt to increase their stamina, and ancient China and India used garlic to try to treat leprosy and parasites, according to a 2014 article in Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine.
Garlic might not actually be potent enough to cure the next epidemic, but it does have big perks for your overall health. Here are five reasons to load up on garlic the next time you fire up the stove.
1. Garlic flavors food—without salt.
Ah, salt. This sneaky mineral continues to plague the American diet. Although health experts recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, the average intake among Americans is 3,400 milligrams daily. Too much sodium in the diet is linked to higher blood pressure, which puts individuals at risk of heart disease and stroke. (Learn more about the health risks of a high-sodium diet here.)
Lowering sodium intake can be tough because salt adds such flavor to food. But fear not: many herbs, spices, and aromatics (e.g., garlic and onion) can add epic flavor to meals and eliminate your need for salt. Here are other no-salt ways to season food.
2. Eating garlic may help prevent clogged arteries.
Garlic won’t “fix” an artery that’s already clogged, but it may help keep arteries clear when part of a healthy diet. Garlic also has phytonutrients that may help lower artery-clogging cholesterol.
In a 2013 University of Adelaide meta-study, researchers analyzed 39 different trials of garlic’s effect on cholesterol. All studies suggested that garlic helps lower LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad stuff) in people with elevated cholesterol levels (above 200 mg/dL).
3. Garlicky foods may lower your risk of stomach and colorectal cancers.
Garlic is part of the allium family of vegetables, including onions, leeks, and scallions. Alliums contain compounds that researchers think may have anti-cancer properties, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research. In particular, garlic may help slow or stop tumor growth in the stomach and colon.
4. Garlic may keep you regular.
You’ve probably heard all about probiotics by now, and prebiotics are their lesser-known sidekick. Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that help boost healthy bacteria growth (the probiotics) in your gut, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A healthy community of bacteria may potentially help digestion and manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Garlic is one type of prebiotic. Most fruits, veggies, and whole grains also have prebiotic powers. (But be careful: Garlic is a common trigger food for people with IBS, and it could make symptoms worse for some people.)
5. Garlic may have antimicrobial properties.
The doctors in ancient civilizations may have been on to something. Studies suggest that garlic may help inhibit germ activity and even prevent some infections.
Various studies have shown that garlic was effective against Salmonella, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and more. It’s also been effective against fungi (like Candida) and viruses (like influenza A and B). That said, keep in mind that these studies are done in laboratories with high concentrations of garlic.
Researchers tend to attribute this antimicrobial effect to allicin, a compound in garlic that is released when the garlic is crushed. That’s part of the reason garlic soup is such a famous treatment for the common cold.
Wondering what the health perks are in your other favorite foods?