This bulb has been used for centuries as both food and medicine. These days, garlic is used to treat conditions ranging from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and heart attack to certain types of cancer— but the benefits aren’t just for such big issues.

Garlic-Breath Benefits — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Caitlin Covington

Let’s get straight to the numbers: Three cloves of the stuff (enough flavor for plenty of crowd-pleasing dishes) contains only 13 calories, plus vitamins C and B6, and manganese. As for superfood super powers, garlic has those, too— for both ladies and gents. Garlic extract has been shown effective in treating yeast infections and may also protect against enlarged prostateAntifungal effect in selected natural compounds and probiotics and their possible use in prophylaxis of vulvovaginitis. Hronek, M., Vachtlová, D., Kudlácková, Z., et al. Katedra biologických a lékarských vĕd Farmaceutické fakulty v Hradci Králové, LF UK, Praha. Ceska Gynekologie, 2005 Sep;70(5):395-9.Onion and garlic intake and the odds of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Galeone, C., Pelucchi, C., Talamini, R., et al. Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy. Urology, 2007 Oct;70(4):672-6.. Garlic’s got a good deal of antioxidants, too, which help protect against free radical damage to the body’s cells (especially in the skin)Quantitative evaluation of the antioxidant properties of garlic and shallot preparations. Leelarungrayub, N., Rattanapanone, V., Chanarat, N., et al. Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Nutrition, 2006 Mar;22(3):266-74.The antioxidant properties of garlic compounds: allyl cysteine, alliin, allicin, and allyl disulfide. Chung, L.Y. Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Journal of Medicinal Foods, 2006 Summer;9(2):205-13.. Researchers have also found an association between Allium vegetables (like garlic and onions) and a reduced risk of gastric and endometrial cancers, but there is only limited evidence (at best) of this relationshipConsumption of large amounts of Allium vegetables reduces risk for gastric cancer in a meta-analysis. Zhou, Y., Zhuang, W., Hu, W., et al. Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China. Gastroenterology, 2011 Jul;141(1):80-9.Allium vegetables intake and endometrial cancer risk. Galeone, C., Pelucchi, C., Dal Maso, L., et al. Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy. Public Health Nutrition, 2009 Sep;12(9):1576-9.Garlic intake and cancer risk: an analysis using the Food and Drug Administration’s evidence-based review system for the scientific evaluation of health claims. Kim, J.Y., Kwon, O. Division of Nutrition and Functional Food Standards, Korea Food and Drug Administration, Seoul, Korea. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 Jan;89(1):257-64.. Beyond cancer, garlic could also help protect tickers from cardiovascular diseaseAllium vegetable intake and risk of acute myocardial infarction in Italy. Galeone, C., Tavani, A., Pelucchi, C., et al. Dept. of Epidemiology, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri”, Milan, Italy. European Journal of Nutrition, 2009 Mar;48(2):120-3..

Make It Mediterranean — Your Action Plan

Not a fan of stinky fingers after chopping garlic? No need to pass on its benefits. Garlic can also be consumed as a powder or extract, and most studies suggest similar benefits, regardless of form. As a prebiotic, garlic may also offer digestive benefits by acting as fuel for probiotics found in other foods, so pair them with foods like yogurt (like in this recipe for greek yogurt and garlic dip) to help them work their magic. For an easy way to work in garlic, add a few cloves to almost any savory sauce recipe, or create a meat rub before tossing steaks (or chicken, or seafood) on the grill. Garlic is also an easy add-in for cooked greens and other veggies, and its flavor boost makes it easier to cut down on salt. Just be warned— garlic burns easily, and becomes very bitter when burnt, so add it to the pan last to avoid a catastrophe. But before putting this blub on the ultimate pedestal, it’s worth noting much of the research surrounding garlic has focused on the Mediterranean diet as a whole— which is high in fresh produce (like garlic), whole grains, healthy fats, and (score!) wine. Because the Mediterranean diet in general may reduce cancer risk, it’s hard to know whether the garlic alone is to thank for the benefits noted in other studiesDiet and cancer risk in Mediterranean countries: open issues. La Vecchia, C., Bosetti, C. Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche, Mario Negri, Milano, Italy. Public Health Nutrition, 2006 Dec;9(8A):1077-82.. Garlic may also have some unexpected interactions with certain drugs, like those used to treat HIV, so those on prescriptions might want to double-check with a doc before going garlicky. What are some of your favorite uses/recipes for garlic? Tell us in the comments below!