Garlic has a long history of use as a medicinal plant, with roots tracing all the way back to ancient China and Egypt.
The main active compound in garlic is allicin, a plant compound that is largely responsible for garlic’s variety of health benefits.
Several studies have shown that garlic can regulate blood sugar as well as promote heart health.
In one animal study, diabetic rats were given either garlic oil or diallyl trisulfide, a component of garlic. Both garlic compounds caused a decrease in blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity .
Another study fed garlic to participants both with and without heart disease. Results showed that garlic was able to decrease total blood cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol in both groups.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is an age-old spice that’s made from a bulbous plant. But before it became the cooking staple it’s known as today, garlic had a rich history of cultivation, medicinal benefits, and consumption. It’s thought that garlic originated in India and Egypt around 5,000 years ago, and some historical documents suggest it was used in China about 4,000 years ago. The species of garlic found in this region are often referred to as “wild garlic” because of their indigenous nature. Garlic was also mentioned in Biblical texts, as well as ancient Greek materials, according to an article published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Historically, garlic was used primarily for its medicinal components. In ancient civilizations, people used it in hopes of increasing their strength. Indeed, some historical documents note that ancient Greeks used garlic as a performance-enhancing drug for the Olympics.
What’s particularly interesting about garlic is that it was concurrently used by different civilizations and cultures for similar benefits, all without contact between these cultures. Still, the garlic grown in the United States isn’t like the “wild garlic” found in Asia and the Middle East. It most closely resembles the varieties first harvested in Europe nearly 1,000 years ago. But garlic was also found to grow in the wild by indigenous civilizations in North America, where it was used in teas for medicinal purposes. At the same time, garlic was introduced to Great Britain in 1548.
Today, an estimated 10 million tons of garlic are produced worldwide. While used as a food-flavoring agent, garlic is still considered as a “natural antibiotic” by many cultures. In the 21st century, garlic continues to be a common seasoning in foods and packaged goods, but its potential medicinal properties are also gaining more appreciation in Western cultures.
Garlic Nutrition Facts: Calories, Carbs, and More
Nutritionally speaking, garlic is most useful as a spice or as a way to bring out the flavors of other healthy foods, like vegetables.
The following nutrition facts for garlic are based on estimates of a 1-teaspoon serving:
- Calories: 4
- Protein: 0.18 grams (g)
- Fat: 0.01g
- Carbohydrates: 0.93g
- Fiber: 0.1g
- Natural sugars: 0.03g
- Calcium: 5 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 0.05mg (0.03 percent daily value, or DV)
- Magnesium: 1mg
- Potassium: 11mg
- Vitamin C: 0.9mg (0.02 percent DV)
Garlic is also thought to be a source of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and enzymes, which can help your body build muscles and protect your gut health, respectively.
Historically, garlic was used for the following medicinal purposes:
- Appetite stimulant
- Blood pressure regulator
- Intestinal parasites
- Menstrual symptom relief
- Muscle pain relief
- Skin diseases
Today, research supports some of these medicinal benefits, but most studies remain inconclusive overall. Research primarily supports garlic’s potential antibacterial benefits, as well as its ability to help control cholesterol-causing lipids in the blood. Garlic also has antioxidants, which may help prevent free radicals that contribute to chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.