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Health Benefits of Garlic: Close up of purple garlic bunch
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Savory, pungent, and indescribably tasty, garlic has long delighted people's taste buds with its bright, aromatic punch of flavor. This small root vegetable belongs to the onion genus Allium and adds depth and dimension to more dishes than anyone has time to name. Garlic comes from an edible plant, and we typically cook with the small cloves inside the bulb of the plant.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "garlic is among the oldest known horticultural crops." Researchers have found references to garlic in both Egyptian and Indian cultures dating back some 5,000 years. "There is clear historical evidence for its use by the Babylonians 4,500 years ago and by the Chinese 2,000 years ago," the USDA adds. "Some writings suggest that garlic was grown in China as far back as 4,000 years ago." 

Garlic only grows wildly in Central Asia, however, it's now farmed all over the globe. The World Atlas reports that in 2015, the world production of garlic was estimated at 25 million tons. China made up about 80 percent of that growth, with India coming in second. Its bang-for-your-buck flavor and versatility has made it a staple ingredient, both raw and cooked, in most cuisines around the world.

Buying and Storing Garlic 

You can easily find fresh garlic any time of year in grocery stores, but the crop is typically harvested over June and July, making it great to buy at a summer farmers market. Garlic bulbs can last up to eight weeks when stored correctly: Simply keep it in a cool, dark spot in the pantry. And don't worry if there are sprouts on your garlic, it can still be used. Just make sure to remove the green shoots before cooking. Storing garlic is simple: Garlic can be refrigerated, but can't be placed in the freezer since it affects the texture and flavor.  

Head here for more handy tips on buying, storing, and cooking with garlic.

Health Benefits of Garlic

Beyond imparting mouthwatering zest to recipes of all kinds, garlic also offers some incredibly healthy benefits when eaten. "Garlic contains powerful plant-based compounds (phytochemicals) that have been associated with numerous protective health benefits when included in a generally healthy diet," says Emmie Satrazemis, RD, a board-certified sports nutritionist, registered dietitian, and the nutrition director at Trifecta Nutrition. "Because of these compounds, garlic has also been used as a form of natural medicine throughout history in various cultures."

Josh Schlottman, certified personal trainer and nutritionist, adds that garlic aids in fighting disease, combating inflammation, and even healing wounds. "It's been used in traditional medicine for centuries as an antibiotic, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory agent," he says.

We don't know about you, but we love when something so delicious is also good for you—it's something you want and absolutely can (and should!) have. Here's what you need to know about garlic and all its amazing nutritional properties.

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1 Garlic is nutrient dense.

Garlic offers bang for your buck in the nutrient department: It provides an impressive number and amount of nutrients relative to its low calorie count, making it a nutrient-dense (read: very healthy!) ingredient. By consuming garlic, you'll treat your body to some key nutrients such as manganese, vitamin B6, zinc, sulfur, iron, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and more.

2 Garlic helps reduce your risk for heart disease.

Substantial research has found that garlic plays a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke, namely by lowering high blood pressure and regulating cholesterol levels (including lowering LDL, or "bad," cholesterol). The aromatic contains allicin, for example, a cardioprotective, sulfur-containing compound released when raw garlic is chewed, chopped, or crushed, and responsible for garlic's signature aroma and flavor. In addition to its numerous other medicinal properties, allicin's cholesterol- and blood pressure-reducing effects are beneficial to the cardiovascular system. 

3 Garlic packs an antioxidant punch.

While we're talking about disease prevention, garlic also helps fend off free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and combat systemic inflammation. Garlic is high in antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids—in fact, garlic has been found to contain more than 20 polyphenolic compounds. Antioxidant-rich foods can help guard your cells against free-radical damage, which in turn can decrease your risk for diseases associated with chronic stress and inflammation: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and more.

4 Garlic has antifungal and antibacterial properties.

More recent scientific interest in garlic's antimicrobial powers has uncovered its potential to protect against viruses, bacteria, and fungi, thanks in large part to allicin. Researchers have hypothesized that certain compounds from garlic work to keep harmful external microorganisms from invading healthy cells as well as hinder their ability to grow.

5 Garlic gives your immune system a boost.

In addition to making it harder for pathogens to take hold, garlic may also help fortify your immune system to fight them off by boosting the white blood cell response. The sulfur content of garlic, in particular, is known to enhance our immune response. One scientific review studying the effects of aged garlic extract on the immune system saw increased immune cell activity in participants who consumed a certain dose of aged garlic extract for 90 days compared to a placebo group. It concluded that aged garlic extract may "enhance immune cell function and be partly responsible for the reduced severity of colds and flu reported."

6 Garlic has promising anticancer properties.

Though more research is ongoing to fully understand the specific anticancer activity of garlic, many studies suggest that consuming garlic may help safeguard against cancer, and that several of its bioactive molecules kill or inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients observed that "homemade garlic extract has anti-cancer activities both in vitro and in vivo." 

RELATED: Black Garlic Will Transform Your Cooking—Here's How to Make It at Home

How much and how often should you eat garlic?

Schlottman notes that you'll reap more of its benefits if you eat garlic daily. "The daily recommended amount is one to two cloves per day," he says. "Easily add it to your favorite foods like pasta, sautéed vegetables, and garlic bread."

There really aren't any significant reasons to avoid eating garlic, unless you're allergic or simply hate the stuff. Since this pungent ingredient isn't for everyone, Satrazemis acknowledges the perks of eating garlic, but notes that it's "not necessary to consume it if you don't like it."

"While the potential health benefits of garlic sound promising, they don't outweigh the need for a balanced healthy diet and overall healthy lifestyle—in other words, no single food will make or break your health, not even garlic," she says. 

Tasty Garlic Recipes to Try

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