If you fancy yourself a chef (or a foodie), you probably love garlic for the zingy flavor it adds to everything from marinara sauce to soups and curries. But get this: Those beige bulbs aren’t just great for flavoring food. They’ve got plenty of health benefits, too. In addition to garlic’s ability to fortify your immune system, it can also support your cardiovascular system. Yep, garlicking up your breath may actually strengthen your heart! Read on for the evidence.
Garlic and Heart Health
As early as 2002, a review published in Nutrition Journal revealed that garlic consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease progression. Then, in 2006, The Journal of Nutrition published a review of its own confirming that consuming garlic could help lower cholesterol and other blood lipids, as well as prevent blood clots and potentially lower blood pressure. More recently, research from 2016 highlighted some pretty impressive blood pressure and cholesterol benefits amongst people who supplemented with garlic (especially aged garlic extract).
These effects are no small feat for heart health. “We know that too much cholesterol can cause plaque buildup on artery walls and that, as a result, arteries become stiffer and narrower, causing the heart to work harder to push the blood throughout the body,” explains The Heart Dietitian Veronica Rouse, R.D., C.D.E. “This increased strength of the heart increases the force of the blood pushing against artery walls, increasing blood pressure.” A well-known fact: High blood pressure is one of the chief risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
Read More: 4 Ways to Show Your Heart Some Love
Another element of garlic’s heart-healthy matrix lies in how it impacts our actual blood. “[Garlic] has a blood-thinning effect, which again helps the blood move more freely throughout the arteries, thus requiring less force to be applied to artery walls,” says Rouse.
So what’s the secret to garlic’s trifecta of heart health benefits? “Several compounds may contribute, one of the most notable being an antioxidant called allicin that forms when garlic is digested,” says food and nutrition communications consultant Beth Stark, R.D.N., L.D.N. “As an antioxidant, allicin has the potential to halt cell- and tissue-damaging free radicals in the body, reducing the chance that they can cause harm.” (Diets high in antioxidants in general have long been linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.)
How to Incorporate More Garlic Into Your Diet
Most research conducted on the heart health benefits of garlic has focused on large doses of the bulb or garlic supplements—but that doesn’t mean eating it in regular meals won’t do your heart good. “Although research favors the use of high-dose supplements, I do recommend eating more garlic as well,” says Rouse, who points out that the flavorful food plays a starring role in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
As for whether fresh or cooked garlic is best, Rouse says no evidence suggests one is more impactful than the other. “I suggest cooking it to increase palatability and sustainability,” she says. “It also adds flavor to meals, which could reduce the addition of salt to meals and thus indirectly work to reduce blood pressure.”
Just in case you’re not one of those people who already adds garlic to everything, here are a few heart-healthy ways to get more of it onto your plate:
- Add it to roasted vegetables
- Roast a whole head, then spread it on toasted bread or add it to homemade or store-bought hummus
- Press fresh garlic into vinaigrettes, marinades, or other dressings
- Sprinkle minced garlic (or even whole cloves) atop pizza before baking it
- Sauté garlic as the start of a marinara or Alfredo sauce
- Start a curry with a generous amount of garlic paste
- Make garlicky black bean tacos
- Add plenty of fresh garlic to salsa
Who Should Consider Supplementing with Garlic?
Considering the research on garlic extract supplements is so legit, you might be wondering whether you should grab a bottle in addition to eating your fill of this flavorful food. According to Rouse, it’s definitely worth a chat with your healthcare provider.
“Garlic supplements have been shown to have significant blood pressure benefits for those with concerns, so it’s part of my treatment plan for many individuals who are working on supporting healthy blood pressure,” says Rouse.
And since garlic has tons of other possible health benefits—from helping your body respond to the common cold to supporting long-term cognition—you might want to give it a go even if heart health isn’t a chief concern.
What to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Garlic Supplement
Like most supplements, garlic comes in a variety of formats, though it’s most popular in capsules. When choosing your best fit, you’ll probably want to first consider whether going odorless matters to you. (Unless you live on a desert island, we’re guessing it might.) Plenty of brands offer odorless versions, so that’s something to look out for on product labels!
As for how much to take, there’s no set dosage for garlic supplementation. That said, according to American Family Physician, a standard recommendation is four grams (about one or two cloves) of raw garlic per day. If you go for a supplement, the usual go-to is around 1,200 milligrams (often two 600-milligram capsules) of aged garlic extract per day, notes Brian Tanzer, The Vitamin Shoppe Senior Manager of Scientific Affairs. Kyolic, which offers a whole slew of different specialized aged garlic extract supplements, ranging from Immune Support to Circulation Health to Total Heart Health, is the biggest name in the garlic game, he says.
In general, Rouse recommends doing your homework and purchasing from a reputable company. For the highest quality, look for third-party certification on supplement packaging. (NSF, Informed Sport, USP, and BSGC are all reliable third-party testing organizations.) From there, happy garlicking!