It's simply amazing how many nutrients are packed into a single clove of garlic: 33 sulfur compounds, 17 amino acids, antioxidants such as germanium and selenium, and multiple vitamins and minerals. These beneficial chemical compounds, including a substance called allicin, give garlic its unmistakable odor as well as a pharmacological edge in cardiovascular protection.
For starters, garlic is an excellent natural blood thinner. So effective, in fact, that I instruct some patients to take it easy on the garlic if they are on a pharmaceutical blood thinner like Coumadin. Keeping your blood thin is key to cardiovascular health because thick, sticky blood that moves slowly through the circulatory system feeds the inflammatory process that damages arteries and increases the risk of clot formation.
For those specifically with high cholesterol or blood pressure, garlic has a proven track record for lowering both. Garlic contains natural phytonutrients that inhibit enzymes involved in the metabolism of dietary fats, thereby giving the herb its ability to lower cholesterol. And an Australian review of 11 studies in which patients with high blood pressure were randomly given garlic or a placebo found that garlic can lower blood pressure as effectively as some drugs. Since this herb's chemistry is so complex, researchers aren't quite sure how it helps lower blood pressure. Garlic's antihypertensive effect may be related to its antioxidant and sulfur content. But some studies suggest that garlic lowers blood pressure by increasing the dilation of blood vessels and reducing peripheral vascular resistance. Whatever the specific mechanism may be, my patients and I have been very pleased with the results.
Grab The Garlic
There's an old saying among Italian chefs that there's never enough garlic in a dish. I certainly agree. Many of my recipes, like the potato recipe below, include a healthy dose of garlic. (Get more heart-healthy recipes.) And I always chop up at least one clove when I make spaghetti sauce. But since four cloves of garlic a day is what is recommended to achieve a noticeable blood pressure-lowering effect, I also suggest that you include garlic in your salads, soups, stews, and stir-frys. Your nose may not appreciate the goodness of garlic, but your heart certainly will.
Garlicky Mashed Potatoes
- 2½ pounds potatoes, halved
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
- 1/3 to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
If you would like, peel the potatoes. (For a more nutritious dish, leave half of them with the skins on.) Add potatoes to a large pot of boiling water. Add the garlic cloves and cook, covered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and garlic well and pour them into a warm serving bowl, or if you choose, mash them in the saucepan. Mash them coarsely, adding the olive oil a little at a time. When all the oil has been added, taste and add pepper if needed. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition Facts per Serving: Calories 260; Total Fat 12 g Sodium 12 mg Total Carbohydrate 30 g Protein 3