Considered so sacred by the ancient Egyptians, it was placed in the tombs of Pharaohs. Believed to be so powerful by the Greeks and Romans, they ritually consumed it prior to going to war. So loved by the Israelites, they pined for it when wandering the desert. Of what are we speaking? Garlic, of course!
Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder strongly encouraged the consumption of garlic because of its profound health virtues. Indeed, the “stinking rose” (and, ironically, a member of the lily family) has a long history of offering a veritable cornucopia of heart-healthy benefits – a reputation that it absolutely deserves.
Aromatic, delectably pungent, and a must for heart-health, garlic is also one of 40 foods featured in the WomenHeart’s All Heart Family Cookbook.
Thanks to garlic’s rich antioxidant content in the form of allicin, plus vitamins A and C, study after study has shown that regularly eating garlic can lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels, as well as prevent, reduce, and even reverse the development of atherosclerosis.
Garlic is also a terrific source of salt-lowering potassium, which in turn reduces blood pressure. And it’s rich in folate, which lowers blood pressure and homocysteine levels, relaxes blood vessels, and improves blood flow. Plus, garlic has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels, help prevent the formation of blood clots, stave off heart disease and reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack.
Heart Helper Extraordinaire
A study investigated how garlic might benefit 30 people with preexisting coronary heart disease. Each day for three months, participants consumed one gram of peeled and crushed raw garlic. The results showed a significant reduction in total cholesterol and triglycerides and a significant increase in HDL. The study also concluded that garlic successfully inhibits the formation of blood clots.
Another study investigating whether eating garlic might help reduce blood clots followed men ranging in 40 to 50 years in age who ate one clove of garlic (approximately three grams) each day for 16 weeks. Tested six months after their last daily clove, the men, on average, reduced their cholesterol levels by 20 percent and reduced their serum thromboxane – a lipid in your blood that encourages clot formation – by a dramatic 80 percent!
Further research on garlic’s impact on moderately high cholesterol levels has proven positive. Every day for six months, 56 men ranging in age from 32 to 68 years consumed about seven grams of pure garlic extract. On average, they achieved a six to seven percent reduction in total cholesterol, a near five percent reduction in LDL cholesterol, and over a five percent decrease in blood pressure.
Heart health benefits
- Lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Lowers triglycerides
- Raises “good” HDL cholesterol
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers homocysteine levels
- Inhibits blood clot formation
- Reduces plaque buildup
- Improves blood flow
- Lowers blood sugar
- Improves glycemic control
In addition to adding a distinct savory flair to your food, garlic’s heart-healthy benefits are encouragment enough to make the “stinking rose” a part of your daily life.
Happy Heart Pasta Primavera
8 ounces whole wheat rotini pasta
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups small frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup (1 1/3 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain and place in a large serving bowl.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the carrot, squash, broccoli, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes longer, or until crisp-tender.
4. Stir in the shrimp and tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes, or until heated through. Pour over the pasta and sprinkle with the cheese.
Heart healthy ingredients: 9
Per serving: 296 calories, 103 calories from fat, 12 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 7 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 126 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 12 g protein
Adapted from WomenHeart’s All Heart Family Cookbook
Information from Kathy Kastan, LCSW, MA ED, and Suzanne Banfield, PhD, with Wendy Leonard and the members of WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.
For more information:
Women’s Heart Foundation
To get your fill of garlicky goodness, attend one of the Garlic Festivals held around the country.
Gilroy Garlic Festival
The Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival
Hudson Valley Garlic Festival