Throughout the ages, healers have attributed medicinal powers to garlic, but few scientific studies have backed the bulb’s protective effects — which is why new research documenting garlic’s potential to prevent heart damage is so exciting.

Chinese scientists studied how garlic oil impacted a particular kind of heart disease common to diabetics. High blood sugar can triple the level of free radicals — unstable molecules that attack healthy tissue, including the heart, which may explain why diabetics have up to four times the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to non-diabetic heart patients. But researchers found that rats receiving high doses of garlic oil enjoyed a 40% reduction in diabetes-induced damage to heart cells. The garlic oil group also experienced up to 12% improvement in heart function.

While more research is needed to confirm these benefits for humans, it’s worth garnering some garlic for its multitude of micronutrients including vitamins C, B6 and niacin. Other foods potentially helpful for diabetics include cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, eggplant and leafy greens.

Bonus: Veggies during pregnancy may reduce your child’s future risk of diabetes. Expectant moms who ate the least vegetables gave birth to babies with more than a 70% increased risk of developing diabetes.

Published November 1, 2010