Garlic is a staple ingredient in many diets. Fresh garlic and garlic powder are commonly used to season recipes like pasta and meat dishes, and garlic is also used medicinally to support the health of the immune system and heart.
Because of its concentration of protective plant compounds, garlic may benefit health in several ways, including reducing markers of inflammation and lowering chronic disease risk.
Here’s everything you need to know about garlic, including its health benefits, nutrition, and how to include more garlic in your diet.
Garlic is high in compounds known to decrease inflammation. Although some types of inflammation are critical to keeping the body healthy and preventing illness, chronic or long-term inflammation is associated with several diseases, such as certain cancers and heart disease. Following a nutritious diet rich in foods known to combat chronic inflammation is an effective way to reduce the risk of some health conditions and improve certain symptoms related to inflammatory disorders.
Garlic is loaded with anti-inflammatory substances called organo-sulfur compounds. Interestingly, the presence of anti-inflammatory compounds depends on the preparation method. For example, fresh garlic bulbs are high in S-allyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide (alliin) and γ-glutamyl cysteine derivatives, while garlic powder contains diallyl disulfide (DADS) and alliin. Ground garlic is rich in dithiines, (E–Z)-ajoene compounds, and sulfide family compounds.
Studies show that consuming garlic can help reduce inflammatory markers such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), C-reactive protein (CRP), and interleukin-6 (IL-6).
A 2019 review of 16 studies found that consumption of garlic supplements that ranged in doses between 12 to 3,600 milligrams (mg) per day significantly reduced blood levels of CRP, IL-6, and TNF compared to controls.
Consuming garlic may also help protect cells from oxidative damage, which occurs when molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses. Studies show that consuming garlic products can help boost the body’s natural antioxidant defenses while reducing markers of oxidative stress.
A 2021 review of 12 studies demonstrated that daily consumption of garlic in doses ranging from 80 to 4,000 mg per day increased total antioxidant capacity (TAC) of the blood as well as blood levels of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) and reduced levels of the oxidative stress marker malondialdehyde (MDA).
This may suggest that regularly consuming garlic could regulate inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, and improve the body’s antioxidant defenses.
Consuming garlic may support brain health by improving cognitive function and protecting against cognitive decline. Studies show that people who follow diets rich in garlic have lower rates of cognitive decline and impairment.
A 2019 study that included data on over 27,000 elderly Chinese people found that those who consumed garlic five or more times per week were less likely to be cognitively impaired and tended to live longer compared to people who consumed garlic infrequently.
What’s more, garlic supplements have been shown to improve short-term attention and memory. Researchers believe that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds found in fresh and dried garlic may help reduce inflammation in the brain and protect against nerve cell degeneration, which could help support overall brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Adding garlic to your diet could help reduce your risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers.
Atherosclerosis, the medical term for plaque buildup in the arteries, is the main underlying cause of heart disease. Eating garlic may help reduce heart disease risk by decreasing atherosclerosis. A 2021 study that included information on 4,329 Chinese adults found that, compared with participants who ate raw garlic less than one time per week, people who consumed raw garlic once per week and two to three times per week had a 26% and 29% reduced risk of thickened carotid intima-media, respectively. Carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) is an early marker of atherosclerosis and is used to assess heart disease risk.
Garlic-rich diets have also been linked to a lower risk of other health conditions, including gastric and colorectal cancers.
The compounds found in garlic, such as S-allyl cysteine and diallyl disulfide compounds, may inhibit cancer cell proliferation, protect cells from oxidative stress, and positively impact the immune system, all of which may protect against certain cancers.
Some people swear by taking garlic-based products, such as fire cider and garlic and ginger shots when they’re feeling under the weather. Studies suggest that garlic compounds have powerful antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which could help support your immune system and reduce your risk of becoming sick.
Garlic compounds, such as allicin and diallyl sulfide, have been shown to inhibit inflammatory proteins and enhance immune cell activity. What’s more, garlic has been shown to have significant antiviral activity against pathogens that cause common illnesses like respiratory infections and some types of influenza.
Human studies have found that garlic treatments may help prevent and reduce symptoms of viral infections, such as the common cold and flu. In fact, garlic is often used to treat common colds, fevers, coughs, asthma, and respiratory infections in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common condition characterized by the buildup of excess fat in the liver. NAFLD is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the United States.
Weight loss and a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of NAFLD and improve the health of people with NAFLD. Consuming garlic as part of a healthy diet may also help reduce the risk of liver disease.
A 2019 study that included 24,106 men and women found that men who consumed raw garlic four to six times per week had up to a 34% reduced risk of developing fatty liver disease. However, this association was not seen in women.
Additionally, studies have shown that garlic powder supplements could help improve certain aspects of liver health, such as the liver damage markers alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), in people with NAFLD.
Garlic is rich in protective plant compounds but is usually consumed in small amounts. Therefore, when consumed in small doses, garlic does not contribute a significant amount of nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Here is the nutrition breakdown for three cloves of garlic:
- Calories: 13.4
- Protein: < 1 gram (g)
- Fat: < 1 g
- Carbohydrate: 2.98 g
- Fiber: < 1 g
Garlic does provide small amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium, but not enough to contribute in any significant way to daily nutrient intake.
When consumed in normal amounts, garlic isn’t associated with major health risks and is safe for most people to consume, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.
That said, concentrated garlic supplements aren’t appropriate for everyone. When taken in high doses, garlic may be unsafe for people at risk for bleeding, such as those on blood-thinning medications and people with blood clotting disorders.
High-dose garlic ingestion may also cause gastrointestinal symptoms, bad breath, and body odor. Garlic should also be avoided by those with allergies to plants in the lily family, such as leeks, chives, and tulips.
Take caution if using raw garlic topically, as garlic can burn the skin and lead to other issues, such as skin inflammation.
Lastly, although garlic and garlic supplements have been safely used by pregnant and breastfeeding women, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should check with your healthcare provider before supplementing with garlic or ingesting large amounts of cooked or raw garlic.
Garlic can be enjoyed in a number of recipes and can also be added to drinks and wellness shots.
Here are a few ways to incorporate garlic into your diet:
- Add roasted garlic to dishes like pasta, soups, stir-fries, and noodle dishes
- Combine chopped garlic, fresh ginger, lemon, and honey in hot water for a soothing, anti-inflammatory tea
- Use garlic powder to add flavor to savory recipes
- Make your own fire cider with fresh garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar, honey, horseradish, and hot peppers
- Mix roasted garlic cloves into mashed potatoes, hummus, and sandwich spreads.
If you’re cooking garlic, it’s important to note that the cooking process deactivates an enzyme called allinase, which converts allinin to allicin, the main active beneficial compound found in garlic.
Alliinase is activated when garlic is crushed or chopped, so, if you’re cooking garlic, experts suggest letting the chopped garlic sit for roughly ten minutes before cooking. Letting the garlic sit for a short time will allow the allicin to develop, which makes the garlic more beneficial for health.
Garlic is a popular cooking ingredient that’s been linked to a number of health benefits.
Regularly consuming garlic may benefit the health of the brain, heart, and liver, and may help regulate inflammation and support immune function.
Try adding garlic to savory dishes like soups and pastas or making wellness teas or shots with fresh garlic, ginger, lemon juice, and honey.