Garlic — and garlic breath — has been around for thousands of years. Ancient people around the world used garlic as both a food and medicine, treating a slew of health conditions, from diarrhea and constipation to asthma, fever, and infection, with this stinky bulb.
These days, garlic lovers eat it mostly because it makes nearly everything savory taste delish. But it may also help treat conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Let’s take a closer look at why it’s worth loading up on breath mints to load up on more garlic.
Let’s get straight to the numbers: Three cloves of the stuff (enough flavor for plenty of crowd-pleasing dishes) provides only 13 calories, no fat, 0.6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of carbohydrates, with less than 1 gram of fiber. Garlic is packed with manganese, vitamin C, selenium, and many other nutrients, including:
- 0.15 milligrams (mg) manganese (6.5% daily value, aka DV)
- 2.81 mg vitamin C (3.1% DV)
- 1.28 micrograms (mcg) selenium (2.3% DV)
- 16.3 mg calcium (1.3% DV)
- 14 mg phosphorus (1.1% DV)
- 0.153 mg iron (0.85% DV)
- 36 mg potassium (0.8% DV)
- 2.3 mg magnesium (0.5% DV)
If garlic was a superhero, it wouldn’t be limited to just one super power.
Garlic is loaded with bioactive compounds, like allicin, which gives it strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and other healing properties. Researchers believe these compounds are responsible for garlic’s many health benefits.
And that’s not all. Garlic’s sulfur-containing compounds give it that characteristic flavor and odor. (Hello, garlic breath!)
Interestingly, raw garlic has stronger antioxidant properties than cooked garlic — so load up on garlic-y pesto and say buh-bye to damaging free radicals!
Garlic doesn’t just keep away creatures of the night — it may also help fend off the common cold.
A meta-analysis of studies suggests garlic helps support immunity by increasing the number of certain immune cells in the body. And a number of trials show garlic helps reduce the number, duration, and severity of colds.
Got high blood pressure? Garlic may help bring it down a bit.
Several clinical studies suggest garlic may be able to help lower blood pressure in 80 percent of people with hypertension.
In one 2013 study, garlic helped lower systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 9 mm Hg versus placebo in 47 people with high blood pressure.
In a 2017 study of 40 people with metabolic syndrome, consuming crushed garlic twice a day for 4 weeks significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
And in another meta-analysis of the effects of garlic on blood pressure, garlic supplements significantly lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 5.1 mm HG and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 2.5 mm Hg. Those who had high blood pressure at the start of the studies experienced even greater reductions of blood pressure.
Another reason to love garlic? It loves you (and your heart) back.
Garlic has been prized for its beneficial effects on the heart and cholesterol levels. In one review of studies, taking garlic preparations for at least 2 months lowered total cholesterol by 17 mg/dL and LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) by 9 mg/dL in people with high cholesterol.
And it doesn’t just lower your bad cholesterol. In the 2017 study of 40 people with metabolic syndrome, consuming crushed garlic twice a day for 4 weeks significantly increased HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
Garlic is sweet when it comes to lowering blood sugar.
In one study of people with metabolic syndrome, people who consumed crushed garlic (100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight) twice a day for 4 weeks had significantly lower fasting blood sugar following the intervention.
And a review of well-designed studies found that garlic and garlic extracts significantly reduced fasting blood glucose.
Want your mind to stay sharp as you age? (Who doesn’t?) Don’t forget to load up on garlic.
However, more research is needed to know if garlic will really give you an edge when it comes to mental acuity.
If you have a vagina, you’ve likely had (or will have at some point in your life) a yeast infection. Garlic and garlic extracts have been used to treat infections for millennia, and yeast infections are no exception. The allicin in garlic is thought to be responsible for its yeast-busting qualities.
While more research is needed to determine if garlic can actually help quell the itchy, burny miserableness of a yeast infection, it doesn’t hurt to chow down on that agliata while talking with your doctor.
In one large study, men who ate more than 10 grams per day of allium vegetables, like garlic, had a reduced risk of prostate cancer compared with those who eat less than 2.2 grams per day. This effect was most pronounced for garlic and shallots.
Another review of international studies reported that people who eat a lot of allium vegetables — and particularly, a lot of garlic — had a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Not a fan of stinky fingers after chopping garlic? No need to pass on its benefits. Garlic can also be consumed as a powder or extract, and most studies suggest similar benefits, regardless of form.
For an easy way to work in garlic, add a few cloves to almost any savory sauce recipe, or create a meat rub before tossing steaks (or chicken, or seafood) on the grill. Garlic is also an easy add-in for cooked greens and other veggies, and its flavor boost makes it easier to cut down on salt.
Just be warned — garlic burns easily, and becomes very bitter when burnt, so add it to the pan last to avoid a garlic-tastrophe.