Yes, it has a potent smell—but this edible bulb also has potent effects on your heart, bones, and skin
You probably know that vegetables are one of the best food groups to eat for your health, thanks to their many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. But did you know that fresh garlic counts as a vegetable? And that it’s just as good for you as other veggies?
It’s true: Any food that’s a root, bulb, or stalk of a vegetable plant counts as a vegetable. The garlic bulb (as part of the onion family alongside shallots, leeks, and chives) deserves a spot on this list—and your plate. Garlic is loaded with organic sulfur compounds that make it particularly beneficial; these compounds fight inflammation, bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and have protective effects on the heart and kidneys.
If you’ve never embraced your inner vampire, it’s time to reconsider—sure, garlic makes your breath pretty stinky, but the health benefits of its medicinal properties are worth it.
7 health benefits of garlic
There are many reasons to increase your garlic intake, and you don’t have to consume very much of this little bulb to find yourself on the receiving end of its benefits.
According to Peter Michael, MD, garlic is low in calories and rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese, plus trace amounts of various other nutrients that are good for your body. Here are just a few ways garlic can improve your overall health.
1. Improved heart health
Consuming garlic (allium sativum) can have a positive effect on two factors related to heart disease: lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Several studies have pointed to the use of garlic supplements in reducing total and LDL cholesterol levels, as well as significantly lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).
These heart health benefits mostly come from the sulfur compounds in garlic, especially diallyl trisulfide, which Dr. Michael says may help protect the heart after a heart attack and during heart surgery.
2. Healthier kidneys
Garlic is high in antioxidants which can protect the kidneys from damage caused by free radicals, says Dr. Michael. Its sulfur compounds may even offset some of the effects of alcoholic fatty liver disease or decrease inflammation in people with chronic kidney disease, according to a 2021 review of studies.
3. Better weight loss
When you hit the produce section for fresh, healthy veggies, make sure garlic is on your list: When eaten as part of a balanced diet, garlic could help you reach your weight loss goals.
“Some studies suggest garlic may have a minor impact on weight loss by reducing body fat, increasing metabolism, [and reducing] appetite,” says Barbara Kovalenko, registered dietitian, and nutritionist consultant at weight loss app Lasta.
The evidence is limited and inconclusive, Kovalenko warns, and garlic by itself won’t be a “magic bullet” for weight loss. Still, one small 2022 study suggests that garlic extract may help reduce BMI when taken twice daily as a supplement.
4. Stronger immune system
Interested in another one of garlic’s many superpowers? It can boost your immune function thanks to its antiviral properties, says Danielle Kelvas, MD, a medical adviser for Speediance.
Pointing to a study that found a 63% reduction in the number of infections with the common cold for people taking a garlic supplement, Dr. Kelvas explains that the sulfur compound allicin is thought to stimulate white blood cells to help fight off infections and viruses.
5. Bolstered antimicrobial and antifungal
Garlic is known to have both antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which means it may help fight certain types of infections and bacteria.
6. Improved inflammation
Garlic’s anti-inflammatory properties benefit more than just your immune system. They may be able to decrease inflammation due to arthritis as well. “Allicin and diallyl disulfide…can help reduce inflammatory cytokines and ease joint pain and arthritis symptoms,” Dr. Michael says.
This is backed up by a 2020 study looking at the effects of garlic supplementation on people with rheumatoid arthritis; not only was a reduction in joint pain observed, but participants also reported less fatigue and pain.
7. Lower cancer risk
Consuming garlic has been associated with a lower risk of certain types of cancer—particularly stomach cancer and colon cancer, Dr. Kelvas points out. Again, the evidence is far from conclusive, but studies have shown that garlic may have protective effects on the colon when consumed regularly.
It’s also possible that garlic may have additional anticancer properties for men when it comes to reducing their risk of prostate cancer; in fact, these benefits extend to the entire garlic family, including onions, shallots, chives, and leeks.
Garlic side effects
Most people can safely eat one to two cloves of garlic every day, but if you’ve rapidly increased your garlic consumption, Kovalenko says you should be prepared for a few mild side effects like digestive discomfort, bad breath, and body odor.
Some people are intolerant of garlic, Kovalenko adds, which may cause more moderate gastrointestinal side effects: “Garlic contains fructans, which are a type of carbohydrate that can be difficult for some people to digest.”
If you’re extremely uncomfortable after eating garlic, avoid it or reduce your intake. Dr. Michael says some warning signs that garlic is irritating to your gut include heartburn, burning in your mouth or throat, nausea, vomiting, gas, or diarrhea (especially when eating raw garlic).
Lastly, always ask your healthcare provider about consuming garlic for its potential health benefits if you are taking any blood-thinning medications like Eliquis or warfarin: Dr. Michael says large amounts of garlic can increase your risk of bleeding.
Bottom line: What does garlic do for the body?
Unless you can’t tolerate it or it interacts with one of your medications, garlic is a powerful little bulb vegetable. Its organic sulfur compounds, like allicin and the alliinase enzyme, offer many health benefits in just one or two cloves—but much more so when garlic is eaten raw rather than roasted in your favorite dish.
“The best way to consume garlic is by eating it raw on an empty stomach, [because the allicin in garlic] gets diluted during the cooking process,” says Dr. Michael, who also suggests choosing a type of garlic that’s especially high in allicin, like one from the Porcelain family, if you’re eating it solely for its health benefits.
If you can’t handle eating raw garlic, Dr. Kelvas recommends incorporating it more frequently into your diet so you still get some of the benefits. Try adding it to soups and stews, blending it into hummus or guacamole, and mixing it into pasta sauces, potato, or chicken dishes. Garlic supplements or aged garlic extract can also be incorporated to increase your garlic consumption.