Garlic, that deliciously pungent herb that has been delighting adventurous pallets for centuries, is also incredibly good for you.  Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated its powerful antioxidant properties as well broad-spectrum antibiotic activity. There is also evidence that it lowers cholesterol and improves circulation. But what form (raw, cooked, powdered) is the best in terms of getting maximum benefit from this herb?

Researchers are currently hard at work trying to understand how and which of the many substances in garlic provide its health benefits, so it is not clear whether all forms of garlic provide the same benefits. The sulphurous compounds that are formed when the garlic bulb is chopped or crushed may be the substances that have the strongest antioxidant activity.  These compounds also have been shown to relax blood vessels and improve oxygen circulation to the heart.

But does garlic powder, either taken in capsules or sprinkled in food offer the same levels of these beneficial compounds as fresh garlic? One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that garlic powder might not have the same cardiovascular benefits as fresh garlic. Researchers found that fresh versus powdered garlic fed to rats produced entirely different effects on the heart. When heart damage similar to a heart attack was simulated in these rats, the rats that were given fresh garlic experienced better blood flow to the damaged heart muscle than the rats given powdered, processed garlic. On a positive note, both forms of garlic appeared to reduce heart damage related to lack of oxygen.

The bottom line? If you're concerned about heart health, you might want to stick with fresh garlic. Garlic powder may still provide some of the other health benefits associated with fresh garlic, although few studies have been done using powdered garlic. Garlic has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties and may be beneficial for diabetics because it seems to help stabilize blood sugar levels. It's also a good source of antioxidants. If you want the most health benefits, consider eating it raw. Raw garlic is thought to be more potent than cooked garlic, particularly in terms of its anti-bacterial properties. Even low amounts of heat seem to reduce its power to fight bacteria.