Ginger isn’t just a spice you can use to add more flavor to your favorite recipes. The flowering herb native to China, India, Africa, the Caribbean, and other warm regions around the world has been widely used as a folk medicine for thousands of years — and the health benefits of ginger might surprise you enough to incorporate more of it into your own diet.
Many people are led to believe that ginger is a root, but in fact, it’s actually a rhizome — a stem that grows underground and puts out shoots and roots from its nodes. Most supermarkets sell mature ginger, which has light brown skin and a yellow flesh inside when you slice it open.
Ginger Benefits Are Real
Ever been told to drink ginger ale to help ease an upset stomach? Ginger is commonly used to treat a variety of stomach problems, including motion sickness, morning sickness from pregnancy, colic, gas, diarrhea, nausea caused by cancer treatments, and nausea caused by surgeries.
In a trial study where a group of sailors who were prone to motion sickness, those who took powdered ginger experienced less vomiting and cold sweats than those who didn't. Although it didn’t seem to affect their nausea in this particular study, a related study showed that ginger was found to be as effective as Dramamine for treating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy along with fewer side effects.
Ginger contains gingerols, which are very potent anti-inflammatory compounds. In a study of patients with osteoarthritis of the knees, ginger extract significantly reduced their symptoms. In another related study concerning a rheumatic disease of joints, the shogaol compounds in ginger showed strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
According to WebMD, ginger may even be effective for reducing menstrual pain. As many as 62 percent of women who took ginger extract four times a day during the first three days of their menstrual periods experienced a reduction in pain, seeming to work almost just as well as ibuprofen.
Nutritional Benefits of Ginger
Ginger isn’t supposed to be ingested in large amounts and is almost always added to other food (unless taken in capsule form), so it won’t significantly impact your daily calorie consumption or overall nutrition. Despite this, you still may be able to enjoy at least some very small nutritional benefits by using it in your recipes.
Ginger is high in fiber offering 2 grams for every 100 grams in raw, fresh form. It contains a variety of healthy vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, vitamin B6, sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, folate, phosphorus, zinc, riboflavin, and niacin.
Risks Associated with Ginger
Adults should never take more than 4 grams of ginger per day. Although side effects from ingesting ginger are rare, they can sometimes interact with other medications or herbs you may be taking. Higher doses have been known to cause heartburn, gas, diarrhea, and irritation around the mouth.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with heart conditions, and diabetics shouldn’t take ginger before talking to their doctors about it first. Anyone who’s on blood thinners, diabetes medication, or high blood pressure medication should also initially talk to their doctor.
Fresh Ginger vs. Ground Ginger
You can purchase ginger in two main forms — the fresh herb itself, or ground up in powder form. Since ground ginger undergoes processing, some people falsely assume that it may not offer as many health benefits as its fresh counterpart.
The processing method used to turn fresh ginger into ground ginger involves the reduction of the amount of gingerol it contains, but it also increases amounts of other important compounds like shogaols, which may even be more potent and more effective for medicinal uses. In other words, fresh ginger doesn’t necessarily offer more health benefits than ground ginger, so you can take advantage of both.
Fresh is always best when it’s called for in recipes, but if you ever come across a recipe that calls for just a small amount fresh ginger and all you have is ground ginger from your spice rack, a good rule of thumb to follow is to use anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger per tablespoon of fresh ginger.
Buying and Storing Ginger
Most supermarkets supply both fresh ginger and ground ginger year-round. You should be able to find fresh ginger in the produce section and ground ginger in the spices section.
When buying fresh ginger, if should feel hard like a rock and the skin should be smooth and tight. If you pick up a piece of ginger that feels light or has wrinkled skin, avoid buying it.
Fresh ginger keeps for a few weeks, but it’s best to wrap it up in a paper towel for moisture absorption and place it in a paper bag if you don’t expect to use it up within a week or two. Store it in the crisper of your refrigerator.
Ginger is a popular addition to many Asian and Indian dishes. You can use ginger in teas, baked goods, desserts, smoothies, juices, and lots of other recipes for snacks and main courses that incorporate its flavoring.
Check out these delicious recipes for vegan and gluten-free ginger snaps, chocolate cake with winter squash and plus a ginger chocolate glaze, and simple fresh ginger root tea for some great ideas on how to start using this powerful herb in your own diet.
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