If you want to talk about superfoods, you need to know about ginger.
Yes, that sometimes weird looking, smelly stump thing you see piled up in baskets at the market is actually an amazing addition to your healthy living plan.
This exotic food is spicy, but not hot, and fragrant without tasting like floral perfume. It’s been used for centuries all over the world for its deliciously pungent flavor and for its wealth of ancient and holistic medicinal properties.
This all around wonder spice was once viewed by Chinese and Indian healers as a gift from the gods.
So if you only know ginger as wasabi’s best friend, accompanying your sushi boat, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Ginger’s one of my favorite healthful spices; I eat it raw, make tea with it, and even use it as a dried spice to kick my dishes up a notch.
Today I want to share some amazing health benefits of ginger with you guys, and I hope they may inspire you to give this weird little rhizome a chance.
But first, what the heck is that dirty root thing anyway?
What is Ginger?
Ginger originated in southern parts of China before it was traded throughout Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. This is why you’ll typically find recipes using ginger in these spice loving cuisines.
The ginger we all eat doesn’t come from the root of the plant, but actually the rhizome, which is part of the stem that grows horizontally underground. Ginger is sometimes called ‘ginger root’ only because it grows underground, but roots actually grow vertically. This is why ginger sometimes looks like it was just uprooted from the dirt.
Ginger roots have thin or thick skins, depending on their level of maturity when they were harvested. You should check these out when you buy your ginger to make sure they look healthy and mold-free, and peel the skin off before you use it.
Young ginger roots are very juicy, yet mild. You can enjoy young ginger pickled (like when you eat sushi) or steep it in tea to make ginger tea.
However, mature ginger roots are fibrous and dry; they make excellent candidates for fresh grated ginger, used as a spice to zest your best dishes and stir-frys. When the grated ginger is powder dry, you can use it in recipes like gingerbread cookies.
So now that you know what ginger is, how about we get right into what makes it a superfood?
The most widely known fact about ginger is that it’s a great natural remedy to combat nausea.
Ginger Fights Nausea and Morning Sickness
Ginger has long been touted for its effect on unhappy tummies. From motion sickness to morning sickness, you’ll likely find a ginger remedy online to help.
When pregnant women have to deal with morning sickness, which can happen at any point in the day and not just in the AM, they have to fight off nausea and vomiting. Yuck!
One study on this sweet smelling rhizome proved that taking ginger reduced the symptoms of nausea, but didn’t reduce the number of daily puke sessions. As tempting as that must sound to all you pregnant ladies, definitely speak with your doctor about adding ginger to your diet before you attempt this one.
If you can’t fly by plane or step foot on a boat without your motion sickness pills, ginger may be just what you’re looking for.
A study on seasickness tested 80 naval cadets who weren’t used to sailing in heavy seas. They gave the participants an anti-nausea medicine, a placebo, or ginger root, and checked on their levels of seasickness every four hours.
Researchers not only discovered that “fewer symptoms of nausea and vertigo were reported after ginger root ingestion”, but “ginger root reduced the tendency to vomiting and cold sweating significantly better than [the] placebo did”.
Further to this, an overall review of six separate studies aimed at discovering if ginger was as powerful as over-the-counter anti-nausea medicine, discovered that taking ginger was “superior to [taking a] placebo and equally effective” as the OTC remedy.
That’s pretty awesome. You know I love it when natural foods work just as well as factory created pills that have unpleasant side effects.
Ginger is Anti-Inflammatory
Ginger’s in the same family as turmeric, a spice thought to have anti-inflammatory benefits, so it’s no wonder that ginger shares the same ability.
When you start losing cartilage between your joints due to arthritis or osteoarthritis, the bone-on-bone rubbing that occurs during walking just a few steps can seem unbearable. Many people suffering with arthritis feel trapped when they can’t move due to the unbearable pain and stiffness in their joints.
Before going through surgery, many people turn to pain relieving drugs just to cope with daily life.
A trial of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee received ginger extracts twice a day for six weeks in place of their pain medication. They were allowed to use acetaminophen as a “rescue medication” if they were in dire pain.
The great news is that researchers noticed that when patients took the ginger extract, they experienced a reduction in knee pain when standing and walking. Patients relied less on the acetaminophen when consuming the ginger, which is awesome considering the side effects of excessive acetaminophen use.
You can also battle inflammation in your brain that can be the cause of pain when you get migraines.
If you’ve ever had to suffer through a migraine, you know that the pain is oftentimes horrible.
In a double-blind study, 100 patients with acute migraines were randomly selected to receive either ginger powder or a drug that treats migraines. Two hours after using either drug, the average headache severity decreased significantly with both treatment options.
However, the effect that the ginger powder had was similar to the effect the migraine drug had, meaning it worked just as well. The advantage is that patients experienced less side effects when they took the ginger powder instead of the migraine drug. In my book this counts as a win for ginger.
Ginger May Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Between 60-70% of those suffering from dementia over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, a progressively degenerative nervous system disorder affecting the brain.
Since oxidative stress and inflammation are thought to trigger the risk factors for Alzheimer’s, it’s no wonder that the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been studied as a means of preventing this terrible disorder from happening.
Recent data suggests that middle-aged women typically develop forms of cognitive impairment like memory loss or unfocused attention as their age advances. But this study proved that “ginger extract enhances both attention and cognitive processing capabilities of healthy, middle-aged women”.
Ginger May Reduce Muscle Soreness
Some people like to feel their muscles burn the day after an intense workout. I am not one of those people.
To ease the pain of muscle soreness, I like to add ginger to my whey protein shakes because one study concluded that “daily consumption of raw and heat-treated ginger resulted in moderate-to-large reductions in muscle pain following exercise-induced muscle injury”.
As Medical News Today points out, a study involving 74 volunteers at the University of Georgia found that “daily ginger supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscle pain by 25%”.
Notice the words daily supplement in that statement. Ginger’s not an immediate pain remedy and takes awhile to get going, but when it does, it definitely helps.
One study that demonstrated this caveat discovered that when participants were asked to consume ginger 24 hours after they exercised, they reduced their muscle pain the following day, or 48 hours after their workout session.
Participants taking the placebo in the same time frame noticed no change in muscle soreness. Ouch.
So if you work out intensely or suffer from muscle aches, consider making ginger part of your daily routine to decrease the length of time your muscles are sore. You’ll feel better and want to work out harder.
Ginger May Prevent Cancer
Ginger is full of antioxidants that fight free radicals in our bodies, which is why many people believe that ginger may prevent cancer.
Did you know that 3% of ginger’s weight comes from its fragrant oils? These oils do more than add a pungent aroma to the air; they are home to ginger’s cancer fighting properties.
One of ginger’s oils, gingerol, has been studied for its active role in cancer treatment and prevention. According to one study, a version of gingerol was discovered to “possess anticancer activities”. These activities included aiding in biological pathways towards cell death, cell cycle regulation, [and] cytotoxic activity”.
In another study, this time testing ginger’s effect on ovarian cancer, researchers used whole ginger extract containing 5% gingerol and discovered that “exposure to the ginger extract caused cell death in all the ovarian cancer lines”.
All I can say is wow!
The American Cancer Society likes the sound of results like that, but it agrees with me that we cannot promote ginger as a cancer treatment at this stage because further clinical trials need to be conducted and researched.
Ginger May Lower Blood Sugar
Diabetes has become so prevalent in our world thanks to the fact that sugar is hidden in practically everything, and we’re spending more time on our mobile devices than on bicycles!
So naturally, I was excited to learn about a study that linked ginger consumption to lower blood sugar and HbA1c test levels, which measure an average of how much sugar is in your blood over a 3 month period.
By adding just two grams of ginger powder to a diabetics’ diet every day, fasting blood sugar lowered by 12%, and HbA1c levels reduced by 10%.
- Inhibits enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism
- Increases insulin release and sensitivity
- Improves lipid profiles
He also says that ginger has a “protective effect against diabetes complications, including offering protection to the diabetic’s liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and eyes”.
Ginger Lowers Cholesterol
When diabetic and hypothyroid induced rats were given fresh ginger root over the course of 30 days, scientists found that their total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, levels both decreased.
But this wasn’t the only good news. Triglycerides were also reduced and HDL, or good cholesterol, was increased as a result of the fresh ginger.
The same effect that ginger had on rats has also be tested in humans.
A double blind study examined the effects that powdered ginger had on lipid levels in 45 volunteers. Researchers discovered that ginger significantly reduced triglyceride, cholesterol, and LDL levels. Plus, increases in HDL were higher in the ginger group than the placebo group.
Lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol numbers means a decrease in heart related issues like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Ginger is a Natural Expectorant
Don’t suffer through another bad cough this winter. All you have to do is incorporate more ginger in your diet.
Since ginger is a natural expectorant, it helps expand your lungs and even loosens phlegm by breaking down and removing mucus.
When you’re feeling a little congested, make some warm ginger tea with lemon three times a day and you’ll feel better in no time.
Researchers at Columbia University believe that ginger, along with bronchodilating medications used to treat asthma, help to relax muscles around the body’s airways. When you have an asthma attack, these muscles constrict and make it hard to breathe.
Ginger Hates PMS
Some women experience nausea, cramping, and severe pain during their menstrual cycles. Besides aiding in nausea relief, ginger supporters claim that ginger actually helps with menstrual pain.
Researchers in one study discovered that “83% of women taking ginger capsules reported improvements in pain symptoms compared to 47% of those on placebo”.
Another study found that by adding 1 gram of ginger powder to the diets of women during the first three days of their menstrual cycle, reduced their pain just as well as ibuprofen.
Ginger Helps with Weight Loss
According to a study in Metabolism, participants who drank 2 grams of ginger powder steeped in hot water like a tea, were less hungry three hours later than participants who did not drink the ginger water. This led researchers to believe that ginger offers us feelings of satiety so we don’t binge eat.
Plus, research suggests that ginger may also enhance fat digestion.
In one study, ginger was discovered to increase the secretion of bile salts and stimulate the activity of the pancreas. As a result of these activities, ginger allows high fat foods to be digested better and also prevents these fats from being absorbed by the body.
See, ginger is one of those great foods that increases the body’s temperature, which in turn speeds up the body’s ability to burn calories on its own without exercise.
I love ginger for weight loss so much that I included it in my amazing fat melting drink recipe.
Ginger ‘Karate Chops’ Infections
Ginger has been known to posses some pretty awesome antibacterial and antimicrobial properties to fight off bacteria that may lead to infections.
Your dentist will be happy to see you add ginger to your diet.
Because ginger has been shown to be effective at fighting bacteria in your mouth that would have normally turned into gingivitis. In one study, ginger “effectively inhibited the growth of these oral pathogens” and killed others.
Ginger Boosts Libido
I thought I’d finish this post with a happy ending, by letting you know that ginger is great for boosting bedroom time.
The ancient Chinese used to believe that ginger held medicinal properties to reduce erectile dysfunction in men and increase fertility.
Many people still believe that ginger’s powerful combination of magnesium, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese, improves sex drive and even increases sperm production. I was surprised to learn that just one tablespoon of ginger contains “73 percent of the recommended daily intake [of manganese] for men and 94 percent for women”.
I hope I’ve inspired you to add more ginger to your diet! How incredible is this amazing, versatile, and healthy food?
You can incorporate fresh ginger in your diet by adding it to your favorite fruit or veggie smoothies, or mince some into your stir fry. To make ginger tea, simmer a few strips of fresh ginger in 2 cups of hot water for 10 minutes. I like mine flavored with fresh lemon juice too.
Are you as impressed with ginger’s health benefits as I am? Share your ginger-related thoughts in the comments!