If you open your spice cupboard, you might find a little container of ground dried ginger. You might also have seen — and even tried — fresh ginger in your local supermarket or an Asian grocery store. Ginger is found in candy, tea, and baked goods, as well. What exactly is ginger? Is it good for you? And does it affect your diabetes?
What is ginger?
Ginger is a flowering plant native to parts of Asia whose rhizome (underground stem) is used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Fresh ginger root is light brown on the outside and pale yellow on the inside.
According to The Ginger People’s website, the history of ginger dates back about 5,000 years. Ginger was once a commodity, and by the mid-16th century, Europe was receiving more than 2,000 tons of dried ginger yearly from the East Indies. The Chinese have been using ginger as a digestive aid and to help with nausea. During the Middle Ages, ginger was used as a spice to disguise the taste of meat, and it’s said that Henry VIII used ginger in hopes of building resistance to the plague. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with decorating cookies made from ginger (the first gingerbread men!).
Speaking of ginger, Canada Dry Ginger Ale started out as Pale Ginger Ale in 1904. John J. McLaughlin, who owned a sparkling water plant in Canada, made this lighter version of more syrupy ginger ales. During prohibition, Canada Dry Ginger Ale was used as a mixer for hard liquor.
Fresh ginger is often grated, minced or sliced and added to various dishes or made into a tea. Ginger juice can be used in beverages, salad dressings, or marinades. Ginger can also be pickled, dried, preserved, crystallized, and candied. Ginger is also available as supplements in various forms, including tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, and teas.
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Health benefits of ginger
Several health benefits are attributed to ginger. Ginger is used to relieve:
While ginger ale is often given to someone with an upset stomach, most ginger ales don’t contain real ginger. However, research indicates that “real” ginger can be helpful for mild nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. Studies haven’t shown that ginger helps with nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, but it might be helpful with certain types of chemotherapy or certain drugs used to prevent nausea and vomiting, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Compounds in ginger may work to reduce pain in a manner similar to common arthritis medicines. Ginger contains a substance called gingerol, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger dietary supplements might help with relieving menstrual cramps, due to their gingerol content.
Some research points to ginger as improving long-term blood sugar control in those with type 2 diabetes, according to the August 2012 edition of the journal Planta Medica. Another study from the University of Australia found that Australian-grown ginger increased the uptake of glucose into muscle cells, helping with the management of high blood sugars.
Ginger may lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, based on one study, and may reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, according to another study. But, doses of ginger used in these studies was high and not tolerated for some of the participants.
Side effects of ginger
Ginger is relatively safe to consume and most side effects are not considered to be “severely harmful” according a 2020 review in the journal Nutrients. Side effect may include:
- Stomach pain
Ginger contains salicylates, which are also found in aspirin. Like aspirin, ginger may act as a blood thinner and increase the risk of bleeding. If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin, talk to your doctor before taking ginger.
One teaspoon of fresh ginger contains:
- 2 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 0.4 grams of carbohydrate
- 0 grams of protein
- < 1 milligram (mg) of sodium
- 8 milligrams of potassium
Two tablespoons of pickled ginger contain:
- 27 calories
- 0.1 grams of fat
- 6 grams of carbohydrate
- 0.2 grams of protein
- 198 mg of sodium
- 53 mg of potassium
Two pieces of Gin-Gins (a chewy ginger candy) contain:
- 40 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 10 grams of carbohydrate
- 0 grams of protein
- 0 mg of sodium
Tips for using ginger
- Add fresh grated or minced ginger to stir-fry dishes or to your favorite marinade recipe.
- Make your own ginger tea by pouring boiling water over a chunk of ginger root; add lemon and the sweetener of your choice to taste.
- Peel ginger easily by rubbing the tip of a spoon across it.
- Store ginger in the fridge in an airtight container or zip-top bag; you can also freeze it for 2-3 months.
- If you take a ginger supplement, let your provider know. Follow the instructions on the container and don’t take more than 2 grams per day. Also, look at the ingredient list for active ingredients such as gingerols and shogaols, says the website GoodRx.
- If you have any adverse reactions to fresh or dried ginger, or to ginger supplements, stop using ginger, and let your provider know if the side effects are severe (such as excess bleeding).
- Pay close attention to your blood sugars if you take a ginger supplement. Depending on the amount that you take, it may lower your blood sugars and possibly increase the risk of hypoglycemia.