A popular ingredient in many world dishes, ginger has unmistakably aromatic and spicy flavour, adding heat and depth to many a recipe. Not only is it really tasty, but great for you too! Our nutritionist, Lucy-Ann takes a look into it and explores what makes this radical root so good for you!
Ginger is part of the same plant family as cardamom, galangal and turmeric, where the “rhizome” or root-like stem of the plants is most commonly used. The therapeutic uses of ginger have been documented for thousands of years in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, as well as widely adopted in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe too.
Now, modern-day science backs up traditional and anecdotal claims about ginger, as well as revealing more interesting findings about its powerful healing properties. This amazing spice has been found to possess broad-spectrum anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger also contains many types of powerful antioxidants, including gingerols, shogaols, and zingerones.
Ginger is known for its characteristic “heat”. This, along with its unique flavour is down to the presence of volatile oils. These plant oils, the “gingerols” have analgesic, sedative, and antibacterial properties, as well as exerting positive effects on gastrointestinal tract “movement” or motility.
Long used in herbal medicine as a good “digestive”, it is both a practical and very effective antidote to indigestion, bloating, stomach pain and nausea. Chewing a little fresh ginger 30 minutes prior to a meal can boost digestive capacity, as well as quell feelings of nausea, and motion sickness. According to Ayurveda (ancient Indian Medicine), ginger raises the “digestive fire”, and boosts our ability to digest food. If you find the heat too much, try adding chopped or grated ginger to a fresh mint tea, and sip this prior to, or during your meal.
Modern science has found ginger root eases morning sickness in pregnancy, as well as post-surgery nausea. Research recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, also found ginger helped chemotherapy-related nausea in cancer patients. In a trial of 644 cancer patients, those who took ginger capsules before and after treatment reported significantly less nausea, than those taking a placebo.
The cancer-preventative effects of ginger are being well-documented too. Scientists have found that ginger possesses the biological potential to stop the growth of cancer cells, particularly colon cancer cells. Another group of scientists published a study in 2009, suggesting that the gingerol compounds could effectively be used in the treatment of skin cancer.
Ginger is fast becoming noted for its ability to reduce joint inflammation, and the pain associated with arthritis. It does this by lowering levels of certain tissue hormones called prostaglandins that can induce pain and inflammation. Peer-reviewed data published in 2009 reported a significant joint-protective effect of ginger.
Now, if you suffer with migraine pain, then ginger powder may be worth a try. A trial with 100 patients, conducted in 2013 found that those taking a dose of ginger powder had just as much migraine relief as a common migraine medication – yet without the side-effects of the medication!
Another study, published in 2013, in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine found that female athletes taking 3 grams of ginger or cinnamon daily (less than a teaspoon) had a significant decrease in muscle soreness. Furthermore, the pain associated with female menstruation (known as “dysmenorrhoea”) also appears to be relieved with the help of ginger.
Research documented in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, also in 2013, described a trial, whereby ginger was compared to a placebo to assess its effectiveness as a pain reliever. Seventy female students who suffered with period pain were either given ginger in capsules, or a placebo for the first 3 days of their menstrual cycle. Lo and behold, the ginger group reported less pain as well an improvement in nausea symptoms.
Weight loss and blood sugar balance
Ginger might even help those looking to shed a few excess pounds! It appears to temporarily increase thermogenesis in the body. Thermogenesis is the metabolic process whereby the body burns stored fat to create heat. Ginger therefore has a positive “boosting” effect on the metabolic rate, increasing fat burning. As for those with blood sugar imbalances and disorders such as diabetes, ginger appears to be very effective, both preventively and therapeutically. It has positive effects on insulin release and insulin action, improving both carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
How best to use ginger
Ginger root freezes very well, so it’s easy to keep plenty in stock. Ginger root can be chopped, sliced thinly or grated. This is by far the best form to use for teas, salad dressings or stir-fries. In addition to the root, both ginger extract and ground ginger (ginger powder) have powerful therapeutic effects.
Ginger powder has a lot of “heat” and works well for curries, or added to soups. How you use ginger therapeutically depends on what you are using it for, so seek advice from an experienced health practitioner to benefit from its full effects.
So, all in all ginger is pretty good stuff! Have a go at incorporating it into your diet and see how much better you feel for it!