Happy Spring everyone! I hope that everyone is doing well and didn’t get too stressed out from tax season. I love spring because it is a time to start on new projects! (Review my post on nutritional and lifestyle tips for the spring season here.) Today’s post is the beginning of many food posts. I am a firm believer of using food as medicine, and today’s topic is no exception. Ginger has been touted for its many medicinal properties including stimulating digestion, treating colds and fevers, and alleviating nausea from chemotherapy.
Ginger is a root or rhizome, an enlarged underground stem that can be eaten fresh, dried, powdered, or as a juice. It is shaped like a palm with fingers and produced in tropical India, Jamaica, Fiji, Indonesia, and Australia. Part of the Zingiberaceae family, ginger’s siblings include cardamom and turmeric (two other important anti-inflammatory herbs). The word ginger literally means “spirit” “liveliness” and “verve” (or vigor). And you will see that it does just that — it invigorates the body by increasing energy and circulation.
Here are some of the basic properties and functions to remember about ginger:
- pungent flavor (review the five flavors here)
- warming thermal nature (thermal nature review here)
- stimulates digestion
- boosts circulation and respiration
- can treat colds and fevers
- used for nausea from chemotherapy or morning sickness from pregnancy
- anti-inflammatory by alleviating pain from arthritis
- may normalize blood pressure
- supports the liver and promotes bile release
Ginger is one of the first things you should reach for if you find yourself coming down with a cold or fever. It is a natural diaphoretic that stimulates perspiration, detoxifying the body and bringing our temperatures down. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to boost our immune systems and reduce pain or bodyaches. It also acts as an anti-histamine and decongestant, helping to ease cold symptoms. Add a slice of ginger, lemon, and honey to warm or room temp water as soon as you start feeling symptoms of a cold. Review my post on the common cold here.
The phenolic compounds found in this root help decrease gastric irritation by stimulating saliva and bile production. Studies have found that it can increase the rate of gastric emptying and stomach contractions in those with indigestion without affecting or decreasing their gut’s intrinsic peptides (proteins). It has also been found to inhibit H. pylori, which may help prevent ulcers as well as protect gastric mucosa.
Research has shown that pregnancy related nausea and vomiting as well as morning sickness can be reduced by taking 1 gram of ginger daily in short periods (up to 4 days), while several studies have found that ginger is better than placebo in relieving morning sickness. Pregnant women please consult your physician and do not take more than 1 gram/day.
Chemotherapy induced nausea can also be combated with ginger. This study showed that adult cancer patients on chemotherapy who took 0.5 – 1 g doses of ginger daily significantly aided in reduction of severity from acute chemotherapy-induced nausea.
Anti-inflammatory and pain reduction
Ginger has been known to be a great anti-inflammatory agent. A study in 2013 found that women athletes that took 3 grams of ginger or cinnamon daily had decreased their muscle soreness significantly. It has also been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving menstrual cramps.
The effects of ginger on diabetes may be simultaneously therapeutic and preventative. A comprehensive review of diabetic patients who took 3 grams of powdered ginger daily for 30 days have shown that it decreases blood glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. It has a positive effect on diabetes because it inhibits enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism and increases insulin release and sensitivity.
Several studies on ginger in the last ten years have shown promising results with fighting cancer. In 2007, a study published by the BMC Complementary and Alternative medicine, found that “[it] inhibits growth and modulates secretion of angiogenic factors in ovarian cancer cells.” Another study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered that ginger actually caused the death of ovarian cancer cells in a lab. Finally a study in 2012 published by the British Journal of Nutrition found that this versatile root “exerts significant growth-inhibitory and death-inductory effects in a spectrum of prostate cancer cells.” It seems that different cancers respond similarly to ginger and more studies need to be done to confirm this theory.
Using ginger in your diet
Ginger goes well with many types of food including seafood, sushi, meats, veggies, and fruits such as oranges, melons, and apples. Have you noticed that sushi is always paired with a stack of thinly sliced ginger? This is because it removes toxins from raw seafood. It adds flavor to pork and balances the coldness of veggies and fruits with its warming thermal nature. Add it to your next smoothie or juice, stir fry in veggies and meats, mix in raw with your salads, steep in water with lemon and honey to make tea, or add to any seafood recipe to not only spice things up but also detoxify.
When buying in the supermarket, the freshest root will have smooth and taut skin (without wrinkles) and a spicy, pungent aroma. The hands and fingers of the root should be firm and plump, and the flesh is juicy when fresh. To best preserve, store in a tightly wrapped plastic bag in the fridge or freezer. Ginger should be peeled and easiest to use in your dishes when grated but can also be thinly sliced.
Ginger is safe for most people and usually causes little side effects. Excessive use may cause digestive upset and can exacerbate acid reflux in some people so use sparingly if you are prone to this. Do not use if you have a gallstones.
Remember that when eating, balance is key and your diet should always contain a variety of different foods.
I hope you enjoyed this post on ginger. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section. Have a great week!
In health and wellness,
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Woods
Ginger’s Many Evidenced-Based Health Benefits Revealed by Joseph Mercola