by Jennifer Novakovich: Ginger, a pungent spice natively found in southern Asia, is an up and coming plant with exciting health benefits. Research is mounting on ginger’s action on inflammation, cancer-prevention, heart health, nausea, pain, etc. It is grown extensively in the tropics, with India, Nigeria, Australia, China, and Jamaica being the top producers. Discoveries of the beneficial health outcomes associated with ginger consumption are increasing; it’s no wonder Indians considered it as Maha Oushadha, which translates to “the great medicine.” With these amazing results, ginger is an easy addition to your diet to achieve some of its health promoting effects.
Ginger (zingiber officinale) is a member of the Zingiberaceae plant family, comprised of a mixture of constituents, including the active components gingerols, shogaol, and zerumbone. Next to black pepper, it is one of the most commonly used spices world-wide. It has been used traditionally for thousands of years in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Unani-Tibb medicine for various ailments. Its uses have extended to treatment of nausea, common colds, heartburn, migraines, impotence, influenza, hypertension, digestion, and pain, as well as arthritis prevention and management, platelet inhibition, appetite stimulation, blood vessel dilation, and the list goes on.
Current research has concurred with these older practices, showing exciting health improvements associated with ginger consumption. Preliminary research has demonstrated ginger’s effectiveness at cancer prevention, heart disease prevention, migraine relief, anti-inflammation, reducing pain, etc. Ginger may be a safer and cheaper alternative to many of our current pharmaceuticals recommended for the above ailments and chronic diseases in general, which are largely regulated by inflammation. Although currently research is largely either on an animal or in-vitro scale, ginger has exciting potential for future human research.
What makes ginger so effective? Gingerol, the active component in fresh ginger that is chemically similar to capsaicin (responsible for spiciness in peppers) demonstrates protection against cancer cell proliferation. When ginger is cooked, gingerol is converted to zingerone, which is less pungent. Shogaol, a component similar to gingerol, is also produced when ginger is dried or cooked. Another constituent, zerumbone, acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory agent, and a cancer protective agent. Ginger’s biological activity is achieved through its inhibition of various molecular pathways and ultimately provides protection against inflammation and oxidative damage, making it effective at managing chronic diseases.
Ginger has a pungent and fresh taste and is a great spice to use on a daily basis. How can you add more to give your dishes more of a ‘kick’? In many dishes, ginger can be simply grated in while cooking to make the dishes a bit more exotic and pungent. Feeling sick? My go-to remedy is always freshly made ginger tea; grate fresh ginger into boiled water, let it steep 5–15 minutes, and add a bit of lemon or lime (sweetened to preference). Ginger tea can be enjoyed both hot and iced.
Are you an athlete who wants some extra help recovering? Since ginger is so anti-inflammatory, it makes a great addition to post workout meals, shakes, and drinks. Try adding fresh ginger in your smoothies! My personal favorite use of ginger is in a pumpkin pie smoothie! I use one scoop of the vanilla Warrior Blend by Sunwarrior, a scoop of pumpkin puree, about an inch of fresh ginger, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, 1 banana, ice, and almond milk. Something to look forward to for either breakfast or post-workout shakes!
The health benefits of ginger are vast and the flavor is delicious (in my book, anyway). Ginger can be cheaply purchased in most local grocery stores. There’s no reason for more people to not take advantage of ginger and its health-promoting qualities. What are your favorite ways to use ginger?
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Kubra IR, Rao LJ. (2012) An Impression on Current Developments in the Technology, Chemistry, and Biological Activities of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 52(8):651-88.
Terry R, Posadzki P, Watson LK, Ernst E. (2011) The Use of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) for the Treatment of Pain: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. Pain Med. 12(12):1808-18.