Healthy supplements come and go, but some stand the test of time. Take ginger, for instance, which is a plant we have been consuming in some shape or form for thousands of years. The root has some amazing health benefits that can give your body a boost – though there are a few things to keep in mind before you start. Nevertheless, from helping tackle heart disease to improving digestion, let’s explore a few reasons why you should consider adding ginger to your diet.
To begin with, get all preconceptions about ginger out of your head. No, we’re not just talking about human-shaped cookies here. That’s your sweet tooth doing the thinking. We are referring to the plant that gives gingerbread its flavor.
Sure, it doesn’t look like much, but ginger’s gnarly shape hides some surprises. You see, the people of ancient Greece, India and China all knew how useful the plant could be. In fact, they cultivated it as a form of medicine – making it a valued dietary addition.
You might be wondering how ginger came to this side of the globe from half a world away. Well, we have the Silk Road to thank for that. For those of you unfamiliar with its history, this passage was an established trade route formed more than 2,000 years ago. Both goods and religions traveled its paths from east to west and vice versa.
So, ginger arrived on Western shores thanks to China, and it was soon picked up in Europe. People on the continent apparently appreciated its flavor. It was actually used as a spice to hide the taste of preserved meat, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Though that’s not to say ginger’s health properties were entirely ignored in Europe. According to PBS, it’s believed that Henry VIII ate it to ward off the plague. Sure, he’s not exactly a good role model for a healthy lifestyle! But the English king was right about the potential health benefits of ginger.
The Europeans had developed their own recipe for gingerbread by the end of the Middle Ages, according to PBS. Though the Greeks had already been eating the delicacy for more than a thousand years prior! Nevertheless, the weird little root had plenty of other applications, too. And people in Europe later discovered that it was quite versatile.
For a start, if you want a strong taste you can use fresh ginger roots. Or you can give the powdered form a go to preserve it for longer. Alternatively, you could try preserved ginger, which is made by peeling fresh young roots and then cooking the slices in sugar syrup.
You can also make something known as crystallized ginger. According to BBC Good Food, you simply cook the root in sugar syrup and then roll it in sugar. Or you could slice ginger and pickle it with vinegar. In Japan, this form is known as gari and it’s often provided between courses.
As we mentioned earlier, ginger is often used as a flavoring for various different recipes. From gingerbread to ginger beer and even ginger tea, it’s perhaps most widely known to the public as a seasoning. And this makes sense – considering how it belongs to the same family as cardamom and turmeric.
Ginger has often been praised for the health benefits it can provide us. So, it turns out that Henry VIII might have been onto something! The plant can actually strengthen your immune system thanks to a compound called gingerol.
Gingerol is apparently responsible for giving the root its smell. It’s also an antioxidant, which is more commonly associated with superfoods like blueberries. Crucially, antioxidants combat free radicals, and they are needed to prevent considerable harm to your health.
Free radicals are basically created when your body produces an electron which isn’t paired with another. In their search for a partner, these solo atoms take their toll on your body – causing diseases and aging. Thankfully, antioxidants remove free radicals, which is one reason why they’re such a highly prized commodity in healthy diets.
So, after reading this, you’re probably wondering how you can add ginger in your daily diet! Well, the good news is that it’s surprisingly easy to do so. If you’re a fan of hot drinks, you could start opting for ginger tea. Or salad fans can simply incorporate ginger into their existing recipes.
Ginger’s health benefits don’t end there, either. It also contains antioxidant-like compounds called phytonutrients. Plants produce these substances in order to protect them from threats such as UV rays and insect predators. You’d be surprised what they can do for you as part of your diet, though.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an eating regime which includes plenty of phytonutrients could have significant health benefits. For instance, it notes that it appears to be an “effective strategy” for reducing the risk of developing heart disease and cancer. But that’s not all.
Ginger actually has anti-inflammatory properties, too. Inflammation occurs when your body detects the presence of something foreign, according to Harvard Medical School. It then triggers your immune system in response, and that’s when inflammation occurs. Some of us can experience this over extended periods even when our bodies aren’t at risk from foreign chemicals or microbes. This is when inflammation can be a threat – potentially leading to conditions such as heart disease, depression and Alzheimer’s.
The good news, though, is that adding more ginger to your diet can help combat these risks. The plant has a way of telling your body there’s no threat by interrupting the cell signals that help trigger inflammation. In a way, it’s reminding your system to check the situation again and see if its information is correct.
Ginger doesn’t just improve the immune system’s functionality, either. There have also been several research papers released on the effects it has on digestion. They have even argued that ginger works better than a number of major pharmaceuticals when it comes to treating tummy problems!
According to a 2011 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, ginger and its metabolites appear in our gastrointestinal tract. And it may be this reason why the plant is so good for our digestion. The website ImmuneSchein Ginger Elixirs also notes clinical trials have found that ginger can reduce vomiting as a result of pregnancy, indigestion, motion sickness and certain types of chemotherapy.
There’s evidence to suggest ginger interacts with the gas that your gut creates during the digestive process, Medical News Today notes. It appears that enzymes in the root help the gas dissipate. This means it doesn’t hang around in your tract – causing discomfort or embarrassing wind. Some research indicates it can treat constipation, too.
And as we mentioned earlier, ginger may also be effective in helping treat the effects of chemotherapy. Medical News Today cited a small 2010 study which analyzed 60 young chemo patients who were taking ginger root power. Amazingly, almost all of the study subjects reported feeling less nauseous after taking the supplement.
Did you know that ginger can also help with morning sickness? And the speed with which it can do this is quite astonishing. According to the University of Michigan, ginger can begin to combat both general nausea and morning sickness within a few days of treatment. Though it adds that expecting mothers need to speak to a doctor before they begin taking ginger.
Ginger can help move food between the stomach and the small intestine, too. But it’s worth noting that the plant is not a cure for food poisoning, according to Good Housekeeping. Also, it apparently cannot help your body combat the ingestion of a dangerous substance.
The publication notes that ginger’s anti-inflammatory compounds can help tackle the risk of certain chronic illnesses. It cites a 2019 study which revealed that the plant can lower blood fat levels and blood pressure – both of which are connected to heart disease. Nevertheless, ginger must be consumed with a diet low in sugar and saturated fats if these health benefits are to be realized.
Interestingly, the spice and other flavorings found in ginger can lower the cellular activity which can lead to cell death, DNA changes and the growth of cancer cells. Good Housekeeping notes that as a result of this, ginger’s cell-protecting attributes can reduce the long-term risk of certain types of cancer.
Ginger can also improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation on tumors, the publication adds. But again, it must be noted that the plant is not a panecea for chronic illnesses. In order to keep your body strong, it’s recommended that you consume ginger alongside a host of other plant-based foods and healthy supplements.
Some people swear by ginger as a herbal remedy treatment for common colds and flus, too. There’s only been a little research into this topic, but studies reveal there may be some truth in it. Two papers in 2013 investigated ginger’s effectiveness in tackling these conditions. The first studied how ginger interacted with one respiratory virus in human cells.
The researchers tried both dried and fresh ginger – yet both had different results. While the latter variant showed some evidence of helping protect the respiratory system, the former didn’t appear to have the same impact. Meanwhile, the second study looked at herbal medicine as a whole.
For this investigation, researchers asked 300 pharmacy users across two groups about the effectiveness of herbal medicines in tackling flus and colds. Of those, 69 percent confirmed that they used these remedies and the majority of them found them to be effective. So while the poll didn’t have any conclusive evidence, it’s an interesting result all the same.
There are circumstances when you should avoid ginger, though. For instance, pregnant women should avoid taking ginger close to labor, according to Healthline. Research suggests that it can apparently worsen bleeding. Due to this, pregnant females who have a history of clotting disorders or miscarriages should stay away from the plant.
Plus, large amounts of ginger may increase the amount of bile contained within your body. So, it’s recommended that anyone with gallbladder disease should avoid consuming too much ginger. The same also applies to people with hemophilia.
An article in NDTV explains, “Haemophilia is a rare condition which prevents the ability of the blood to clot. Though blood clots can be risky in some conditions, it is still important for the body. Loss of an ability to clot can lead to excessive bleeding due to a minute cut or injury.”
“Where ginger is recommended for people to improve blood circulation in the body, people with hemophilia may actually suffer severe hemorrhage due to increased blood circulation in the body,” the article says. “It may even nullify the effects of some life-saving medication.”
Some studies suggest that ginger may also help with diabetes. Though NDTV has pored cold water on this idea. It writes, “For people on medication for diabetes and high blood pressure, ginger is a big ‘no no.’”
“Drugs like beta-blockers, anticoagulants, and insulin can be very harmful when combined with ginger,” NDTV adds. “Ginger helps with blood thinning and lowers blood pressure, both of which can go wrong with these medications.”
For its part, Healthline offers some advice on the subject. The publication writes, “Although many studies suggest that ginger could be useful in diabetes management, you should take precautions when consuming it. You shouldn’t consume more than 4 grams of ginger per day.”
“Although side effects are rare, it’s possible to experience heartburn, diarrhea and an upset stomach if you eat ginger in large amounts,” Healthline adds. You should be careful when using ginger to manage blood pressure, too. The website claims that the plant can lower your blood pressure and lead to irregular heartbeats.
“Ginger can be an effective addition to your diabetes treatment if you use it in moderation,” Healthline concludes. “Eating up to 4 grams per day may help lower your blood sugar levels and regulate insulin production. Be sure to talk with your doctor before adding this to your treatment regimen. Together, you can determine the best dosage for you, as well as discuss any potential side effects.”
And there you have it. If you don’t have any underlying conditions, adding ginger to your daily diet may help improve your health. And not just in the immediate future – the weird little root can help tackle diseases further down the line, too.