Sharing the joy of using functional, plant-based ingredients in your home cooking is one of my passions. I love digging into the research that supports what we know intuitively–eating whole foods is great for your health! This week I want to highlight one of my favourite affordable, delicious ingredients: ginger. It’s a great way to add a zippy zing to any recipe (especially smoothies!) and the health benefits of this humble little root can’t be beat.
This post covers everything you need to know about ginger including what it is, 10 powerful health benefits, how to choose the best quality ginger, and lots of yummy recipes to support your health, naturally.
What Is Ginger?
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is the root or rhizome of a flowering plant that is native to Southeast Asia and is popular in cuisines around the world. It’s part of the Zingiberaceae family of plants which also includes galangal, cardamom, and turmeric. The history of ginger is pretty interesting–it was one of the first spices that was exported from Southeast Asia and was even used by the ancient Greeks and Romans!
It has a wonderfully unique and spicy flavour that tastes amazing in both sweet and savoury dishes, which make it a super versatile kitchen staple. You can use it either fresh or dried and some companies even sell ginger juice that you can add to recipes.
In addition to adding a warming zing of flavour to your dishes, ginger is loaded with powerful phytochemicals including gingerols, shogoal, and zingrone. They contribute the unique flavour of ginger and, as we’ll see below, they have some impressive health benefits.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Ginger
1. Supports Healthy Digestion
Probably one of the most well known benefits of ginger is its effect on the digestive system. The gingerols help to relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal to prevent gas and bloating. I remember as a kid getting Ginger Ale when I was sick. That's because ginger has long been used to treat nausea. However, you would be far better off using fresh ginger root for an upset tummy than to drink pop. This magical little root has been shown to be extra effective in reducing symptoms of nausea if you’re pregnant.
To support digestion or reduce nausea, try sipping on a cup of fresh ginger tea or a delicious herbal blend made with ginger. I love it so much I’ve added it to three of our Joyous teas: Rise & Shine, Joyous Detox, and Joyous Rejuvenate. As a bonus, if you buy three or more teas from the shop, you’ll save 10%!
2. Powerful Anti-Inflammatory
Ginger is a super powerful anti-inflammatory spice thanks to the phytonutrients gingerol, shogaol and zingrone. Gingerol is actually a potent antioxidant that has been found in studies to relieve osteo and rheumatoid arthritis pain, even in patients who didn't respond to medications. In fact, in studies it's been shown to reduce certain hormones that promote inflammation. This is similar to how NSAIDs work, but without the negative effects.
3. May Reduce Cancer Risk
It’s probably no surprise that gingerol is one of the key players in the possible anti-cancer benefits of ginger. This study found that taking two grams of ginger a day decreased pro-inflammatory signalling molecules in the colon. High levels of these molecules increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
While more research is needed, other studies have found possible effectiveness of ginger against pancreatic, liver, breast, and ovarian cancers. Adding this tasty spice to your diet is a great way to enjoy the benefits. Try combining it with the phytonutrient powerhouse veggies in this delicious Rainbow Veggie Stir Fry!
4. Supports Immune Function
During flu season you’ll want to stock up on ginger because it boosts your immune system by inducing sweating, which is an excellent way to detox naturally. When you’re sick, your body instinctively raises your temperature to help kill off pathogens. These fevers are an important part of the immune system, but if you want advice on how to lower your fever, naturally, you can read more in this post.
Fresh ginger may also be effective against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). With a nasty cold and flu season upon us, keeping your pantry stocked with ginger is a great way to give your immune system a boost!
5. Natural Antibiotic
In addition to inducing sweating, ginger has also been found to prevent the growth of different types of bacteria, which can be a great help to your immune system. Incorporating naturally antibiotic foods like ginger (and garlic!) into your diet is a great way to support joyous health and prevent the risk of developing infections.
6. Supports Heart Health
While there are many factors at play in maintaining a healthy heart, proper levels of LDL cholesterol is often something your doctor will look out for. In several studies, ginger was shown to lower LDL cholesterol in people with hyperlipidemia.
Since it’s also a powerful antioxidant, it can help lower inflammation throughout the body, which is always beneficial for your circulatory system. In fact, this study showed that ginger lowered two byproducts of oxidative stress, Apolipoprotein B/Apolipoprotein A-I and malondialdehyde (MDA), that are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
7. May Help With Weight Loss
Being overweight can increase your risk of chronic diseases such as insulin resistance, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. This review demonstrated that ginger successfully decreased the waist-hip ratio and body weight in people with obesity. Researchers believe that the effects of ginger on weight loss may have to do with lowering inflammation in the body and an increase in metabolism.
8. Helps Balance Blood Sugar
I’ve spoken about the importance of maintaining balanced blood sugar for optimal health before. Keeping your blood sugar stable can help with everything from food cravings, to energy levels, to chronic inflammation. While eating a diet rich in whole foods including healthy fats, protein, and fibre is the foundation, adding certain spices can be extra helpful for those who struggle with blood sugar imbalances.
In this study, taking ginger helped lower the fasting blood sugar levels of Type 2 diabetics by 12%! Over the long term, it showed incredible benefits on hemoglobin A1c, which is a marker of your body’s average blood sugar levels over 3 months. Ginger also has a beneficial effect on blood insulin levels–high levels can be associated with weight gain and prediabetes, so keeping them within a healthy range is key for joyous health.
9. Supports & Protects the Brain
Inflammation and chronically elevated blood sugar can both have negative effects on brain health and increase our risk of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There is some promising animal research that shows the active components of ginger may provide protective benefits against inflammation in the brain.
Lowering inflammation is one way to protect the brain, but ginger doesn’t stop there! This study on middle-aged women demonstrated that it may even enhance brain function directly by improving working memory and reaction time.
Give your brain some love and incorporate ginger into your daily routine. It’s so simple to add it to recipes like this Apple Pear Ginger Crisp!
10. Helps Reduce Menstrual Pain
After its use as a digestive aid, one of the most popular ways to use ginger is as a natural pain reliever. Menstrual pain is a PMS symptom that can be debilitating and ginger has shown some impressive results when it comes to reducing that pain. Some recent studies have shown that ginger is just as effective as a placebo and common drugs used during the menstrual cycle such as Novafen. It has also been shown to reduce pain as effectively as common NSAIDS (ibuprofen and mefanamic acid), without any harsh side effects.
If you’re looking for a natural way to support a joyous menstrual cycle, add ginger to your medicine cabinet!
How to Shop for Ginger
In my previous post on turmeric [read more here!] I wrote about the importance of buying organic herbs and spices to avoid contamination with endocrine disrupting pesticides. To ensure you’re getting the health benefits and avoiding any toxins, it’s best to shop for organically grown ginger. Most grocery stores sell it, but if you can’t find organic ginger, try peeling it before use to eliminate some of the contaminants.
When deciding if you should use fresh or dried ginger, both options are fantastic for different uses. I love using fresh ginger in warming lattes and nourishing elixirs. Fresh or dried ginger also adds incredible flavour to soups [I love this Feel Good Mushroom Soup with fresh ginger]. Dried ginger is a great option in homemade granola or fluffy Gingerbread Pancakes! No matter what you choose, the warming flavour and amazing health benefits are sure to take your recipes to the next level.
I hope this information inspires you to start incorporating ginger into your recipes! It’s such an affordable way to increase nutrient-density of your meals while supporting healthy digestion.