By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
You likely know ginger (Zingiber officinale) as a popular and versatile spice used in a variety of cuisines, including Caribbean, Asian, Indian, and Western dishes. Its unmistakable flavor is a unique combination of zesty, hot and biting, with a hint of sweetness. Did you know that ginger also brings a whole host of health benefits to the table?
Ginger belongs to the same family as cardamom and turmeric, a spice well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. The part of the ginger plant we consume is the “rhizome,” often called ginger root. (Though, interestingly, it’s not actually a root; it’s the horizontal stem of the plant that sends out the roots.)1
There are several forms of ginger to choose from when enjoying it with food:
- Fresh ginger root has a pungent and slightly spicy aroma, and it tastes sweet with a mild peppery bite. It can be grated, chopped, or julienned for use in recipes. Its pungency mellows with cooking.
- Ground ginger is created when the root is dried and ground down to form a powder. Ground ginger tends to be far stronger in flavor than fresh, and is often used in desserts due to its natural sweetness.
- Dried ginger is basically dehydrated ginger that’s been cut into slices and can be eaten as is or soaked in water before adding to a recipe.
- Pickled ginger, also called gari in Japan, is reddish-pink in color and a familiar garnish when you order sushi. It is made from thinly sliced ginger that has been marinated in a vinegar and sugar solution.
- Candied ginger is cooked in a sugary syrup and commonly eaten with or used in desserts.
Ginger can be utilized countless ways in cooking. Some of the most popular are in stir-fries and curries, but ginger can also be added into baked goods, mixed into soups, blended into smoothies, and steeped in hot water to make tea (which is one of my favorite ways to enjoy ginger benefits). It can even be eaten on its own; in fact, pickled ginger is often consumed as a breath freshener.
Health Benefits of Ginger
In addition to its versatility in the kitchen, ginger has a long and impressive history of medicinal use, dating back millennia.
Ginger’s health benefits are primarily due to its phenolic compounds (a.k.a. polyphenols), which include gingerols, paradols and shogaols. Gingerols are what give fresh ginger its strong aroma, and is a relative of capsaicin, which is what makes chili peppers spicy. 2 Ginger also contains quercetin, a flavonoid polyphenol with powerful health benefits that is found in onions and apples.
Through various studies, ginger has been found to possess multiple biological activities that benefit health, including “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer, neuroprotective, cardiovascular protective, respiratory protective, antiobesity, antidiabetic, antinausea, and antiemetic activities.”3
While a lot of these findings are still preliminary, there are a few conditions for which ginger is well studied and really helpful. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best health benefits of ginger.
#1 Ginger Benefit: Eases Nausea & Vomiting
By and far, ginger’s top health benefit is its ability to ease nausea and vomiting. Ginger works by helping to accelerate gastric emptying and stimulate gastric motility. A good deal of solid research confirms its ability to alleviate unpleasant nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, surgery recovery, chemotherapy, and more.
In a meta-analysis that looked at the results of six double-blind controlled studies, four of the studies showed “superiority of ginger over placebo” while the other two found that ginger was as effective as other treatments in relieving nausea and vomiting. All the studies found ginger to be safe too, with no significant side effects on the pregnancy, mother, or baby.4
Another meta-analysis found that taking at least 1 gram of ginger helped relieve post-operative nausea and vomiting in patients.5
I, myself, administered ginger many times to patients in the coronary care unit who were experiencing nausea in tandem with heart attack symptoms. Ginger tea was far better tolerated than drugs that could adversely affect blood pressure!
Ginger has also been studied for the relief of chemotherapy-induced nausea and motion sickness, though it hasn’t been definitively proven to be effective. Even so, some research does support its efficacy—such as one study of 576 cancer patients that found ½ to 1 gram of ginger significantly decreased nausea severity on day 1 of chemo, compared to placebo.6
#2 Ginger Benefit: Reduces Gastrointestinal Problems
Ginger also has potential in lessening gastroenteritis—inflammation of the intestinal lining. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are common medications that are known to have GI side effects such as gastroenteritis. In a study of 43 people with osteoarthritis who took glucosamine along with either ginger or an NSAID, the ginger combination was found to be as effective as the NSAID combo, but much safer since it didn’t have any harmful effect on the stomach lining.7
#3 Ginger Benefit: Anti-Inflammatory Agent with Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits
Another health benefit of ginger is its ability to control inflammation. As you know, there are a lot of conditions linked to inflammation, including arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
A review of 16 clinical trials demonstrated “compelling evidence for ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties and potential use as a treatment for a variety of inflammatory diseases that plague industrialized nations.”8
As a cardiologist, I appreciate not only these anti-inflammatory properties, but also ginger’s benefits for the heart. Some research has shown ginger can decrease blood lipids and blood pressure, helping to protect against cardiovascular disease. And 5 grams (or more) of ginger has been shown to have significant antiplatelet activity too.9
Another little-known health benefit of ginger is promotion of healthy circulation. Ginger is a natural vasodilator. This means it relaxes blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow through easily.
How to Eat Ginger & Incorporate It Into Your Diet
It’s easy to add ginger into your diet. A simple online search will yield hundreds of delicious recipes ranging from chicken stir-fries and delectable desserts, to soups and smoothies.
To get you started, here is a recipe for a green smoothie that contains ginger. But don’t be afraid to get creative! There’s no right or wrong way to eat ginger.
How to Make Ginger Juice
For convenience and benefits that pack a punch, I like to make fresh ginger juice and keep it in the fridge, so I can easily add it to drinks and dishes whenever I please.
If you don’t have a juicer, you can make ginger juice in a blender. Simply peel fresh ginger root and add enough water to blend it into a thick liquid. Blend mixture for at least 15 seconds, then filter the juice through a strainer or cheesecloth, using a spoon to help press the juice out. You can re-blend the pulp with more water, then add it to the first round of juice, to reduce food waste.
When concentrated, ginger juice can be too strong to swallow straight, so I like to mix it with filtered water. To make it even tastier, you can add fresh lemon or lime juice and a splash of limeade, lemonade, or juice – apple and orange juice work well with ginger. As these drinks are sugary, I don’t recommend adding more than 1/3 cup to the ginger water – you don’t want to cancel out the powerful health benefits of ginger with too much sugar. But I also think that if adding a little juice helps you develop a taste for fresh ginger juice, then go for it!
How to Make Ginger Tea
Instead of juicing fresh ginger, you can also make tea with it. Peel and slice the ginger root into small pieces. Bring filtered water to a boil in a saucepan and add the ginger root. Simmer the mixture on low for at least 30 minutes, then strain and serve. If you prefer your tea iced, you can transfer the tea to a pitcher or jar and chill it in the fridge for 2-3 days.
If you’re short on time, it doesn’t get much easier than opening a box of ginger tea and steeping it in hot water.
How to Make Pickled Ginger
As mentioned earlier, pickled ginger is another popular ginger edible most commonly used as a palate cleanser after eating sushi. If you buy pickled ginger in the supermarket, be sure to read labels so you can avoid artificial colors and preservatives like potassium sorbate. Another caveat with pickled ginger is not to eat more than a tablespoon or so, as it is made with table sugar.
To make your own pickled ginger, here’s an easy, healthier recipe (adapted from this Homemade Gari Recipe):
- 1 cup of fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 ½ tsp natural salt (sea salt or blend with pink Himalayan and French gray salt)
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
Peel and slice the ginger, and place into a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt, stir to coat the ginger and let it sit for about 30 minutes. While waiting, in a saucepan bring the maple syrup and vinegar to a boil. Allow to cool. Place the salted ginger into a clean mason jar and pour the cooled vinegar mixture over it. Store lidded in the fridge for about a week.
What About Ginger Supplements?
For stronger, more therapeutic benefit, you can supplement with ginger capsules, which are readily available at any vitamin retailer or health food/grocery store. The amount found to be effective in most studies is 1 gram, but other research suggests divided doses up to 5 grams. If you take any medications, be sure to discuss the addition of a ginger supplement with your doctor so you can be monitored for any potential interactions.
What Ginger Products Should You Avoid?
As an end note, please don’t start downing ginger ale as a way to reap the benefits of ginger – it’s all sugar (or worse – high-fructose corn syrup!) and most brands don’t even contain real ginger. Also due to their sugar content, I don’t recommend eating ginger candies – the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
- Mao QQ, et al. Bioactive compounds and bioactivities of ginger (Zingiber officinale roscoe). 2019 Jun;8(6):185.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. -Gingerol, CID=3473, (accessed on July 6, 2020).
- White B. Ginger: An Overview. Am Fam Physician.2007 Jun 1;75(11):1689–91.
- Borrelli F, et al. Effectiveness and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Apr;105:849–56.
- Chaiyakunapruk N, et al. The efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;194:95–9.
- Ryan JL, et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: A URCC CCOP study of 576 patients. Support Care Cancer. 2012 Jul;20(7):1479–89.
- Drozdov V, et al. Influence of a specific ginger combination on gastropathy conditions in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. Altner Complement Med. 2012 Jun;18(6):583–8.
- Brooks A and Inserra P. Chapter 5 – Getting to the root of chronic inflammation: Ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties. Nutritional Modulators of Pain in the Aging Population. 2017;67–73.
- Nicoll R and Henein M. Ginger (Zingiber officinale roscoe): A hot remedy for cardiovascular disease? Int J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 24;131(3):408–9.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.