Ginger is a common ingredient in Asian and Indian cuisine. However, ginger has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries among many cultures. Ginger has a long history of use for relieving digestive problems such as nausea, loss of appetite, motion sickness and pain.
The root or underground stem (rhizome) of the ginger plant can be consumed fresh, powdered, dried as a spice, in oil form or as juice. Ginger is part of the Zingiberaceae family, alongside cardamom and turmeric.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of ginger, an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more ginger into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming ginger.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of ginger
Using fresh ginger is an easy way to flavor foods and drinks without adding unnecessary sodium. Since it is often consumed in such small amounts, ginger does not add significant quantities of calories, carbohydrate, protein or fiber.
Ginger does contain numerous other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds beneficial to health such as gingerols, beta-carotene, capsaicin, caffeic acid, curcumin and salicylate.
Possible health benefits of consuming ginger
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like ginger decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
Ginger has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries.
The phenolic compounds in ginger are known to help relieve gastrointestinal irritation, stimulate saliva and bile production and suppress gastric contractions and movement of food and fluids through the GI tract.
Chewing raw ginger or drinking ginger tea is a common home remedy for nausea during cancer treatment. Pregnant women experiencing morning sickness can safely use ginger to relieve nausea and vomiting, often in the form of ginger lozenges or candies.
A study involving 74 volunteers carried out at the University of Georgia found that daily ginger supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscle pain by 25%.
Ginger has also been found to reduce the symptoms of dysmenorrhea (severe pain during a menstrual cycle). In one study, 83% of women taking ginger capsules reported improvements in pain symptoms compared to 47% of those on placebo.
Ginger has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and treat inflammatory conditions.
A study published in Cancer Prevention Research journal found that a ginger root supplement administered to volunteer participants reduced inflammation markers in the colon within a month. Researchers on the study explained that by decreasing inflammation, the risk of colon cancer is also likely to decrease. Ginger has also shown promise in clinical trials for treating inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.
How to incorporate more ginger into your diet
Ginger pairs well with many different types of seafood, oranges, melon, pork, pumpkin and apples. When buying fresh ginger, look for a root with smooth, taut skin (no wrinkles) and a spicy aroma.
Store fresh ginger in a tightly wrapped plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer.
Ginger can be steeped in boiling water to make ginger tea - a slice of lemon can be added for a bit of zing.
Fresh ginger should be peeled and grated before use. In most recipes, one-eighth teaspoon of ground ginger can be substituted for one tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. Ground ginger can be found in the herbs and spices section of most grocery stores.
- Add fresh ginger into your next smoothie or juice
- Add fresh or dried ginger to your next stir-fry or homemade salad dressing
- Steep peeled fresh ginger in boiling water to make your own ginger tea
- Use fresh or dried ginger to spice up any fish recipe.
Or, try these tasty ginger recipes developed by a registered dietitian:
- Spicy cinnamon ginger roasted carrots
- Maple gingerbread cookies
- Winter vegetable soup
- Spicy Chinese stir fry
- Cilantro-lime tuna burgers
- Slow cooker Thai coconut curry
- Cure-all juice
Potential health risks of consuming ginger
Natural ginger is safe for most people and causes little to no known side effects. It may exacerbate symptoms of acid reflux in some people. The effectiveness and side effects from ginger supplements will vary by brand and formulation.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist