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Dietitians Dish: Add zing to your diet with ginger

By Victoria Advocate
April 16, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 15, 2013 at 11:16 p.m.


Technically called Zingiber officinale, ginger is a spicy herb that comes from the root of the ginger plant. Traditionally, ginger comes from southeastern Asia and was a hot commodity back in the day. It was very expensive and hard to obtain due to lack of transportation.

By the Middle Ages, however, ginger had spread throughout Europe, Latin America and the West Indies. These days, ginger is widely available and comes in many different forms: fresh, dried, crystallized, candied and pickled. Fresh is the best way to consume ginger because it will have the fullest flavor and highest amount of health-aiding compounds.

A good ginger root is firm, smooth and free of mold. Mature ginger is most often available at the grocery store and should be washed and peeled before use. Unpeeled fresh ginger can be stored in the refrigerator up to three weeks.

Now let's get to the good stuff - what ginger does for us. Ginger helps nausea, an upset stomach, dizziness, cold sweats, seasickness, arthritic pain and morning sickness in pregnant mothers.

Ginger also acts as an anti-inflammatory, improves your immune system, provides antioxidants and has anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties. In addition to all of that, it tastes great. One of ginger's most common uses is for nausea.

One study found ginger was more helpful than Dramamine for motion sickness. A benefit for pregnant mothers experiencing morning sickness, or hyperemesis gravidarum, is that ginger has no side effects for the mother or baby, unlike many medications.

Multiple studies have been conducted on ginger's positive effect on arthritic pain due to its anti-inflammatory compound, gingerol. Compounds found in ginger also suppress the activity of cytokines, chemokines, chondrocytes and leukocytes, which are all involved with inflammation in the body.

Though conducted on animals, multiple studies have linked ginger consumption with a decreased growth rate of colorectal and ovarian cancerous cells. Research has specifically found that gingerol can induce autophagocytosis (self-digestion) of ovarian cancer cells.

Furthermore, ginger can help fight off infection by promoting healthy sweating while one has a cold or the flu. Ginger is also helpful in suppressing gastric contractions and can improve intestinal muscle tone, which are both important in bowel regularity. Only four calories per ounce, ginger is also is rich in vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.

Fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy this wonder food. Ginger pairs well in sweet and savory dishes, hence its popularity over the ages. Ginger is often used in stir frys; simply mince or grate it into your dish. Add ginger at the beginning of your cooking for a more subtle flavor or add it at the end for a more pungent taste.

There are many different ginger teas on the market. Try making iced ginger tea with fresh lemons for these hot days just around the corner. Or you can boil a one-fourth to three-fourths of an inch slice of peeled ginger in water to make your own tea. Mix minced or powdered ginger with soy sauce, olive oil and garlic for a unique salad dressing.

There are plenty of good recipes online, and try out ginger-containing dishes when you go out to eat. As always, talk to your doctor before taking any type of ginger supplement and stay away from ginger if you are on any blood-thinning medication such as warfarin (coumadin), as ginger can have counteractive effects.

Stephanie Markman is a registered and licensed dietitian DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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