Why Ginger Should Be Added to Your Day
And they will be given to drink a cup [of wine] whose mixture is of ginger (Quran 76:17).
Aromatic, pungent, and spicy, ginger is well-known as an important kitchen spice with a distinct flavor. It has been revered for thousands of years to treat ailments. It’s a staple in many cuisines of the world, particularly in East, South, and Southeast Asia.
Ginger is closely related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. It was first grown in Southeast Asia, but it quickly spread around the world due to its ease of cultivation. In India and China, it was used traditionally to treat a variety of ailments. By the first century, traders had taken ginger all the way to the Mediterranean regions. Surprisingly, it was commonly used in European cuisine until the mid-sixteenth century, as well. Back then, spices were expensive, and only the wealthy could afford them. European imperialism, however, made spices plentiful and cheap, and the wealthy sought other status symbols: that food should taste like itself. The shift began in France in the mid-1600s and proliferated all over the West. The rise of Protestantism also shifted the medical philosophy from humors, which used spices like ginger to give “heat,” to fermentation and digestion, which promoted fresh vegetables and greens since they ferment easily.
Did the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) eat ginger? There’s no authentic hadith indicating it is a sunnah, but Sheikh Rachid Belbachir says “any healthy diet or food ingredient that contributes to a healthy lifestyle will fall under the sunnah of taking care of the body and ginger is known to be a cure for many diseases.”
Ginger has many health benefits—many were surprising for me to discover! It may contain anti-cancer properties: gingerols and shogaols, two potent chemicals in ginger, can be cytotoxic to cancer cells. You can use ginger to treat morning sickness, motion sickness, joint pain, and infertility, as well as to relieve GI irritation, lower blood sugar, reduce menstrual pain, lower cholesterol, and stimulate digestion via stimulating saliva and bile production. It can help reduce pain, nausea, and inflammation, as it is related to turmeric. In men it has even been shown to increase testosterone levels and sperm viability, though more human studies are needed.
Ginger is quite versatile. You can eat it in chews, capsules, ginger snaps, raw root, and curries. It combines well with many other seasonings and is found in many spice mixes. It’s also used in tonics, soaps, and creams. “It is used as part of nearly all Indian cuisine, even in masala chai, usually in its fresh form, and ground into chutneys or spice mixes,” says Dr. Tulasi Srinivas with Emerson University.
I recommend the whole-food approach, leaning towards fresh ginger. The easiest way to peel ginger is with a spoon: just face the spoon upside down and scrape off the skin. Dr. Srinivas, however, recommends eating the skin, since “its pungent skin holds a lot of its curative properties.”
Ginger has got a zing to it and if you’re not used to it, it can be a little spicy, so it’s great to try to include it in different recipes. Making ginger tea or sprinkling some ginger powder into foods is an easy start. Ginger tea is quite easy to make at home; just slice some raw ginger and put it in a cup with some honey, then add boiling water and let it steep for several minutes. You can even eat the pieces afterward if you’re up for it!
How much ginger should you eat? That depends on your use. Just one to one and a half grams in capsules or three teaspoons can prevent nausea. Doctors recommend consuming a maximum of three to four grams per day from all sources and one gram for pregnant women. To treat bursitis, you can eat about six teaspoons of ginger daily. To treat motion sickness, it is advised to eat it for one to two days prior to a trip where motion sickness could be an issue and continuing on the trip. Though ginger is quite safe to eat, as usual, before starting any supplement, run it by your doctor to make sure you’re in the clear.
With prepared products, check the ingredients: many products use ginger flavoring, which perhaps tastes great, but the health benefits are absent. Some IFANCA halal certified products containing ginger can be found on their website (https://ifanca.org/Pages/Certified-Products.aspx). These include Saffron Road™ Chicken Pad Thai and Chicken Tikka Masala.
Ginger can even be grown indoors. You’ll want to use a shallow, wide pot, because the root grows horizontally. Ginger thrives in loose, well-draining soil. Compost works well. Soak the ginger root in warm water overnight to prepare it for planting, then place the ginger root with the eye bud pointing up and cover it with one to two inches more soil. Water it lightly. If your harvest is a little too big and your companions are maxed out on food gifts, don’t worry; ginger can be frozen and preserved for six months.
Armed with knowledge of its various health benefits, consider adding ginger into your diet. Consider drinking ginger tea before lunchtime, making curries with ginger, adding ginger to soups and stir-fries, or some other creative health-promoting use that comes to mind. Just make sure you start with the right intention. Salud (health)!
Greg Carr is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist and NASM certified personal trainer. You can find him at ZaytunNutrition.com.