Ginger: A Functional Food

By Brenda B. Sutton

Functional foods are natural or processed foods that have health benefits that exceed their standard nutritional values. Consumers need to be informed about health claims promoted for products in order to make good decisions regarding purchases.   Questions to ask are: Does it work? How much does it contain? Is it safe? and Is it healthy?

Let’s discuss the functional food ginger. Ginger is a conventional food that is generally promoted as a health food. Ginger is historically known as a medicinal, wellness food and has been an aid for gastrointestinal distress and other ailments since ancient times. We all are aware of ginger symptom-relief stories. I have a friend who credits ginger flavored Altoids with making her chemotherapy treatments tolerable, and ginger is the friend of many a pregnant woman.

Ginger is also recognized as an anti-inflammatory food that helps relieve arthritis pain. It holds antioxidant and other cancer fighting properties.

Does it work?

110-Ginger21-sfwLaboratory studies have indicated that ginger may have an effect on inhibiting ovarian cancer cells. More research is needed to confirm, but this could be good news for a disease with a poor survival rate.

Research studies with rats indicate that raw ginger may help control diabetes complications. Treated rats displayed lower serum glucose and cholesterol levels. Again, more research is needed to scientifically apply the findings to human diabetic patients.

How much does it contain?

Gingerol is an active anti-inflammatory compound in ginger. It is stronger in fresh, raw ginger than in dried products. Products, such as ginger Altoids for example, should be assessed to learn about the amount of ginger actually in the product. It is interesting that no health claims are made by the makers of ginger Altoids, and they may not even contain real ginger—even though the anecdotes abound!

Is it safe?

It is recommended that ginger consumption for adults should be limited to 4 grams per day – with a 1 gram limit for pregnant women. There are precautions for patients on blood thinning medications, diabetic patients, and heart conditions. Generally, ginger is considered a safe addition to the culinary diet.

Is it healthy?

For thousands of years, ginger has been considered to have health benefits. Research only continues to explore more ways in which ginger can be a health promoter. Its versatility and forms of availability allow for ginger to be incorporated into daily life for many health benefits.

For a comforting tea, spicier food, or a tummy soother, ginger is a great choice of functional food.   Ginger is readily available fresh in supermarkets. Powdered ginger and candied ginger pieces are in the spice sections of grocery stores. Many health food stores have candied ginger pieces available in bulk packaging. These are great to have on hand for upset stomachs. Keep your eyes open for dark chocolate with ginger if you want a real treat!

On our hobby farm we grow baby ginger from organic seed stock we purchase from Hawaii each year. The plant looks much like bamboo growing in summer. The fall harvest is an exciting time as we unearth the pungent, pink beauties. Baby ginger is especially delicious added to stir fry dishes.

Remember, when a food or product claims to be a functional food – with extra wellness benefits beyond nutritional value – check it out. And, then pack your diet with functional foods like ginger for optimal health.