Science of Food column: Ginger is a gift to your gut | SummitDaily.com

Science of Food column: Ginger is a gift to your gut

Lisa Julian, Ph.D.
Science of Food

Ginger root is part of the Zingiberacae family of plants, same as turmeric root, and has been used in herbal medicine to treat nausea and digestive disorders for over 4,000 years. India is the top producer and consumer of ginger. Its name is believed to come from the Sanskrit word singabera meaning "horn-shaped" as the roots appear knotted and curved resembling an animal's horn. The part of the plant that we eat is called the rhizome, the subterranean stem of the plant that is now commonly found in markets across the country.

COMPOSITION OF GINGER

Like most plants, ginger contains hundreds to thousands of molecules. It is especially high in vitamin B3 and minerals like iron and manganese, but also has protein, fiber and its own special array of phytonutrients. These diverse phytonutrients are what I like to call "Nature's pharmacy," and, in ginger, Nature's pharmacy includes molecules like the gingerol or shogaol family of compounds, or more commonly known ones like beta-carotene, limonene and curcumin. They are biologically-active constituents that have potent medicinal effects in humans that work together in synergy to heal the body and cure disease.

HOW GINGER HELPS YOUR GUT

Have you ever used ginger ale to ease an upset stomach? Ginger is a carminative, defined generally as a substance that increases gastric secretion, aiding with symptoms such as intestinal gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and indigestion. It does this in part by increasing the secretion of our bodies' own natural enzymes to assist in digestion. The processes begins right at the mouth, being also a sialagogue — another fun word that means it increases the production of saliva and salivary enzymes, thus initiating specific molecular mechanisms downstream to prepare the body for food and absorption of nutrients.

Ginger promotes food breakdown and intestinal movement. It contains its own digestive enzymes like zingibain, for example, that help break down protein, and perhaps why in many cultures ginger is often used in marinades to tenderize meats. Ginger can increase the muscle contractions that occur in the intestines to help move food along, but can also relax and soothe the intestinal tract. These combined processes help to promote gastric secretion and ultimately increase the removal of toxins from our bodies. Because ginger also has anti-nausea effects (clinically proven as an effective treatment for morning sickness, motion sickness and chemotherapy), it has an overall soothing effect for the mind and the body.

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Other medicinal properties of ginger include anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-cancer. Thus, in addition to its effects on the digestive system, it has found use as a treatment for inflammatory diseases. For example, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, consumption of 2 grams of raw or heated ginger showed significant reduction of joint pain.

HOW TO BUY AND EAT GINGER AT HOME

Avoid ginger supplements and eat real ginger root with all that Nature's pharmacy has to offer. Remember, it is important for the compounds in ginger to touch the receptors in the tongue, which allows for the secretion of saliva and its enzymes to start breaking down the food while further initiating the rest of the digestive tract as discussed above. At the market, look for ginger root in the produce section that is firm and smooth (not shriveled) and without any mold.

Peel, finely grate and add fresh ginger to a variety of dishes at home. It is also available in a powder form if you cannot find the fresh root, although fresh is better. Spice up your rice or quinoa with ginger or blend it raw in smoothies. Add it to a sauté with some garlic, onion, olive oil and fresh vegetables to make a stir-fry. Cooking ginger attenuates the spicy taste, but it still retains most of its biological activity, so, if you enjoy the spice, then finish off your dishes with the fresh stuff. To remedy a cold or to aid in digestive disorders, try making a tea. A typical dose for a tea uses a 1-inch piece of root (about 15 grams, peeled and grated) to 1-2 cups of water that can be flavored with lemon or honey. Add turmeric, as ginger goes well with its sister root, which has a strikingly similar chemical make-up, but lacks the spicy flavors present in ginger. So, instead of grabbing a bottle of Pepto or a pill for nausea or digestive relief, experiment with ginger (for a lot less money too) and you'll see why ginger is nature's gift for your gut.

Dr. Lisa Julian Ph.D. has a passion for organic chemistry the "molecules of life" and its application to food and health. She's the owner of Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health in Frisco and teaches Science and Nutrition at CU Denver and CMC. She can be reached at (970)401-2071 or ldjulian@gmail.com For more information about services offered at her studio, visit http://www.ElevatedYogaColorado.com.

IF YOU GO

What: “Cooking with Turmeric” with Dr. Lisa Julian @ Colorado Mountain College Breckenridge

When: Thursday, Feb. 4 6–9 p.m.

Cost: $49; advanced registration required

For more information or to register visit: http://coloradomtn.edu/event/cooking-with-turmeric/