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Ginger: A Secret Weapon for Blood Sugar Control

December 2017

Ginger: A Secret Weapon for Blood Sugar Control

By: Alexandra Rothwell Kelly, MPH, RD

From a scientific perspective, there is no doubt that maintaining appropriate blood sugar levels is important for optimal health, but I am of the opinion that moderate amounts of sugar can be included in a healthful diet, when consumed responsibly. Years of working one-on-one with clients has illustrated that including some sugar in the diet, ideally from natural sources, combined with other nutrients and exercise, can help people avoid the psychological consequences of restrictive diets and may prevent overindulgence in moments of reduced motivation. Further, candies such as The Ginger People Gin-Gins help people suffering from severe nausea, which may allow them to eat a substantial and nutritious meal. However, type 2 diabetes has become an incredibly pervasive endocrine disorder, and due to impaired carbohydrate metabolism in this population, control of blood sugar levels is particularly important. Proper management of blood sugar levels, especially for people with metabolic diseases, are elusive ideals. With tempting carbohydrate-laden goodies always at our fingertips, stressful “on-the-go” lifestyles, and decades of eating habits that may be hard to break, how can we reasonably impact disease management or risk? Luckily, ginger may offer a solution.

Because pharmaceutical companies are the major funders of medical research, it is unusual to come across quality literature regarding the effect of particular foods or nutrients on health. Though interestingly, there are a few studies that have examined ginger intake in people with type 2 diabetes. Notably, a 2015 study conducted the “gold standard” for medical research: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. In this trial, people with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to either receive 2 grams per day of ginger or a placebo for 12 weeks. Before and after the 12 weeks, fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control), as well as other markers for chronic disease, were measured. At the conclusion of the trial, the people who received daily ginger supplementation had improved fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c compared to their baseline levels.

Another similar study experimented with 3 grams of ginger per day versus placebo in type 2 diabetic patients for 8 weeks. In addition to measuring fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, this study also assessed fasting insulin levels and HOMA-IR, which is a validated method for determining one’s level of insulin resistance. Consistent with the previously mentioned trial, this study also found improved levels of fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1c, fasting insulin levels, and HOMA-IR.

Clearly, ginger in the diet will not “cure” type 2 diabetes, but may be an easy and enjoyable way to have a positive effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. It is also important to note that although the outlined studies were specifically conducted on type 2 diabetic patients, this information is relevant to all of us, as minimizing spikes in blood sugar and keeping insulin levels low are key for many health ambitions. Lastly, ginger seems to have limitless health benefits, but my favorite reason to use it in cooking is because of its intense and slightly sweet flavor, which reduces the need to use sugar in the first place!