If you had stomach aches as a child, there’s one home remedy that parents, grandparents, and other caregivers seem to recommend over and over again: ginger ale.
In fact, I still turned to ginger ale for its stomach-soothing properties well into adulthood, including when I was dealing with morning sickness while pregnant with my son.
But does ginger drink really have health benefits? Or is this just a myth that many of us have believed for too long? We spoke to a dietitian and gastroenterologist to set the record straight.
This is how it all started.
Ginger ale is likely known as a stomach-soothing drug due to its association with ginger. Since ancient times, ginger has been used as a herbal medicine to treat various digestive ailments, including nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion. And there is some research to support this.
“Ginger root contains a special compound called gingerol that has been shown to support gastrointestinal motility, or the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract,” explains Stefani Sassos, registered dietitian and director of nutrition and wellness at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “It can relieve nausea for a variety of conditions, essentially because it encourages food not to stay in the digestive tract for long.”
But it’s important to note that these benefits are specifically attributed to actual ginger – not just the ginger flavor found in many fizzy drinks.
“Most commercial ginger ales contain little or no ginger,” says Sassos.
In recent years, false advertising lawsuits have been filed against companies that make Canada Dry ginger beer in the US and Canada over claims that the product is “made from real ginger,” as stated on the packaging.
These claims “deceive and mislead reasonable consumers into believing that (Canada Dry) is made using ginger — which is a flavoring made by chopping or powdering the root of the ginger plant — and not a very small amount of flavoring ‘extract,’” one of the claims alleged law, as reported by the National Post.
Class action lawsuits in both states have been settled. As part of the US settlement, the company agreed to remove the words “made from real ginger” from its future marketing. However, the product is still marketed this way in Canada.
Ginger ale actually does more harm than good.
Gastroenterologist Dr Lukasz Kwapisz, of Gastro Health in Miami, explains that the high sugar content in ginger ale and other sodas – usually more than 30 grams per serving – can actually make stomach problems worse.
“Too much sugar can trigger inflammation and increase bloating and gas, which can further irritate an upset stomach,” he told Talk News.
What about the ginger diet? Sassos doesn’t recommend it for upset stomachs, because the sugar alcohols used to sweeten some of these products “can only worsen symptoms.”
For some people, the carbonation in ginger ale and other fizzy drinks can help ease their indigestion, Sassos says, while others may find it makes things worse. So it really depends on how your body responds to it.
Registered dietitian Maya Feller of Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn, New York, states that despite the word “ginger” in the name, ginger ale is not a “health food drink.”
“If you’re looking for therapeutic properties of the drug, it’s most likely a placebo,” Feller said. “And that’s okay, because you feel better, right? In the end, it was soda. So I would encourage people to interact with this like they interact with soda.”
What to try?
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Instead of relying on soda to soothe your stomach, chop up some fresh ginger, soak it in a cup of hot water, and drink it.
If you want to ease stomach discomfort, consider skipping the soda section and opting for the produce section, where you can buy fresh ginger, suggests Kwapisz.
“Chopped, ground, peeled or sliced with hot water, or even in capsules – 250 to 500 mg of ginger powder,” he told Talk News. “All of these will provide the greatest benefit for relieving stomach aches.”
Sassos also recommends trying fresh ginger. Add peeled knobs or a few slices to a cup of boiling water and let sit for five to 10 minutes, he says.
Feller recommends ginger, fennel, and chamomile tea if you need help. For some of his patients who experience medication-related nausea, he finds eating saltine crackers and other carbohydrates helpful. And for pregnant women experiencing hormone-induced nausea, sour candy suckers like Preggie Pops – which come in sour fruit and ginger flavors – can be a good option, she says.