Spice up the Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition: Ginger

Ginger is a root/flowering plant that is indigenous to China. It is now widely produced and is used in tea, as a kitchen spice, as nausea relief, and for athletic health including anti inflammatory and muscle soreness relief.

Growing up, ginger wasn’t a big part of my diet as we are Italian/English, and most ginger is found in Asian cooking. I will say we did use ginger in gingerbread cookies…yum. Now that I’ve been on my own and cooking for Brett and I, experimenting with different cultures and flavors is one of my favorite things. So in addition to enjoying ginger in our stir fries, noodle dishes, and things like chicken satay, I purposefully choose dishes that I can add it to. Smoothies are a new one for me. In order to blend to the best consistency, a high-powered blender is required (if using the root vs the powder).

So how does ginger benefit athletes, and how is it anti-inflammatory?

The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been known and valued for centuries. During the past 25 years, many laboratories have provided scientific support for the long-held belief that ginger contains constituents with anti-inflammatory properties. The original discovery of ginger‘s inhibitory effects on prostaglandin biosynthesis in the early 1970s has been repeatedly confirmed. This discovery identified ginger as an herbal medicinal product that shares pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” (1)

The belief is that ginger suppresses prostaglandin (lipid compounds that act like hormones) synthesis through inhibition of inflammatory cytokines. Pretty cool right?

My goal is bringing you both sides of the story, here’s a study that show’s some benefit, but it shows ginger is not the be all end all. This study showed that ginger does have the ability to manage our inflammation, however it is weaker than ibuprofen. That being said, it’s a spice, in doses I’m suggesting harmless and it can only help. So I’ll take the smallest benefit.

With increasing interest in alternatives to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents in the management of chronic inflammation, research is emerging on the use of food extracts. There is level II evidence for the use of ginger in ameliorating arthritic knee pain; however, the improvement is modest and the efficacy of ginger treatment is ranked below that of ibuprofen. More definitive research is required.” (2)

And more recently, a study was done in 2012 that looked at the inflammatory markers, and the protection from oxidative injury after consuming ginger. They did indeed find those that consumed ginger did show decreases in the 3 inflammatory markers they were studying.

Of the 3 cytokine mRNAs studied (TNF-α, IL-1α, and IL-6), TNF-α was the most sensitive responder to oxidized LDL-treated macrophages. Clove, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric were able to significantly reduce oxidized LDL-induced expression of TNF-α. Serum from those consuming ginger reduced all three inflammatory biomarkers. Ginger, rosemary, and turmeric showed protective capacity by both oxidative protection and inflammation measures.” (3)

To make it easier to understand and to sum up:

Ginger has repeatedly shown the ability to decrease inflammatory markers in the body. It might or might not be as effective as NSAIDs like Advil, however it won’t do any harm to try it. The only caveat to that is if you’re on blood thinners. So please check with your doctor first.

I recommend starting with 1-2 tsp in a meal or smoothie, and you can build up to 1 tbsp if you like. The root is more preferable to ground, and you can freeze it for easier grating. Or cut into chunks and pulverize with a high-powered blender (for smoothies).


Thai Red Curry with Shrimp (3-4 servings)– Gluten free and dairy free
• 1 tbsp sesame oil, divided
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp Thai red curry paste (more to add spice)
• 1 lb peeled and deveined wild caught shrimp
• 4oz mushrooms, sliced
• ½ large red pepper, sliced thinly
• 2 cups broccoli florets
• ¼ cup red onion, shredded
• 1 cup snap peas
• ½ cup carrots, shredded
• 1 cup cabbage, shredded
• 14oz can lite coconut milk
• 2 tbsp fish sauce
• 2 tsp-1 tbsp fresh ginger or 1 tsp ground ginger
• 1 lime, squeezed
• ¼ cup cilantro/Thai basil, chopped

1. Over medium high heat, swirl ½ tbsp sesame oil around a non stick skillet/wok.
2. Add shrimp and cook 2-3 minutes or until opaque. Remove and set aside till later.
3. Add the remaining ½ tbsp sesame oil, red curry paste and garlic. Cook :30-:60, stirring.
4. Add all vegetables and saute, 3-4 minutes. They will cook quickly and you must be ready to throw them all in. Prepare ahead of time by pre-chopping the veggies. You can also use a pre-chopped stir fry mix, however add in additional veggies to make it even healthier. The more veggies the better.
5. After the 3-4 minutes, stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, ginger and lime. Stir to mix and till it starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
6. Top with cilantro or Thai basil.

*can be served over brown rice or brown rice noodles, or eaten alone

Nutrition: (no grains/rice)

  • 340kcal
  • 25g carb
  • 25g protein
  • 16g fat
  • 5g fiber
  • 1441mg sodium
1. Ginger–an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. J Med Food. 2005 Summer;8(2):125-32.
2. Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future. Med J Aust. 2006 Aug 21;185(4 Suppl):S4-24.
3. Bioavailability of herbs and spices in humans as determined by ex vivo inflammatory suppression and DNA strand breaks. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 Aug;31(4):288-94.



  • By Faith - on

    Cristina the Red Thai Curry sounds so delicious. I will be having it this week so I’ll let you know what I think. However, it brings up a question for me; salt. You don’t add salt and 1441mg seems like a tremendous amount of salt (fish sauce and thai curry paste?). I often hear how bad salt is for you, but I want your expert opinion on it. I prefer to use sea salt. Should I be mindful of my salt intake? I love salt like I love fruit. Salt aside, I am really looking forward to adding some ginger and turmeric (previous blog) in my morning green smoothies.

  • By fueledandfocused - on

    Yes, please let me know what you think. The sodium content will vary based on the fish sauce and red curry paste, so yes those are the two culprits. And I actually just recounted the numbers and it’s about 1000mg with 4 servings vs the nutrition listed for 3. And for athletes, a higher salt intake really isn’t too big of a deal. Normally we don’t add additional salt to our foods, so on the rare occasion we eat additional salt, I’m not too concerned. Knowing how you eat Faith, I also would not be worried. And for how hot it’s been in Eugene, after a long bike or run, this would be great. If you ate this every day I’d think of something in addition to the fish sauce. Maybe a low sodium veggie/chicken/fish stock vs a concentrated sauce. The smoothie will be delicious too.

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