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Zingiber officinale

The senses of smell, sight, and taste provide us with the perception of food quality and are crucial in choosing the food that gives us the most satisfaction. Instinctively, we seek out foods rich in the nutrients our bodies lack. However, today’s abundance of food options often confuses this valuable instinct, leading us to consume foods that give us false satisfaction. Additionally, even if we choose the right foods, our digestive system may be compromised due to imbalances in gut flora, preventing us from absorbing the nutrients we need.

Many people with issues like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension follow diets that eliminate calorie-rich foods to avoid worsening their condition. But this approach can cause anxiety and reduce the pleasure of eating. Alternatively, it may be more effective to increase the consumption of foods that reduce the inflammation underlying the problem and to balance the gut flora using seasonings—aromatic herbs and spices.

Ginger is a seasoning that performs these functions well: it reduces the absorption of sugars in food by inhibiting the enzymes amylase and alpha-glucosidase in the intestines, and it reduces the inflammation underlying these problems by inhibiting the enzyme arginase. This enzyme breaks down arginine, an important amino acid for the immune system’s function and necessary for producing nitric oxide (NO), a gas involved in many biological processes in the human body—regulating insulin production, improving blood circulation, and protecting the heart.

Problems such as hypertension, insulin resistance, and obesity are partly due to a deficiency of arginine. This might be one of the reasons why chocolate, peanuts, and other arginine-rich foods are favorites when we instinctively seek out foods that make us feel good. By inhibiting the enzyme arginase, ginger increases the concentration of arginine in the body and reduces inflammation.

Ginger tea relieves symptoms of migraines, nausea, pain, allergies, reduces fever, and can be applied as a poultice to reduce inflammation from arthritis and muscle pain.

In cooking, ginger is a seasoning that any cook, professional or amateur, learns to appreciate. The sweet, slightly spicy, and very aromatic scent of the fresh rhizome is due to its main component, gingerol, which transforms into shogaol during the drying process, gaining a more intense and spicy flavor that resembles the heat of capsaicin in chili peppers. During the cooking process, the spicy flavor of fresh ginger dissipates because gingerol turns into another component with a more moderate flavor, zingerone.

Fresh ginger juice, or ginger grated into thin slices, is used in marinades. Ginger produces the enzyme zingibain, which acts on the muscle proteins in meat, making the meat more tender. For this purpose, you should avoid using acidic ingredients in the marinade because acidity nullifies the action of the enzyme.

In China ginger is an important condiment both for its unique flavor and for its medicinal virtues. Some people experience the ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ with symptoms of headaches, chest pain, numbness around the mouth and nausea after eating foods with MSG (monosodium glutamate), a very common ingredient in Chinese food. Ginger used together with foods containing this additive mitigates its neurotoxic effect.

In addition to being one of the favorite spices for making cookies and cakes, ginger is also used in juices as a prebiotic to balance the intestinal flora.

Despite all the benefits of ginger, the use of this plant for medicinal purposes should be avoided by people taking anticoagulant medications because ginger can enhance the effect of the medication and cause unexpected bleeding.

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