If you had an upset stomach when you were a kid, there was one home remedy that parents, grandparents and other caregivers seemed to recommend time and time again: ginger ale.
In fact, I was still turning to ginger ale for its supposed stomach-soothing properties well into adulthood, including when I was dealing with morning sickness while pregnant with my son.
But does ginger ale actually have health benefits? Or is it a myth that many of us have been buying into for way too long? We talked to dietitians and a gastroenterologist to set the record straight.
Here’s how the whole thing started.
Ginger ale likely became known as a stomach settler due to its association with ginger. Since ancient times, ginger root has been used as an herbal remedy to treat different gastrointestinal ailments, including nausea, diarrhea and indigestion. And there are some studies to back this up.
“Ginger root contains a special compound called gingerol that has been shown to support gastrointestinal motility, or the rate that food moves through the digestive tract,” explained Stefani Sassos, a registered dietitian and the nutrition and fitness director for the Good Housekeeping Institute. “This can provide nausea relief for a variety of conditions, essentially because it encourages food to not linger as long in the digestive tract.”
But it’s important to note that these benefits are specifically associated with actual ginger root — not just the ginger flavoring found in many sodas.
“Most commercial ginger ale contains very little to no actual ginger,” Sassos said.
In recent years, false advertising lawsuits have been filed against the company that makes Canada Dry ginger ale in the U.S. and Canada over claims that the product is “made from real ginger,” as it states on the packaging.
These claims “deceive and mislead reasonable customers into believing that [Canada Dry is] made using ginger root — i.e. the spice made by chopping or powdering the root of the ginger plant — and not minuscule amounts of flavoring ‘extracts,’” one of the lawsuits alleged, as reported by the National Post.
The class action suits in both countries have since been settled. As part of the U.S. settlement, the company agreed to remove the words “made from real ginger” from its marketing in the future. However, the product is still marketed this way in Canada.
Ginger ale could actually do more harm than good.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz, of Gastro Health in Miami, explained that the high sugar content in ginger ale and other sodas — usually upward of 30 grams per serving — can actually make stomach troubles worse.
“Too much sugar could trigger inflammation and may increase bloating and gas, which could further irritate an upset stomach,” he told HuffPost.
What about diet ginger ale? Sassos doesn’t recommend it for an upset stomach, because the sugar alcohols used to sweeten some of these products “may only further exacerbate symptoms.”
For some people, the carbonation in ginger ale and other fizzy beverages may help ease their gastrointestinal distress, Sassos said, while other people may find that it makes things worse. So it really depends on how your body responds.
Registered dietitian Maya Feller of Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn, New York, pointed out that even though it has the word “ginger” in its name, ginger ale is not a “health food beverage.”
“If you’re looking for a therapeutic property from it, it might most likely be placebo,” Feller said. “And that’s fine, because you’re feeling better, right? At the end of the day, it is soda. And so I would encourage folks to interact with this the way that they would interact with soda.”
What to try instead
When you’re looking to ease stomach discomfort, consider skipping the soda aisle in favor of the produce section, where you can pick up some fresh ginger, Kwapisz suggested.
“Minced, ground, peeled or sliced in hot water, or even in capsules — 250 to 500 mg of powdered ginger,” he told HuffPost. “Any of these would give the greatest benefit to settling an upset stomach.”
Sassos, too, recommends trying fresh ginger. Add a peeled knob or a few slices to a mug with boiling water and let it steep for five to 10 minutes, she said.
Feller recommends ginger, fennel and chamomile teas if you’re in need of some relief. For some of her patients dealing with medication-induced nausea, she has found eating saltine crackers and other carbohydrates to be helpful. And for pregnant folks dealing with hormone-induced nausea, tart sucking candies like Preggie Pops — which come in sour fruit and ginger flavors — can be a great option, she said.