Spices and herbs add great flavors and zing to our food while contributing very few calories and fat. Most (unless salt is added) are very low in sodium. They make the food we eat tasty and very enjoyable. Readers ask often if there are any spices that could lower blood glucose. This blog will explore the differences between spices and herbs. We will focus on the spice “ginger” and the research that has been done on the effects it has on blood glucose. 

ginger helps regulate blood glucose in type 2 diabetesThe Difference Between a Spice and an Herb

Let’s first go to basic definitions. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a spice is an edible flavoring that usually comes from the fruit of a plant. Exceptions to this include cinnamon (comes from the bark of a plant) and ginger (comes from the rhizome or bulb) of a plant. When used for consumption and seasoning foods, herbs comes from the leaves of plants that “do not have woody perennial stems like a tree or shrub”. (1) As you can see, ginger is a spice. It is common throughout the world. (2)

Ginger Basics 

The scientific name or botanical name for ginger is Zingiber officinale Roscoe. (3)  Countries such as India, China, Nepal, Nigeria, Brazil, Costa Rica and Fiji produce much of our ginger. Hawaiian ginger is known for its excellent flavor. (4) Here are some tips on how to select and store ginger for home use.
Ginger is used medicinally for helping with nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal ailments and certain types of headaches. (3, 4)  Ginger has also been studied for its effects on diabetes. (2) 

Ginger and Type 2 Diabetes

  1. In a small study of 50 patients age 20-60 years with type 2 non-insulin dependent diabetes who did not take antioxidant or botanical supplements, drink alcohol or smoke, and did not have a change in medication, diet or exercise levels for at least 3 months were given a supplement of ginger or a placebo for 12 weeks in addition to their usual diabetes medications. The ginger was prepared from fresh ginger, dried and finely ground. Tablets were prepared for taking a one gram dose of ginger twice a day or a placebo. At the end of the study, the subjects that took the ginger had a significantly lower fasting blood glucose level and hemoglobin A1c levels. These subjects also had a reduced level of certain markers for risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The authors commented that in several studies they reviewed ginger increases the response of insulin and glucose uptake.  The research team stated that this is the first human study evaluating ginger consumption and glycemic effects on type 2 individuals of this nature. They suggested that studies be carried on with more subjects for a longer period of time to see what happens. (2)
  2. Other studies have concluded that certain ginger extracts have helped lower blood glucose levels. Animal studies in rats have shown that ginger may help delay the onset and progression of cataracts in the eye. (5) Cataracts are common eye problems seen in people with diabetes. For more information on cataracts go to: http://www.diabetescare.net/authors/clara-schneider/vision-and-diabetes-part-2--what-are-cataracts-and-9-related-questions 
  3. In a review article on ginger in diabetes published in 2012, the anti-hyperglycemic effects of ginger was critiqued. The authors commented that mechanisms for this effect are due to the release and action of insulin and improvement in the way carbohydrates are metabolized. (6) There is more information available on ginger, the results of animal studies and studies at the cellular level. Studies on humans have had a variety of results. The authors hypothesize that this may be due to the different ways ginger extracts are prepared and stored. 
  4. In another small double blind study with 88 subjects with type 2 diabetes, were divided into a group given a placebo or three one gram capsules of ginger. The study lasted for 8 weeks. The authors of this study concluded that ginger may be helpful in reducing fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c. (7) This study’s conclusions are similar to the study mentioned above.

Cautions of Consuming Ginger

Like all substances, taking ginger should be discussed with your medical team before adding it to your diet. Ginger might cause irritation to the skin. There are special warnings concerning using ginger while pregnant and/or breast feeding. It may tend to increase bleeding time. For people with diabetes, it may cause a lowering of blood glucose. Your health care provider may need to adjust your diabetes medication. It is thought that high doses may cause harm to the heart in some people. There are potential interactions with medications and other supplements that need to be considered. If you are thinking of using ginger, discuss this with your pharmacist to review potential interactions. (8) Here is a partial list of some of these medication interactions

Recipes that Include Ginger

As mentioned before, talk to your health care team if you are considering using ginger for any reason including potentially helping to lower blood glucose.  The studies that are mentioned in this blog are very small so be conservative in your decision making. DiabetesCare.net has recipes that use fresh or powdered ginger. Here are links to five of our recipes. We hope you enjoy using them!

  1. Chickpea rice 
  2. Chinese Stir Fried Peas and Greens      
  3. Pork Chop Suey
  4. Red Kidney Bean Curry Rajma 
  5. Scrumptious Green Beans