Ginger vs Turmeric: An Evidence Based Comparison

Ginger vs turmeric

Ginger and turmeric both have a long history in our kitchens as ways to make food more interesting and flavorful. At the same time, each is associated with a range of health benefits – to the point that some people take them as supplements.

In many ways, comparing ginger vs turmeric is easy, as the two have many similarities.

  • ​​Like how they are commonly used as spices in cooking ​
  • In both cases, we use the rhizome or root of the plant, typically powdered.

Still, there are also many differences.

  • ​Like how the two spices vary in their flavors and their uses.

At the same time, much of the discussion about ginger vs turmeric comes down to their health benefits. Both do have advantages for health and are relevant for different situations.

​How Ginger Promotes Health

Ginger ground root and candied

Ginger comes from the plant Zingiber offcinale and is traditionally used in Asian, Indian and Arabic herbal medicine, while also being a common cooking ingredient. In fact, ginger has been used as a medical herb for upwards of 2,000 years (1).

​One important point to note about ginger vs turmeric is that ginger looks fairly dull and unexciting. At the same time, it doesn’t have an especially interesting nutritional profile.

​In particular, ginger may be low in calories (with a low GI too) but it doesn’t act as a significant source of vitamins or nutrients.

​But, that doesn’t make it boring.

​Herbs and spices are powerful because they contain a range of plant-based compounds. Many of these are antioxidants or anti-inflammatories and they help to promote health in a range of ways.

In the case of ginger, there are multiple compounds associated with those actions (2,3,4), along with specific groups that are interesting, such as flavonoids and alkaloids (5).

Health Benefits of Ginger

In terms of health, ginger is most commonly associated with the potential to fight nausea, although it is relevant in other areas as well.

The research about ginger and nausea has been surprisingly mixed.

  • ​Some studies have found this effect (6,7,8), while others have failed to do so (9,10).
  • ​This may simply mean that the impact of ginger varies from one person to another. 
  • ​Indeed, it’s very likely that some people are more susceptible to its benefits than others.

​Beyond nausea, ginger has also been connected to other advantages.

  • ​​One study indicated that ginger could help treat osteoarthritis in the knee (11).
  • ​​Other research suggested that ginger could help reduce osteoarthritis pain (12,13).

This impact may be connected to ginger’s potential benefit for fighting inflammation (14,15). Again though, not all evidence agrees (16,17).

  • ​Indeed, the anti-inflammatory role of ginger may help to fight other types of pain as well, such as muscle pain following exercise (18,19,20).
  • ​Likewise, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant functions may provide neurological protection and could even help fight Alzheimer’s disease (21,22,23).

​​Ginger has also been associated with ​improvements for people with diabetes, including HbA1c outcomes and glucose levels (24,25,26,27,28) and for helping with weight loss (29,30,31).

Finally, some studies suggest that ginger may be relevant for helping with asthma, although this research is still in the early stages (32,33,34).

​How You Can Use Ginger

Ginger shot with raw ginger

The most common use of ginger is for cooking.​

  • ​In most cases, you probably wouldn’t be using a large amount of ginger – as the flavor is fairly strong.
  • ​Indeed, ginger has a fairly pungent smell and the taste is spicy and sharp.
  • ​The overall flavor is one that many people love, while some others cannot stand it.

​If you want to include ginger in your diet, there is no shortage of ways to do so.

  • ​For example, ginger is a common ingredient in many dinner recipes, especially if you are focusing on Asian meals.
  • ​Likewise, ginger is often used in stir-fries and in soups, particularly in the winter.

​An alternative use is to use ginger in hot tea.

In some cases, doing so may involve adding ginger into tea that you have brewed. Other people choose to make ginger tea by pouring hot water over a piece of fresh ginger. There is a good recipe for doing so at Genius Kitchen.

You can also add other ingredients to either option, such as honey and lemon, both of which are associated with their own benefits. The end result is a perfect winter drink, especially if you’re trying to decrease caffeine intake.

Indeed, a hot drink can often be a powerful way to promote weight loss and this is one reason why weight loss teas and coffee (like Javita coffee) are so popular.

​At the same time, ginger can also be used in a powdered form or you may use the ginger itself, such as by chopping or grating the rhizome.

​How Much Ginger Should You Have?

Sliced ginger

Now, there is no consensus view on how much ginger you should be having, with studies ranging from less than 1 gram per day up to around 3 grams per day of powdered ginger.

If you are using fresh ginger, the calculation is more complicated, as fresh ginger contains liquid, which makes it heavier. As a rule of thumb, many people simply double the powdered amount to get an approximation for fresh ginger.

​However, many of the studies ​discussed earlier didn’t use dietary levels of ginger. Instead, some made use of ginger extract, while others relied on supplements.

You can ​get around issues of taste and dose by focusing on supplements.  ​

​How Turmeric Promotes Health

Turmeric health benefits

Turmeric comes from the plant Zingiber officinale and is widely known for its vibrant yellow-orange color. It is most commonly used to give flavor and appearance to Indian curries, although it does also have medicinal properties.

Many of the benefits are associated with the active ingredient in turmeric, which is curcumin (35,36). This is a powerful antioxidant and has also been associated with anti-inflammatory properties, much like ginger.

Curcumin is also the compound that creates the pigment in turmeric. There is even some curcumin present in ginger as well, although there is much more of it in turmeric.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

There has been a large amount of research into turmeric, with more than 7,000 different studies looking into turmeric or curcumin (37).

As with ginger, turmeric is strongly associated with anti-inflammatory properties.

  • ​For that matter, curcumin has been traditionally used in treating inflammation because it interacts with various parts of the inflammatory pathways (38,39,40).
  • ​Likewise, research suggests that turmeric may be relevant in improving outcomes for a range of inflammatory conditions, including some digestive diseases (41,42).
  • ​This does also mean that turmeric may be able to help fight pain associated with osteoarthritis (43).

​As an antioxidant, turmeric may also play a protective role and improve health ​44,45,46).

Beyond these actions, turmeric and/or curcumin have been associated with a range of specific health benefits.

  • ​C​urcumin may help to improve the immune system and the responses of antibodies (47,48,49). This also contributes to the potential to reduce food allergy symptoms (50,51).
  • ​Likewise, curcumin has been associated with improvements in mental health (52,53,54,55,56) and cardiovascular health (57,58,59), especially when used as a supplement.
  • Curcumin may also help to protect the liver (60), especially for people with diabetes (61,62,63). However, the research here is in its early stages, with most studies having been conducted on animals.
  • Some studies also suggest that turmeric may be relevant in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease (64,65,66) and even fighting cancer (67,68,69,70).

​​​​Finally, turmeric may be relevant for people with diabetes, helping to reduce blood sugar levels (71,72) and improving the effectiveness of regular diabetes treatment (73). For that matter, curcumin may even help to decrease the risk of diabetes (74).

​How You Can Use Turmeric

Turmeric Golden Milk Benefits

The most common way to include turmeric in your diet would be in curries.

After all, the spice is frequently used in this role and can make curries look and taste amazing. Indeed, some research even suggests that using turmeric in curries may increase the bioavailability because of the fat that is in the curry (75).

If you were planning to get turmeric in this way, you might use turmeric powder itself or rely on curry powder. However, turmeric powder would be a better choice as curry powder typically contains a mix of spices and relatively little curcumin (76).

The site Kitchn offers a list of 19 different turmeric recipes that you can try out. 

Additionally, turmeric can also be used in smoothies or in tea. For example, some people make smoothies that use turmeric, cinnamon and often ginger as well.

This type of smoothie can be very healthy and offers a great way to get a range of beneficial ingredients into your diet.

​Turmeric Supplements

Turmeric supplements

A common alternative is to take curcumin or turmeric in the form of supplements. This may be especially relevant to anybody who does not like the taste of turmeric or does not eat curry frequently.

Now, there is an additional challenge with turmeric in that curcumin is not easily absorbed in the body and is poorly soluble in water. At the same time, the compound is metabolized rapidly, giving the body little chance to take advantage of it (77,78).

As a result, there are various formulations of curcumin that increase bio-availability (79,80).

  • ​This pattern makes supplements like ​this one below a particularly powerful choice if you want benefits from turmeric.
  • ​​Another option is ​this brand. ​It uses a different type of formulation, which is supposed to be more bioavaliable. That claim may be true but it may also simply be marketing. But regardless, it is another option for curcumin supplementation.

The issue of bioavailability may also mean that you get more benefits from supplementing with curcumin than including it in your diet directly.

Ginger vs Turmeric

When comparing ginger vs turmeric, it’s clear that these are significantly different spices. In particular, they vary in their flavor profile, the way that they are used and, most relevantly, in their health benefits.

But, this isn’t really the case of one being better than the other.

Instead, both spices offer benefits to health and are a valuable addition to your diet. Likewise, they both contain antioxidants and compounds that actively fight inflammation.

For turmeric and ginger, you can choose to supplement the compounds or use them in food. The supplements will sometimes be extracts of the spice or simply a powdered version and in the case of turmeric, various formulations exist to help with bioavailability.

​Spices vs Supplements

​It’s normally better to get spices ​as part of a healthy diet, rather than as a supplement.

​Nevertheless, there are some situations where supplementation may be desirable. This is particularly true in the case of turmeric, due to issues with absorption.

​If you do plan to supplement with either ginger or turmeric, it’s important to talk to your doctor first. Many herbs and spices can interact with medication when taken in significant quantities, so you need to make sure that there won’t be any issues.

​Still, both spices are valuable additions to the diet can are worth considering both for their health benefits and their taste.

What's your favorite spice? Is it ginger, turmeric or something else?​

Turmeric Smoothie

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Turmeric Smoothie

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