When you feel a stomachache coming on — ugh, it's the pits.
Symptoms like nausea, indigestion, heartburn, stomach cramps and bloating can make your day suddenly go from pretty good to totally bleh.
The list of remedies for an ailment as common as a stomachache can be overwhelming: drink water, drink tea, drink apple cider vinegar, chew on peppermint leaves, soak in the tub, avoid lying down — the list goes on and on.
But one of the most commonly recommended cures is also one of the most misunderstood: ginger ale.
"We've all heard it: To calm an upset stomach, drink ginger ale," says Dr. Shilpa Vaidya, internist at Houston Methodist. "But, like many simple health remedies that get passed down, you have to take it with a grain of salt."
Is it the ginger, or the ale, that helps with a stomachache?
Ginger, a member of the plant family that includes turmeric and cardamom, has been proven to be effective at treating nausea and vomiting — two hallmarks of a classic upset stomach. In fact, ginger is even used to treat morning sickness, muscle pain and menstrual pain.
But, the plant's root, which is dried and ground to make ginger spice, doesn't look nearly as appetizing as a cold bottle of ginger ale. So, when you're suffering from stomach problems, why not just reach for the ale instead of the root?
Dr. Vaidya explains that many ginger ales on the market today don't contain ginger as an ingredient (gasp!): "If you look carefully at the label, the ginger in ginger ale may only be artificial flavoring. Or, if the beverage does have real ginger, there's a good chance it doesn't contain enough to relieve your upset stomach."
And, though there may not be much (or any) ginger in ginger ale, there's plenty of another ingredient: sugar. "When treating an upset stomach — especially when suffering from symptoms like gas, indigestion and bloating — carbonated, sugary beverages can often make you feel worse, not better," says Dr. Vaidya.
When stomach troubles come, reach for the real thing
Though ginger ale may be tasty, when suffering from a stomachache you're better off opting for the genuine article, explains Dr. Vaidya. "Instead of the beverage aisle, I recommend visiting your grocery store's produce section and picking up some fresh ginger root."
Simply add peeled slices to hot tea or plain hot water. And if you're not comfortable handling the raw ingredient, try ground ginger instead.
And remember: Overtaxing your stomach, even with a good thing, will only lead to more distress. A little ginger tea goes a long way, so don't overdo it. "Drinking small amounts throughout the day is far better than drinking multiple cups in one sitting," says Dr. Vaidya.