My parents told me a lot of lies when I was a kid. You know—the classic, normal stuff, like that Santa Clause exists, or that I’d one day become president, or that putting a dollar in my bank account as a kid would earn me a million dollars by the time I was an adult (fact: It takes about 32,000 years for that).
But the biggest lie we were all told as children and spent the rest of our lives believing? That drinking ginger ale soothes upset stomachs. Because that, folks, is straight-up false.
Excuse Me, What?
Yes, sorry burst your bubble, but the ginger ale you’ve so delicately sipped through stomach flus and hangovers is not doing anything to help your indigestion, and is likely making it significantly worse. “I think the myth comes from the name of the beverage,” says Gina Sam, M.D., a gastroenterologist in New York City; “People assume if it has ginger in the name, it’ll likely help their stomachs.”
Because yes, it is true that pure ginger has been shown to help quell nausea and vomiting (doctors aren’t exactly sure why, though they think it acts as an anti-inflammatory), and ginger has also been used since the first century as a holistic digestion remedy. But when you’re drinking ginger ale, you’re not sipping pure ginger—you’re drinking fizzy sugar water with a hint of ginger “flavors.” And that’s where the problem lies.
The Sugar Issue
“I don’t think the public realizes how much sugar and how little ginger is in these beverages,” says Dr. Sam. For example: One little can of commercial-brand ginger ale can have 10–13 teaspoons of added sugar in it, yet contain only a tiny bit of natural or synthetic ginger flavoring—which, sadly, won’t do anything to help your stomach.
“The reason we say to avoid sugar when you’re fighting a stomach illness is because sugar actually feeds the bad bacteria in your GI tract, causing more bloating, gas, and indigestion,” says Dr. Sam. And even if you opt for sugar-free ginger ale, you’ll still be stuck with gas and bloating, since your intestines can’t digest artificial sweeteners. Basically, ginger ale is straight fuel for your stomach’s fire.
And yes, I realize that not all ginger ales are the same, and some formulas are totally natural and organic, which must be better for you, right? Unfortunately, no. Even the natural ales that have visible chunks ginger floating in them are still filled with sugar (check the label; anything above zero grams is too much sugar). Which means, at best, the real ginger in the drink will only help offset some of the sugar you’re ingesting.
Well, Now What?
So what should you drink instead? “It’s best to get fresh ginger root from the grocery store, peel it, and mix it with some decaf tea or hot water,” says Dr. Sam. I know—boring, but you can go back to the sweet relief of ginger ale after your stomach stops trying to turn itself inside out, okay?
Until then, stick with the plain stuff (and please, please tell your future children the same).