Flash back to childhood, when ginger ale was the OG drink for tummy troubles. These days, stomachache or not, you may still reach for this bubbly beverage (preferably combined with some whiskey 🥃).
But is ginger ale good for you?
Don’t let the word “ginger” fool you. Ginger ale doesn’t actually contain enough ginger root (sometimes none at all) to offer any major health benefits. That includes ginger’s nausea-fighting power.
The high amounts of sugar or artificial sweetener in this tasty bevvy also aren’t doing your body any nutritional favors. In the end, ginger ale isn’t much different from any ol’ soda.
In most cases, ginger ale is ginger-flavored soda. It’s typically made by mixing:
- carbonated water
- sugar, high fructose corn syrup, nonnutritive sugar substitutes, or artificial sweeteners
- natural or artificial ginger flavoring
Caramel coloring and preservatives like citric acid and sodium benzoate might be added.
You may also stumble on a more traditional style of ginger ale made with yeast or ginger bug, similar to how sourdough bread or kombucha is made. Ginger bug is a fermented culture that often contains sugar, ginger, and water. As it naturally ferments, it creates beneficial bacteria and produces natural carbonation.
Types of ginger ale soda
Take your pick from the most common ginger ale varieties:
- Regular. This includes both the soda and the traditional fermented ginger ale.
- Dry. Also called the “pale style,” dry ginger ale has a spicier or drier ginger flavor due to the way manufacturers source and process the ginger root.
- Diet. This is similar to the regular version except that artificial or calorie-free sweeteners are used in place of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
There are *some* pros to drinking ginger ale compared with other soft drinks.
The good: Caffeine-free and extra antioxidants
Ginger ale is often caffeine-free, which is good news if you’re sensitive to caffeine. Consuming too much caffeine has also been linked to headaches, increased anxiety, and restless sleep (especially if you drink it less than 6 hours before bedtime).
If you’re sippin’ on regular ginger ale, the antioxidant content is likely too low to be significant. But if you’ve managed to snag a naturally fermented ginger ale, you’re likely downing some antioxidants.
Some research suggests fermentation can boost antioxidant activity and may benefit your digestive, endocrine, cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems.
The bad: High sugar content
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sugary beverages in moderation, you won’t be getting health benefits on top of that enjoyment.
Drinking sugary drinks in large amounts will skyrocket your sugar consumption. This can lead to weight gain, chronic health conditions, and dental issues.
The American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization all recommend that both adults and children limit free sugars (those that are added to foods, not naturally occurring) to less than 10 percent of total energy intake.
Ginger ale vs. ginger beer: What’s the diff?
Think of ginger beer as ginger ale’s bold cousin. Despite its name, ginger beer is nonalcoholic. It’s stronger-tasting and less carbonated than ginger ale.
Ginger ale is made with carbonated water, sugar, and flavoring, while ginger beer is made from ginger, water, and sugar that’s been fermented.
Sipping on Canada Dry, Schweppes, or Vernors won’t give you the health benefits of legit ginger. Unless you brewed your own ginger ale using ginger root, you’re missing out on ginger’s real benefits.
While these potential benefits are often touted by ginger ale devotees, they actually apply to more pure forms of ginger.
There’s some truth to the idea of using ginger when your tummy is acting funky — but only if it’s a pure form of ginger. A 2018 review noted that ginger can help reduce post-op nausea and vomiting in people who have had surgery.
One 2019 study found that people admitted to the hospital with a migraine attack had a better response to treatment, improved ability to function, and less pain 1 hour after they received 400 milligrams of ginger extract.
A hefty dose of ginger may be just what the doctor ordered to help fight inflammation. In a 2019 study, people with active rheumatoid arthritis who consumed 1,500 milligrams of ginger powder per day for 12 weeks had a decrease in inflammatory gene expression.
Ginger has been used as a traditional medicine for several health conditions, especially cardiovascular disease. Research suggests it may protect against:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- blood clots
We know too much sugar isn’t great, but what about taking the diet soda route? Unfortunately, the use of artificial and nonnutritive sweeteners may also be not-so-sweet.
Although the FDA has approved several artificial and nonnutritive sweeteners, their effects on our health are still questionable.
A 2015 study found that participants who drank diet beverages had a higher chance of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes than those who drank sugar-sweetened soft drinks or none at all. The diet beverage group also tended to have a larger waist circumference and higher fasting blood sugar level.
The controversy continues with a 2019 review that looked at 56 studies on the effects of nonnutritive sweeteners. The authors concluded that there weren’t many differences in health outcomes between people who consumed nonnutritive sweeteners and those who didn’t.
Just like regular sugar, artificial sugar is likely safe when consumed in moderate amounts. The choice is up to you!
Overall, ginger ale is a low-risk beverage for many people. Potential side effects include:
- Gas. If you’ve been sipping on ginger ale and notice bloating, burping, and toots, it’s all thanks to the carbonation. You may also notice more farts if you’re drinking diet ginger ale. Artificial sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols, can be hard to digest and cause stomach issues if consumed in large amounts.
- Blood thinner interactions. Ginger can slow down blood clotting, which is also what blood-thinning medication does. Drinking or eating too much ginger while taking a blood thinner can put you at risk of bleeding and bruising. But since ginger ale doesn’t usually contain much (or any) ginger, it’s generally OK for most people to consume alongside a balanced diet.
If you’re strolling down the soda aisle, don’t expect to pick up anything that comes with a lot of nutritional benefits. But there are some ingredients you may want to avoid.
It can be hard to find ginger ale without sugar, but you can steer clear of those that contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Although table sugar and HFCS have a similar sugar composition, HFCS is believed to be metabolized differently and may be linked to health issues like:
You may also want to skip any ginger ale that has a long list of ingredients, including artificial coloring. Or opt for one made with a natural nonnutritive sweetener like stevia.
If you’re in dire need of a carbonated concoction, try these options:
- Sparkling water. Tons of brands make sparkling water, plain or with a hint of natural flavor, that can quench your thirst and actually hydrate you.
- Kombucha. Brewed by fermenting tea with sugar and SCOBY (a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), kombucha offers antioxidant power and fermentation gut health benefits. Just check the label, since some kombuchas are high in added sugar.
- Prebiotic soda. Satisfy your soda cravings with copycat prebiotic sodas, which usually contain prebiotics (obvi), plant fibers, and other natural ingredients to give you a bubbly bevvy with less sugar and more gut health.
As much as we believed ginger ale was the cure for our tummy troubles, the carbonation was probably the key all along.
In truth, regular ginger ale is just a soda. Although ginger root has been linked with health benefits, regular ginger ale is made with very little (or no) real ginger root — not enough to boast benefits.
Go ahead and enjoy the ginger ale of your choice. Just don’t expect to get any major health perks.