When your stomach is upset or you're nauseous, one of the most common recommendations is to have a ginger ale. But does ginger ale actually help? The answer seems to be no.
Is there any truth that ginger ale helps nausea?
The truth seems to be that ginger as an ingredient has a lot of promising research supporting it being an effective treatment for nausea and upset stomachs. The problem isn't with the ginger, it's that most ginger ales we see in grocery stores today contain very little to no ginger in them. In fact, Canada Dry had to settle a class action lawsuit against them for claiming "Made from Real Ginger" when they used little to none in their recipe (if you have a receipt for a bottle of Canada Dry from before they changed the label you can actually get $40 reimbursement from the settlement).
Photo of ginger root, which does have many health benefits
There are some ginger ales out there that use real ginger but the benefits are outweighed by the negatives of how much sugar they use. The amount of sugar they use is easily on par with any other sodas. I've seen ginger ales and ginger beers with 50 grams of sugar which is about 140% of your total daily recommended intake. This much sugar will likely worsen your nausea and could lead to all kinds of other digestive issues like diarrhea, bloating, gas. Read more about sugar, sweeteners, and stomach issues in our other post.
How did ginger ale become a remedy for nausea?
It's a bit of a mystery. Ginger ale is believed to have originated in 1840s as a homemade concoction from an Irish surgeon and apothecary named Thomas Joseph Cantrell. This original ginger ale was much darker, sweeter, and with a much stronger ginger spiciness than what we're familiar with today. The modern ginger ale was invented in 1907 by John J. McLaughlin, a pharmacist and chemist, who created what he called a "dry ginger ale" (surprisingly since it was still very sweet). He called his new ginger ale variation "Canada Dry" which is to this day one of the most widely available and popular brands of ginger ale.
Old advertisement for ginger ale, many of the old ads also touted health benefits
The popularity of the drink really exploded during Prohibition, when people wanted a strong tasting soda to mix with and cover the taste of poor quality bootlegged liquor. Aside from use as a mixer, ginger was also the main ingredient in "Jamaica ginger extract" which was an existing over the counter medicine at the time that happened to be 70-80% alcohol. With people looking for alternative ways to legally consume alcohol, Jamaica ginger extract also exploded in popularity. No one seems to know for sure how ginger ale got it's reputation as a nausea remedy but our best guesses would be due to it's inventors all being medical professionals, Jamaica ginger extract being popular and marketed as a medicine, carbonated drinks being considered healthy in the 20th century, and ginger being a known ingredient used as a treatment for all kinds of different ailments all over the world.