Nutrition: Ginger boost

The warming root that helps keep the chill out and much more...

When the dampness hangs in the air and the days are still dark, commuting by bike every day or going out for a training ride isn't so appealing. Recent research has revealed what our mothers have always told us - that if you get chilled you're more likely to get a cold.

If you suffer from cold hands and feet, in the form of Raynaud's syndrome, it's especially important to set out on your bike with that protective, warming 'Ready Brek' glow around you. Ginger is one of the best foods that can help to do this. It has an amazing ability to stimulate the blood flow to your hands and feet. If you commute to work and have to face all weathers in the morning, ditch your usual brew of caffeine and try a large mug of ginger tea instead. Fresh ginger is available from the fruit and vegetable section in supermarkets, or farm shops, delis, and health food shops which sell fresh produce.

Flavour rather than form

The thick, tuberous root may not look very attractive but the flavour makes it one of the most popular spices in the world. Simply slice a piece of fresh ginger root (about the size of your thumb) and cut off the outer skin to reveal the coarse ginger root flesh. Slice or chop this finely and boil it in a pan with about a pint of water. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for ten minutes before drinking.

The amount of ginger root you use will depend on your taste. Don't make the tea so pungent that it burns your mouth as you swallow. Dilute it with hot water if necessary, but you don't want to make it too weak that you miss out on its powerful therapeutic properties.

How it works

Ginger counteracts the effect of hormone-like substances known as prostaglandins. These cause the platelet cells in your blood to become sticky enough to first clump together and then form a blood clot. The inside of your blood vessels are liable to the same sort of daily wear and tear as your skin.

Blood clotting is a normal reaction to a wound inside a blood vessel, and is the same reaction as when you cut yourself on the outside. It's important that the blood can clot, plug the wound, and prevent further bleeding. The blood clot then turns into a scab and eventually dissolves, once the wound underneath has been repaired.

In this way, blood clotting is a necessary and important mechanism. However, if your blood clots easily, it can be thicker than normal. There are many drugs (such as those in aspirin), which reduce prostaglandin production and keep the blood thin. This blood thinning effect is good news for micro-circulation, meaning that your feet and hands enjoy increased blood flow and stay warm. Tests have shown that ginger contains the active component gingerol, which is chemically similar to aspirin, but is actually more potent.

Warming effect

The volatile oils which give ginger its characteristic taste and pungency are also strongly antiseptic. They can therefore help to protect against bacteria and viral infections. The warming and stimulating properties of ginger can also affect the hormone balance of female cyclists. Ginger can help to normalise irregular periods and ease period pain.

A large mug of ginger tea before you go out on a ride can help relax period contractions. For a warming and reviving mid ride drink, pour boiling water into a flask with slices of fresh root ginger, apple concentrate and a few whole cloves. Tea is not the only way to take in the beneficial properties of ginger. For a pre-ride snack spread ginger 'jam' or marmalade with ginger on rice cakes, toast or oatcakes.

Crystallised ginger is an ideal snack to take on a winter ride. The normally tough, fibrous root ginger is cooked and softened in sugar syrup. Chunks of crystallised ginger are usually found with the packets of dried fruits in supermarkets and health shops. Chew on a few of the sugary lumps during a ride and feel the warmth reach down into your toes. The high sugar content helps to counteract the powerful, raw ginger taste and will give your body a small carbohydrate boost, too.

Once you're back home, and have developed a taste for the spice, cook up a stir-fry and toss in a few slices of fresh root ginger.


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