Turmeric. Is it a wonder spice?

Turmeric is an orange-coloured spice often used in Indian cooking. The powder comes from the root of the turmeric plant and people have eaten it for thousands of years as well as using it for medicine and as a dye.

Just lately turmeric’s health-giving powers have come to the forefront, with people adding it to lattes, smoothies, teas and breakfast bowls in abundance. Is it a fad or does its use have some merit?

Curcumin and polyphenols

Turmeric contains something called curcumin, which is a polyphenol. But what is a polyphenol? It’s a compound (or range of compounds) found in plants that protect the plant from degradation, environmental damage (sun, cold, wind, pollution) and essentially help to keep it healthy. And they do the same for us when we eat them.

Curcumin is a powerful source of polyphenols.

There have been over 3000 studies in the last 25 years on its health effects, although nothing large scale enough to qualify it as a medicine.

Studies have looked at its apparent ability to help reduce inflammation, fight cell damage, reduce pain, help fight depression, protect against cardiovascular and brain disease and calm the gut. Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use, going back thousands of years. It has been used for everything from cuts to circulatory and blood sugar problems to joint and intestinal issues.

NOTE: Curcumin alone isn’t easily absorbed by the body; to enhance absorption it needs to be taken with piperine (black pepper) and fat-containing food as it’s fat-soluble. Piperine increases its absorption massively.

Variety is still the key

The thing is, so many plant foods have excellent amounts of polyphenols and the key thing is variety so that we get the benefits of a wide range of them. While there’s little harm in adding turmeric to food, frequently supplementing with it or swallowing spoons and spoons of it doesn’t have much proven health basis. As the active compound is curcumin – and only around 2% of turmeric is curcumin – you’d need to eat a heck of a lot of turmeric to reap any of the reported benefits, and that may not be a good thing.

Turmeric can have a negative effect on existing conditions

Turmeric can thin the blood so caution should be taken by anyone who is pregnant or has slow-clotting issues. It can also reduce blood sugar so anyone who is a medicated diabetic should be aware that blood sugar could drop very low if they increased turmeric intake significantly. Anyone with gall bladder or kidney stone issues should also avoid turmeric supplements as it could contribute to stone formation. Lastly, chemotherapy patients should avoid it as it can interfere with some treatment.

Supplement with caution

The message here is the same one as fitnaturally usually gives – natural foods, herbs and spices are really beneficial but proceed with caution if supplementing. A varied and moderate diet of natural foods is unfashionable but fantastic.

How to naturally include turmeric in your diet

  • Add it to spice mixes for curry
  • Add it to homemade dressing using part oil, part vinegar, and seasonings including turmeric
  • Add to marinades
  • Add to roasted vegetables
  • Add it to cooked rice

How to buy and store turmeric

Not any old turmeric will do as it could have been grown with pesticides. Organic curcumin is subject to more stringent tests for things such as fillers. Buying certified organic turmeric is the best bet for getting a quality product. Buy it in small quantities so it’s fresher. Keep it in the cool and dark.

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Cover photo by Summer Malik from Pixabay.

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