Nothing beats a delicious, comforting and slightly spicy curry on a cool winter or autumn day (or even just after a long day of work). But the popular meal that’s become a staple in many British households might actually be doing you more good than you think. The not-so-secret ingredient? Turmeric.
With mounting evidence that turmeric can help alleviate everything from Alzheimer’s to joint inflammation, and may even be able to help prevent certain cancers, there’s no better time to stock up on this seemingly magical spice, and start reaping the benefits it can have on your overall health and wellbeing.
We’ve rounded up you everything you need to know about terrific turmeric, and have included plenty of helpful information on how you can easily incorporate it into your everyday eating habits.
What is turmeric – or more specifically, curcumin?
Turmeric is a type of root plant that is native to India, and is closely related to ginger. It can be purchased either in its fresh form, which looks similar to ginger, but with a bright orange colour, or more commonly as a powder.
In terms of which one is better for you… we’ll get to that shortly.
When people talk about the “health benefits of turmeric”, what they’re really talking about is one specific active compound of turmeric, called curcumin, which is what gives the root its distinctive orange colour. It’s also the natural active chemical compound that gives turmeric its amazing healing properties.
The inner and outer benefits of turmeric
So what does turmeric actually do for us? Below is just a handful of scientifically-backed benefits of turmeric, all proven by a number of researchers and studies around the world.
- Helps to reduce cognitive decline – A 2012 study in Japan entitled “Effects of turmeric on Alzheimer’s disease with behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia” found that turmeric was highly effective in helping to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals with advanced cases of the condition.
- Preventing cholesterol and fatty liver – According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Food Science, turmeric supplementation was found to help prevent high cholesterol levels in the blood, and reduce the risk of fatty liver.
- Reducing inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis – A 2012 study in the Indonesian Journal of Internal Medicine 2012 discovered that the curcuminoid extract of turmeric reduced inflammation and associated pain in patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis.
- Improves your skin – Not only great for the skin when consumed, thousands of people around the world are also touting the benefits of turmeric when they put it on their skin. Try this turmeric face mask, for example.
- Cancer treatment – A controversial one, but there is growing evidence, including from studies conducted by Cancer Research UK, that the compounds in turmeric can help to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. Powerful stuff.
Beauty and health benefits, including helping to prevent serious illnesses? Sign us up. Is there anything turmeric can’t do?
Well, let’s back up here for a second. Before you grab a bottle of any old turmeric from the supermarket and start sprinkling it into everything from your dinner to your face cream, it’s important to remember that unfortunately, curcumin is actually not easily absorbed by the body, so there is a right and a wrong way to consume turmeric.
The good news is, there are a few things you can do to help aid its absorption, and ensure you’re getting as much glorious golden goodness from turmeric as possible.
How to best ensure that your body can absorb all the nutrients in turmeric
Thankfully the studies that have been done on turmeric have also looked into the ways that we can help make the nutrients in turmeric more “bioavailable” to us – that is, more easily absorbed by our bodies. Here are a few things to consider:
- Consume turmeric with freshly ground black pepper – Studies have shown that piperine, the chemical compound in black pepper, when consumed at the same time as curcumin, helps to dramatically increase its bio-availability.
- Consume turmeric with a source of fat – Further studies have shown that when consumed with fats, curcumin is more readily absorbed by the body. Try using healthy sources of fats such as flaxseed oil, coconut oil or olive oil.
- Use a combination of fresh and powdered turmeric – Which is best: fresh grated turmeric root, or dried, powdered turmeric? The answer here is actually both. The process involved with turning fresh turmeric root into a powder both destroys some chemical compounds and activates others. To ensure you get a good mixture of nutrients, enjoy both freshly sliced or grated turmeric, and dried powdered turmeric in your cooking.
- If using a powder, be sure to use non-irradiated turmeric – It may shock some people to learn that most everyday spices that we buy from our local supermarkets have gone through a process of irradiation which essentially means exposing the food to radiation before being packaged and sold. This can severely reduce the number of beneficial compounds in our spices including the amount of bioavailable curcumin in our turmeric. If possible, look for organic and non-irradiated powdered forms of turmeric. This should be fairly easy to find at any good organic grocers’ or health food store.
- What about turmeric in supplement form? – Many health food stores are also now selling turmeric or curcumin supplements. If you are going to take turmeric in powdered format, then be sure to find a brand which also contains the minimum recommended daily dose is 1,000 mg of curcumin per day, as well as piperine which we mentioned earlier, to help aid absorption.
Delicious turmeric recipes
So, feeling ready to start incorporating turmeric into your everyday diet? Great! Just ensure you enjoy your turmeric in something such as a delicious, healthy homemade curry, rather than opting for takeaway meals which are often high in unhealthy fats and MSG, and may not even contain much turmeric at all (we’re looking at you, chicken Tikka Masala…)
There are some great recipes for curries and other turmeric-containing drinks and dishes available online – Here are some of our favourite turmeric recipes from around the web:
- One Green Planet – Creamy Vegan Chickpeas With Turmeric, Black Cumin, and Parsley
- Amelia Wachtin – Golden Milk
- The Kitchn – Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup
How do you incorporate turmeric into your meals or even beauty routine? Have you experienced benefits personally from using turmeric? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: By Simon A. Eugster (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons