Turmeric is spice that has a deep orange-yellow color and it is a staple ingredient in any South Asian or Middle Eastern kitchen. It is a very versatile spice and it is used in cooking for both its taste and its color. Turmeric is added curries, it is a starter ingredient in many Persian dishes and in South Africa it is used to add color to boiled white rice. You can find turmeric on the ingredients list of many products such as caned beverages, popcorn, cereals, biscuits and crackers, just to name a few.
Turmeric has also been associated with many health benefits and it has been used to treat various diseases, skin conditions, gastrointestinal aches pains, wounds, sprains and liver disorders. It is curcumin that gives turmeric its healing powers. Curcumin is a potent phytonutrient that has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Here are a few studies that support these claims.
A lot of us experience inflammatory diseases at one point or another. In fact, chronic inflammation contributes to many Western diseases including heart disease, cancer, metabolic diseases and Alzheimer’s. When curcumin is eaten in sufficient amounts, it can effectively fight inflammation. Research conducted by Takada for NCBI shows that curcumin is better at treating inflammation than some anti-inflammatory drugs. The added benefit of using turmeric to fight inflammation is that is has no side effects.
Curcumin is also a powerful anti-oxidant. It is very effective at finding free radicals in our bodies, and neutralizing them before they can cause long term damage. In addition, cur cumin has also been shown to boost the effectiveness of our own antioxidant enzymes.
There are many studies which show that curcumin has cancer preventing and cancer fighting abilities. It can reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, it can reduce the spread of cancer and it can contribute to the death of cancerous cells. Some studies show that curcumin can prevent cancers from occurring in the first place. A study published in 2006 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology concluded that curcumin, helped to reduce both the size and number of precancerous lesions in the human intestinal tract. Another study published in Biochemical Pharmacology in 2005 showed that after 5 weeks mice that were given curcumin had a much lower incidence of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
Other health benefits
Curcumin has also been linked to many other health enhancing and disease fighting properties. It has been shown to alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, to prevent cardiovascular disease, to fight neurodegenerative diseases, to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, to fight depression and even delay ageing and age related diseases.
So how can you make most out of turmeric?
1) Include turmeric in cooking – For example add turmeric to white rice to give it a nice golden color or cook curries and tagines where turmeric is a starting ingredient. Turmeric is also a good compliment to lentils and cauliflower. You can buy turmeric as a spice in any shop. If you can, it is better to buy organic turmeric to avoid pesticides and irradiation. To store turmeric, keep it in tightly sealed containers and place containers in a cool, dark, and dry place. If you are cooking with fresh turmeric keep it in the refrigerator.
3) Take turmeric / curcumin extracts – You can get turmeric / curcumin extracts in your local health store such as Vitamin Shoppe. Please keep in mind, that even though turmeric is a wonderful spice with lots of health benefits, it can be harmful to those with bile / duct blockages, gallstones and stomach ulcers as it creates more acid in the stomach. So make sure you check with your doctor before deciding to take these supplements.
4) Maximize curcumin absorption – Curcumin is difficult to absorb. If you want to maximize the absorption of curcumin into your bloodstream, make sure you eat it with black pepper. Black pepper increases absorption of curcumin by 200%.