Turmeric, an essential ingredient in virtually all Indian curry powders, is not only full of flavor, it is also full of disease fighting properties.
It is no secret that chronic inflammation is a major factor in the development of a whole host of lifestyle related illnesses such as type II diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome, as well as certain types of cancer. So what if there was a food which was cheap, flavorful, easy to find in any supermarket, and even easier to cook with, which had the potential to lower your risk of developing one of these diseases, would you not incorporate it into your meals on a regular basis?
I would, and I do.
Several decades of research into the turmeric root and it’s main active ingredient, curcumin, have shown a multitude of benefits inherent in this humble root, including its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well as an ability to lower blood sugar. Over in India they have in fact known and used this root medicinally for a very very long time. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, a more than 3,000 year old natural treatment method originating in India, turmeric has traditionally been used in the treatment of inflammatory disorders. And with good reason. Turmeric is safe, non‐toxic, low cost, and easy to come by.
Curcumin, the substance which gives turmeric its yellow coloring, is what has been identified as the main active ingredient in turmeric. Because of this supplements with only this compound are now easy to come by. But recent research suggests that using the whole food rather than just one compound in isolation is more beneficial and curcumin is after all only one of many compounds which together make up the whole spice turmeric. So when choosing how to get the benefits from turmeric go for the whole root, fresh or dried, or supplements containing turmeric and not just curcumin. And stay clear of turmeric produced in Bangladesh. At least for now. This is due to the consistently high levels of lead found in turmeric grown there.
And one more thing to keep in mind: in order for us to benefit from the active compounds in turmeric it needs to either be heated or taken with black pepper. So if you use the fresh root in a cold dish, such as a smoothie, be sure to add a bit of black pepper as well. And when looking for supplements look for one which also contains black pepper or take a pinch of black pepper with your pill.
Want to dig deeper?
This article listing 10 known benefits of turmeric is a good place to start. This more scientific article looks into the beneficial role of curcumin on inflammation, diabetes and neurodegenerative disease. And this video from Nutritionfacts.org delves into the curcumin versus whole turmeric issue. And if you are curious about why turmeric needs to be taken with pepper then this article should satisfy that particular curiosity. And to round things off: this article and this one look into the problem with lead contamination.
And for some inspiration on how to easily add some turmeric to your diet check out my recipes for Quick Tofu and Spinach Curry and Indian Yellow Dahl.