Turmeric: A potent anti-inflammatory food
If you believe the hype, the health benefits of turmeric are huge. This humble rhizome is said to do everything from prevent cancer to repair sun damage, help diabetics regulate blood sugar levels to speed weight loss, lessen the pain of arthritis and so, so much more. Which is probably why Google listed turmeric as one of its most searched-for words in 2016.
2016 may be long over, but the searches continue. And with good reason: The spice—used fresh or dried—has only grown in popularity among health seekers looking for another way to slow the aging process (turmeric addresses the symptoms of many degenerative diseases) look and feel great.
The therapeutic component of turmeric is curcumin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredient that helps prevent degenerative diseases caused by age, oxidation and damage. Curcumin also gives the spice it’s vibrant golden color. Another active ingredient in turmeric is turmerone. Although far less is known about turmerone compared to curcumin, some studies suggest tumerone can support cognitive performance due to its neuroprotective properties.
But what does the research say? There are over 900 studies on the spice that look at how turmeric helps helps us get, and stay, healthy. Here, I’ve listed just a few worth looking at.
Research studies about turmeric
—Help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s Disease: Turmeric has been found in numerous studies to lessen inflammation, treat oxidative damage, treat heavy metal build-up, as well as reduce the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
—Help prevent numerous diseases through its potent anti-inflammatory properties.
— Is active against various chronic diseases including various types of cancers, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological and autoimmune diseases.
—Protects skin against and repairs photoaging and ultraviolet damage.
Interesting facts about turmeric
— The turmeric plant is a perennial plant that reaches up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) tall.
—A single turmeric plant can yield approximately 700 grams of consumable root.
—One tablespoon of fresh turmeric provides 15% of your daily allowance for iron
— The use of turmeric as a coloring agent for food and fabric dates as far back as 600 B.C.
— Marco Polo, in 1280, mentioned turmeric in notes of his travels in China: “There is also a vegetable that has all the properties of true saffron, as well as the smell and the color, and yet it is not really saffron.”
— In medieval Europe, turmeric was known as “Indian saffron.” Since then, turmeric has been used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron.
—Ants dislike turmeric, making it a natural ant repellant.
—The city of Erode in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is the world’s largest producer of turmeric. Erode has often been referred to as “Yellow City” or “Turmeric City.”
—The effectiveness of turmeric can be boosted as much as 2,000 percent by mixing it with a little black pepper (perhaps 1/8 teaspoon).
—Curcumin is fat-soluble, so turmeric is best consumed along with some form of fat to aid in absorption.
Buying and keeping fresh turmeric rhizomes
—Look for plump, dried rhizomes with no withering, weepy spots, softness, or mold.
—Store turmeric rhizomes in the refrigerator: Wrap them in paper towel, and then pop it in a plastic bag and place in the produce drawer. They should keep for up to two weeks. —If you notice any mold on a rhizome (but the rest of it looks fine), you can cut away the mold and wrap it in a new paper towel and placing it in a fresh plastic bag.
Buying and keeping dried turmeric
—To ensure you’ve got the freshest dried turmeric possible, purchase from heavily-shopped sellers or markets.
—Store in a dark, cool, dry place.
—Replace after a year.
How much turmeric you need
—When cooking with ground turmeric powder, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 1 to 3 grams per day. One gram of ground turmeric powder is about ½ teaspoon. Three grams is about 1½ teaspoons of ground turmeric powder.
— If you have access to fresh turmeric, the University of Maryland Medical Center Adults suggests 1.5 (about a tablespoon) to 3 g of raw, cut turmeric root per day.
—If you prefer to take a turmeric supplement, look for one that contains 500 mg of its active ingredient, curcumin. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests you can take up to 500mg 1 to 3 times per day.
Before taking turmeric, talk to your health provider
—Turmeric is thought to worsen gallstones or bile duct dysfunction.
— Blood Thinning. According to the National Institutes of Health, turmeric thins the blood (which can be a good thing for cardiovascular health) and may slow blood clotting in some individuals. Avoid combining turmeric with anticoagulant and/or antiplatelet drugs. If you take blood thinning medication, consult with your health provider before eating turmeric in food or taking turmeric supplements.
— Due to blood thinning side effects of turmeric, stop taking turmeric at least two weeks before any surgical procedure.
—If you are medication for diabetes, know that turmeric may lower blood sugar levels, which could effect how much medication you need.
—If taken on an empty stomach, turmeric can cause nausea in some people.
—Turmeric may cause increased stomach acid if taken with antacid drugs such as Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, Nexium, or Prevacid.
—Talk to your healthcare provider if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or attempting to conceive.
Easy ways to use turmeric
—Toss a half-inch slice of fresh turmeric into the juicer next time you make green juice to give your green drink even more anti-inflammatory power. You can also add a sliver to the blender next time you make a smoothie.
—Make an easy tea by adding a sliver of fresh turmeric to a mug (go ahead and add a sliver of fresh ginger, too, if you’d like), then adding hot water. Allow to steep for five or more minutes. Strain out the turmeric (and ginger) if you’d like. Sweeten, if needed, with coconut nectar or raw honey.
—Make ayurvedic golden milk by warming coconut milk over low heat and whisking in a sprinkle of dried turmeric. Sweeten, if desired, with coconut nectar or raw local honey.
—Add a sliver or fresh turmeric to the pot next time you make rice, quinoa, millet or another grain. Or, shake in a bit of dried turmeric.
—Next time you make an omelet or scambled eggs, shake a bit of dried turmeric into the mix.
—Add a few shakes of dried turmeric next time you roast veggies. This is especially pretty with pale-colored, yellow and orange veggies.
—Freshen up a bottled curry simmer sauce with a few shakes of dried turmeric, or a half-teaspoon of fresh, grated turmeric.
—Mash a half of an avocado and add in a teaspoon of dried turmeric or a tablespoon of fresh turmeric. Spread on clean skin and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Remove with a wet cloth. Skin will look brighter, firmer and more moisturized.
—Mix together a bit of raw honey and dried turmeric to form a paste. Pat a thick layer over pimples or pimple-prone skin and allow to sit for 20 or more minutes. Remove with a wet cloth. This kills the bacteria in the pimple, as well as shrinks it, removes redness, makes it less painful, and speeds healing.
—Make a scalp oil treatment by mixing 1 teaspoon of dried turmeric (or 1 tablespoon of fresh turmeric) with ¼ cup of cold-pressed avocado oil. Section hair and massage into the scalp, trying to treat the entire head. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Shampoo and condition hair as you usually do. This is great for dandruff, dry scalps, lackluster hair, and thinning hair.
Fresh Turmeric-Cashew Salad Dressing
Makes about 3/4 cup dressing
This sprightly, warming dressing is delicious on a simple salad of romain lettuce, but it’s also great drizzled over grains or roasted veggies. Feel free to use almond or sunflower butter if that’s what you have on hand.
3 (2-inch) pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons natural almond butter
1 tablespoon coconut nectar or honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons water
1. Combine all ingredients with 3 tablespoons of water in a blender and purée until smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes. Taste and adjust salt, pepper or lemon juice, if desired.
My Favorite Turmeric Resources
—Cooking with Turmeric: Top 50 Most Delicious Turmeric Recipes, by Julie Hatfield. This Kindle book features 50 easy-to-make recipe for comfort food, health food, as well as Southeast Asian favorites. Plus, the book is free if you have Amazon Prime ( get a free 30-Day Trial here), Amazon Kindle Unlimited (get a free 30-Day Trial here). And it’s only 99 cents if you have neither.
— Viva Naturals Non-GMO Turmeric Curcumin 500 mg Vegetarian Capsules with Bioperine. Three are a lot of Turmeric supplements on the market, many with 1200 mg or more of Turmeric Curcumin. I like these because they contain a safe amount, and are pared wtih Bioperine form black pepper, which helps with absorption. And they are reasonably priced.
—Simply Organic Ground Turmeric. I like Simply Organic spices because the products are consistently high quality and fresh-tasting and the price points are reasonable. Their ground turmeric is no exception.
—Fresh Raw Turmeric Rhizomes, 4 pounds. This is a great, not-too-pricey option for anyone who can’t find fresh turmeric rhizomes in their area.
— Rishi Organic Turmeric Ginger Tea. This warming blend feels so wonderful on the throat.
— Choice Organic Easy Digest Tea with Ginger & Turmeric. This digestive tea also features lemongrass and licorice root. Much recommended for nausea, indigestion and sour stomach.
—Vicco Turmeric Cream. A friend brought this back for me after visiting her family in India. In Ayurvedic Medicine, turmeric prevents and cures skin infections, inflammation, blemishes, wounds, scars and sun damage. This cream is found in most Indian households and is said to soothes boils, pimples, acne and burns. I love it as a mid-weight day cream.
—Turmeric Essential Oil. I like to add a drop of this to pure argan oil and massage into my face, neck, chest and the back of my hands each night as a “last step” in my skincare routine. It’s great for helping to treat sun damage.
—Jillian Wright Skincare Detox Glow Face & Body Mask for Congested, Spotty, Large- Pored, Dull & Blemish Prone Skins. This superfood facial food is a turmeric-enriched powder that can be mixed with anything from honey to coconut water to make a scrub-mask. It’s on the pricey side but it is so effective in making skin look even and small-pored. Even on more mature skins (like mine). You’ll love it.
—Banjara’s Kastari Turmeric Skin Care Powder. This skincare powder is another Indian favorite for brightening and toning the skin. It can be mixed into a paste with any liquid you like and applied to the skin as a face mask. I love it blended with a bit of rosewater and fresh aloe gel. My skin looks so glowy and alive after I use this.
—Tula Probiotic Hydrating Day & Night Anti-Aging Facial Cream with Turmeric Extract. Soft, easily absorbed and very “plumping,” this lovely cream gives the skin a beautiful glow.