You may have seen a new, weird-looking root lurking in the fresh produce section of your grocery store. If it looks familiar that’s because it’s related to ginger and has a similar shape, but the flesh of this rhizome is bright orange. It’s turmeric — the spice that gives Indian food and American mustard its yellow color.
The root of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) has been used in cooking and medicinally in Asia for thousands of years. In addition to its use in curries and other foods, turmeric is used as a natural medicine to treat everything from skin conditions to indigestion and infections.
Recently there’s been increasing interest in turmeric and its active constituents called curcuminoids — in particular curcumin. The benefits of turmeric and curcumin in preventing and treating a variety of diseases and conditions have been extensively researched, but more research is needed and is ongoing.
By itself or as an add on to other treatments and medications, turmeric and curcumin are being studied for treating arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, certain digestive diseases, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and certain cancers. One of the most well studied aspects of curcumin is its anti-inflammatory properties, which has benefits in treatment of many of these conditions. Curcumin has also been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen in treating pain caused by knee osteoarthritis, and is an effective antioxidant.
Gaining the health benefits of turmeric requires a little planning because it’s poorly absorbed in the digestive tract and rapidly metabolized and eliminated. If you’re simply adding turmeric to food for a boost to your already healthy diet, be sure to also add black pepper, which helps absorption. Black pepper contains piperine, a known bioavailability enhancer.
Because turmeric typically contains just 3 to 6 percent curcumin, you may want to take it as a supplement if you’re looking for a therapeutic effect. (If you take medication, talk to your doctor before adding any supplement.) Turmeric and curcumin supplements in capsules, pills, powders, and drops are widely available. It’s generally recommended that you take between 400 and 600 mg of curcumin three times a day. This is the equivalent of about 4 tablespoons of fresh turmeric, or 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder. If taken as a supplement, it’s better absorbed if taken with food.
Curcumin has been shown to have anti-platelet effects. If you take blood-thinning supplements or medications, avoid high doses of curcumin or turmeric because the combination may increase your chances of bleeding.
Likewise, if you take anti-diabetes drugs, avoid high doses of turmeric or curcumin, which can reduce blood sugar levels. Theoretically, combining the two could have an additive effect, increasing your risk of hypoglycemia.
Turmeric has a warm, peppery, slightly bitter flavor. If you’re a fan of smoothies or juicing, try throwing in a hunk of the raw root or sprinkling in some of the ground powder — don’t forget the pepper — to up the nutritional benefits of your drink.
If you like to cook, try out a traditional Indian dish to get a sense of how the spice is used. You can also add turmeric to everything from soups to roasted vegetables and stir fried dishes, and rubs for meat to give them a warm flavor and beautiful color. Here’s a simple recipe to get you started,
Ingredients (smaller subhead)
Thinly slice cabbage. In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add cabbage and toss to coat with oil. Add turmeric and salt. Sautee cabbage for 12 to 15 minutes until soft. Add more oil or chicken or vegetable broth if more moisture is needed. Serves four.
Each serving contains about 65 calories, 7 g carbohydrates, 4, g fat, 21 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, and 214 mg potassium.
September 21, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN