Let’s talk turmeric.
Turmeric is a rhizome that grows under the ground like ginger. It has a rich, bright, orange colour and is used in many foods. Originally used in Southeast Asia, it’s a vital component for traditional curries. You can find dried, powdered turmeric in the spice aisle of just about any grocery store and sometimes they carry the fresh rhizome too (it looks like ginger root, but thinner and smaller).
Turmeric contains an amazing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound called “curcumin” which I’m sure you’ve heard of. The amount of this bioactive compound is around 3-7% by weight of turmeric. Curcumin has been studied like crazy for its health benefits and many of these studies test curcumin at up to 100x more than that of a traditional diet that includes turmeric.
So, what makes curcumin so powerful?
Firstly, it’s an anti-inflammatory compound and fights inflammation at the molecular level. There are dozens of clinical studies using curcumin extract (which is way more concentrated than ground turmeric) and many of them even show it can work as well as certain anti-inflammatory medications (but without the side effects).
Secondly, curcumin is an antioxidant compound meaning it can neutralize free radicals before they wreak havoc on our biomolecules. Curcumin also boosts our natural antioxidant enzymes.
These two functions of reducing inflammation and oxidation have amazing health benefits. We know that chronic inflammation plays a major role in so many conditions, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, dementia, mood disorders, and arthritis pain, therefore, reducing the amount of inflammation in our bodies also reduces the liklihood of developing disease.
Curcumin has other amazing functions too:
- Boosts our levels of “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor” (like a natural growth hormone for your brain) which is great for brain health.
- Improves “endothelial” function” (the inner lining of our blood vessels) which is important for heart health.
- Reduces growth of cancer cells by reducing angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors), metastasis ( the spread of cancer), and even contributes to the death of cancer cells. Amazing right?
This all sounds amazing and I’m sure you’re ready to start incorporating curcumin in your diet but you need to consider these few things.
To start, curcumin is not easily absorbed by your gut. It’s fat soluble – so, as with all fat-soluble nutrients (like vitamins A, D, E, and K), you can increase absorption by eating it with a fat-containing meal.
The second trick to get the most out of your turmeric is eating it with pepper. Interestingly, a compound in black pepper (piperine) enhances absorption of curcumin, by a whopping 2,000%!
If you want all the health benefits of curcumin, you need to get a larger dose than just eating some turmeric – and this is where supplements come in. Obviously, you want to take caution if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are taking anti-platelet medications or blood thinners
- Have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction
- Have stomach ulcers or excess stomach acid
(Always read the label before taking a new supplement.)
I want to know: What’s your favourite turmeric recipe? Try my version of “golden milk,” (an anti-inflammatory drink) and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Recipe (turmeric): Golden Milk
- 1 cup canned coconut milk
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 ½ tsp turmeric, ground
- ¼ tsp cinnamon, ground
- ½ tsp honey
- Add all ingredients to a small saucepan. Whisk to combine.
- Warm over medium heat, whisking frequently. Heat until hot, but not boiling.
- Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can substitute 2 cups of almond milk instead of the 1 cup coconut milk and 1 cup water.