This month, we’ve chosen to feature a food that is typically used as a spice and packs a whole lot of health benefits. Turmeric is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine and curries. It is yellow-orange in color and is used to render the yellow color to such things as prepared mustard and curries. It is also used as a dye and for medicinal purposes.
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma long plant and is related to ginger, looking very similar to ginger root when fresh. Its flavor is peppery and bitter, but mild. It has a slight orange and ginger flavor. Turmeric is typically used in its powder form as a spice, but in some countries it may be used in its fresh form, like ginger. As a spice, turmeric is used in both savory and sweet dishes.
In the Western world, we have come to love and appreciate turmeric for its medicinal qualities. One of the most important chemical components of turmeric is curcumin, which has been studied extensively for its health benefits.
Nutritional Profile and Health Benefits
Turmeric is an excellent source of manganese and iron, and a good source of vitamin B6, fiber, copper, and potassium. Two teaspoons of turmeric provide about 16 calories.
Turmeric has a long list of health benefits, primarily due to its curcumin content. In particular, curcumin is touted as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. These two properties are important for preventing and helping relieve symptoms in such ailments as:
Some studies have shown that curcumin may be as potent as anti-inflammatory drugs and some over the counter medication like Motrin (Ref). Apparently, the way curcumin works is that it blocks the molecule that turns on the genes responsible for producing inflammation in the body (Ref).
It also may increase brain levels of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which is a growth hormone that could delay or reverse many brain diseases and age-related decreases in brain function (Ref). With respect to Alzheimer’s, curcumin may help clear Amyloid plaque build up that occurs with the disease (Ref).
Other studies have shown that frequent use of turmeric may lower rates of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. (Ref).
Curcumin’s antioxidant property may also be a strong contributor to helping with heart disease, arthritis and cancer prevention. As an antioxidant, curcumin can neutralize free radicals because of its chemical structure, boosts activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes, and may prevent oxidation of cholesterol in the body (Ref 1) (Ref 2).
As research continues, we hope to learn more about the powerful effects of curcumin and confirm its great medicinal properties.
As a spice, turmeric can be added to a number of savory and sweet dishes. For instance, sprinkle it on to eggs, add it to dips and dressings, mix it into rice puddings with cinnamon and raisins, use it in tea.
Here are two recipes to enjoy with turmeric – one from Whole Foods Market and one from Eating Well. In addition, be sure to check out our version of Shepherd’s Pie with a sweet potato crust in our recipe of the week.
From Whole Foods Market:
This recipe will give you the extra health protection with the cruciferous vegetable! A great side dish for seafood, chicken or lean beef!
From Eating Well:
A traditional Indian dish that is flavorful and creamy. This is a slimmed down version with more vegetables than typical.
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