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Fad vs Fact: Turmeric

January 12th 2016 / Anna Hunter

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From lattes to cocktails to porridge, turmeric is having a moment on many a menu. We investigate if it’s the bonafide health gold it’s proposed to be…

Turmeric; as spices go it’s one of the brightest, and while it’s a close relative of good old ginger, it seemingly has a lot more to give (superfood vibes here). Anti-inflammatory compounds within turmeric are said to trump some pharmaceutical medication in terms of treating the symptoms of or even preventing the onset of certain chronic diseases according to a review of over 700 studies by ethnobotanist Dr James Duke, and while that certainly isn’t carte blanche to skip picking up your prescriptions, it’s telling of turmeric’s potency and potential health benefits across the board. According to pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health Shabir Daya, turmeric was previously used in plasters by Johnson & Johnson to speed up wound healing, and its soothing, antibacterial qualities have long been revered in Ayurvedic medicine.

We quizzed nutritional therapist Zoe Stirling on the mighty spice, and whether it lives up to its impressive legacy...

We've noticed a certain golden spice making its way into more than just curry lately- what makes turmeric so good for us?

Turmeric is the current king of the superfoods boasting an impressive phytochemical profile thought to be as, if not more, effective than pharmaceutical drugs. Although turmeric has been around for thousands of years, it’s only been discovered in more recent years just how powerful its active compounds, curcuminoids, can be. Turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, whilst also being a fantastic spice to support the liver and detoxification pathways. In addition, research is showing that turmeric may have cancer preventative actions, making it a serious superfood not to be overlooked.

Is turmeric of benefit to a certain group of people in particular?

A BBC article in 2009 reported that scientists have shown the healing power of curcumin may be beneficial for treating arthritis, high cholesterol and dementia. Due to its anti-inflammatory nature, it’s also good for those with chronic conditions involving pain. In addition there is powerful scientific research investigating turmeric’s cancer protective properties and more research is being conducted to discover other conditions that turmeric may be beneficial for. Regardless of serious health conditions that turmeric may benefit, the therapeutic properties of turmeric would be positive for everyone!

What's the best way to reap the health rewards; by cooking with turmeric or by taking it in supplement form?

In my opinion you should try and get turmeric into your diet any way you can! Those with existing health conditions may benefit from a supplement, whilst most people will see plenty of positive advantages by using it like any other kitchen spice in their day-to-day cooking.

What does turmeric go well with? How can we include it in our diets?

Turmeric has a rooty, peppery and slightly bitter taste to it, making it a fantastic addition to soups, stews and of course curries as it’s traditionally used. I also tend to add it to smoothies and juices to boost antioxidant levels.

For best absorption, turmeric should be consumed at the same time as black pepper as it enhances the absorption of the beneficial phytochemicals in the blood; no wonder black pepper is a mainstay in Indian curries!

Is fresh turmeric superior to dried turmeric in terms of taste or nutritional value?

Dried turmeric is made by peeling, boiling and drying the turmeric roots, then grinding to bottle it up and sell as a spice. This process can reduce the essential oil content and pungency of the turmeric, however, fresh turmeric is not always easy to get your hands on. In my opinion however, you should include turmeric in whatever form you can get your hands on it!

Is it true that turmeric can help with weight management?

Turmeric wouldn’t be my go-to spice to assist in weight management, however, the theory is that low grade inflammation is thought to be present in those who are overweight or obese so turmeric’s anti-inflammatory/antioxidant properties can help with managing this, giving you a boost in fat burning capacity. It shouldn’t be relied upon as a single weight loss intervention, but may be useful as part of a holistic weight loss strategy.

Are there any drawbacks or things to be aware of when consuming turmeric?

As a kitchen spice used in cooking, turmeric does not seem to have any negative interactions. Those on medications that slow blood clotting should be careful consuming large amounts of turmeric and therefore should avoid supplementing it. In addition, pregnant women should avoid having it in large amounts as it may drive the body to detoxify and release toxins to promote miscarriage. The safety of turmeric supplementation has also not been established for children as yet.

Before you go mainlining takeaway tikka masalas, we’ve got many a trusty, not to mention healthy, turmeric recipe to up your consumption of the curcumin rich ingredient. Start the day with Libby Limon’s Scrambled Tofu recipe in our newly launched Modern Vegetarian Recipe Guide, snack on Nina Parker’s turmeric Rustic Hummus and ditch Nando’s for a plate of Cinnamon Chicken with Turmeric Yogurt (both recipes can be found in our Project Me Part 1 guide). However you eat or drink it, the health perks of turmeric certainly seem the justify the ‘wonderspice’ hype…

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