Turmeric, that bright yellowy-orange spice that's the culprit for turning your food or drink into a beautiful golden hue has gained major buzz in the media within the last few years. Due to it's host of health benefits, it's showing up more on trendy coffee shop menus + as a key ingredient in many food dishes.
As certain foods/ ingredients begin to gain popularity in the health media, a lot of info can be quite exaggerated (does turmeric actually prevent you from getting cancer?) or a bit hazy in nature (how much should you take to actually reap any health benefits?) As a Registered Dietitian and food expert, I'm here to nix any confusion and outline exactly what you should know about this golden spice!
What is responsible for turmeric's proposed health benefits?
Curcumin, which is turmeric's active ingredient. This is where turermic's anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds are derived from. There only a very small percentage of curcuminoids in turmeric itself, so to reap the health benefits, you may have to receive it through capsule/extract form. Keep reading for more precise recs.
What exactly are the health benefits that turmeric/ curcumin can provide?
Turmeric has been shown in studies to have anti-inflammatory effects, anti-cancer properties, improve gut health (especially those with irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis) and may be effective in treating major depressive disorder. Turmeric may also increase cognitive performance in the elderly, as well as be equally effective as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for the treatment of osteoarthritis.
How much turmeric do you need to reap any health benefit? Anything to watch out for in label-reading or in terms of preparing?
If you want anti-inflammatory effects you need to get about 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcuminoids per day. When using the spice on its own, the common rule of thumb is that there are about 200 milligrams of curcumin in one teaspoon of fresh or ground turmeric (a little may vary pending on its source). One thing to also note is that curcumin is poorly absorbed on its own. Most of the curcumin that is ingested gets metabolized before it can get absorbed. Pipeline (found in black pepper) is said to help make curcumin more bioavailable. Be sure to read capsule information if taking a supplement (make sure it's got black pepper in there!) or sprinkle some black pepper into your turmeric latte or when cooking to increase the bioavailability. Lastly, turmeric is fat-soluble, meaning consuming a fat source with the spice will also help boost bioavailability (check out my Turmeric NightCap beverage below!)
Does turmeric cure/treat cancer?
I get this question a lot in my field. There are several studies that indicate that turmeric extract proved beneficial in aspects of reducing cancer proliferation and in improving treatment outcomes. Examples refer to the benefits of better weight maintenance of individuals suffering from cancer-related cachexia, as well as a reduced number in tumor markers in various types of cancer. Another study suggested that a topical turmeric-based cream could help with radiotherapy-induced dermatitis in patients with head and neck cancer.
Are there any contraindications of using turmeric as a supplement?
In short, yes. Dietary turmeric may inhibit anti-tumor action of some chemotherapeutic agents. Curcumin is known to interfere with cytochrome P450 enzymes and may interact with some chemotherapy drugs, so best to consult your MD or Dietitian always first. Individuals suffering from GI related diseases may also have an increased risk of kidney stone formation. Individuals on blood thinners should proceed with caution as turmeric increases risk of bleeding.
With all that explained, I think it's safe to say that as long as turmeric isn't a contraindication for you, we can now more safely and effectively utilize the spice for an added health boost to our lifestyle. Remember, gulping down ayurvedic drinks or spices alone will not relieve the damage done of living a sedentary lifestyle that's filled with processed foods. The most important point to remember is that anti-inflammatory foods be the staple in our diet regardless ( i.e. fruits, veg, good quality protein, healthy fats), and that using turmeric or other herbs/spices in our food & drink serves as a healthy complement to our lifestyle habits.
I love incorporating turmeric into a calming Ayurvedic beverage at night to help me wind down for the evening. As seen in my Instagram post, here's the recipe below.
Golden Dust NightCap
1/2 C. light coconut milk
1/2 C. almond milk, unsweetened
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp honey
optional: more cinnamon to garnish
Directions: Place all ingredients in a pot over the stove. Wait until edges begin to boil (about 2 minutes), and turn heat off. Froth mixture with a hand-held frother or pop in the blender to whiz up.
Sip, relax, enjoy.