Turmeric, a cousin of ginger, is one of the principal spices in curry powder. Fresh turmeric is a rhizome root, like ginger—though smaller, with a tawny skin and a bright orange interior. You can also find turmeric dried and ground to a bright golden powder. Turmeric has been used for centuries to flavor, color, and preserve foods but also as a medicinal remedy in the treatment of inflammatory disorders.
Curcumin, the bright yellow polyphenol compound found in turmeric, has been the focus of research due to its potential to prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical studies support curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on obesity and associated inflammation, leading to outcomes such as weight loss, improved blood lipids, reduced risk of atherosclerosis, and improved insulin sensitivity.
Turmeric and Brain Health
Daily consumption of curcumin has been shown to improve memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss, according to a study by UCLA that was recently published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Researchers examined the effects of curcumin supplements in people ages 51-84 who had mild memory complaints, but no dementia, as well as those ages 51-84 who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Participants took either a placebo or 90 milligrams of curcumin two times a day for 18 months.
At the end of the experiment, PET scans determined those who took curcumin experienced significant improvement in their memory, mood, attention span, while those who took the placebo did not experience any of these positive effects.
The researchers also note that in India, where turmeric is a regular staple in dishes like curry, senior citizens traditionally have a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and better cognitive performance overall.
Turmeric and Cancer
Researchers have identified chronic infections and inflammation as major risk factors for various types of cancer. As such, regular consumption of turmeric has been touted as a possible contributor to lower cancer rates. Results from several studies suggest that curcumin may reduce tumor promotion, block cell transformation, and minimize the spread of certain types of cancer.
Turmeric and Arthritis
Curcumin’s role in the treatment of arthritis also shows promise. Studies show that patients supplementing with curcumin had reduced arthritis pain and swelling due to the inhibition of COX-2 activity. This is typically what NSAIDs are prescribed for.
Ways to Use Turmeric
Looking for fun and refreshing ways to add turmeric to your diet? Awaken your taste buds in the morning with this Turmeric Omelet with Tomato and Onions. Or perhaps you’d rather add a dash of the spice to your Chai Latte. The addition of turmeric actually boosts the Indian flavor and the antioxidants in chai tea. For something cool and creamy, we highly recommend our Turmeric-Mango Smoothie, which is brimming the antioxidants.
On the savory side, our Turmeric Pork Chop with Green Onion Rice is a major palate pleaser. Not a fan of pork? Tandoori Chicken Thighs will ignite your taste buds with just one bite. And to wash it down, look no further than our turmeric-laced twist on a Dark and Stormy, the classic dark rum and ginger beer combo. If you don't have fresh turmeric, substitute 1 teaspoon ground turmeric.
New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.
Bottom Line: Evidence continues to support curcumin’s role in inhibiting the inflammatory process and, thus, inflammatory diseases. Though additional research is needed to determine specific recommendations for curcumin intake, we will continue to encourage the regular use of turmeric in recipes. In the meantime, boost the color, flavor, and nutrient value of your food while helping fight inflammation naturally with this delectable spice.