Superfood Spotlight: Turmeric
As the cooler temperatures move in, our cravings naturally shift from the lighter meals of summer towards heartier dishes made with warming spices and seasonings. Mother nature wisely nudges us to include more immune-boosting ingredients in our cooking this time of year (whether we realize it or not). Take a look around the farmer’s market and you’ll find seasonal harvest eager to give us the boost we need to stay healthy through the fall and winter months. Now is also the perfect time to incorporate superfood spices, such as turmeric, into your diet.
Native to southeast Asia, turmeric is commonly found in Indian cuisine. Part of the ginger family, turmeric can be purchased in fresh root form or as a ground spice. In the supermarket, you can find turmeric root located near ginger (it resembles the knotty root). Turmeric root should be stored in the refrigerator or it can be frozen until ready to use, while ground turmeric should be kept in a sealed container in a dry, cool place. Turmeric has a warm, peppery and slightly bitter flavor. Often associated with curry dishes, turmeric is a wonderful seasoning for roasted vegetables, can be used in soups or stews, added to smoothies, salad dressings, or eggs, grated directly onto dishes, or warmed up in a comforting cup of golden milk. There are multiple ways to add this delicious spice to your regimen—and reap the benefits.
The health benefits of turmeric
Turmeric contains many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. The star compound in turmeric, curcumin, has been widely studied for it’s medicinal properties. Most notably, research suggests that curcumin is anti-inflammatory, meaning that it helps reduce swelling in the body. Over time, inflammation can cause chronic diseases and take a toll on our immune system. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may help alleviate arthritic joint pain and reduce muscle soreness (post-spin turmeric smoothie anyone?). Oh, and it can give your skin complexion a radiant glow.
A powerful antioxidant, curcumin may ward off certain types of cancers. It’s been shown to play a role in cellular detoxification (which also helps lower cancer risk) and improve liver function. Curcumin may help regulate blood sugar levels as well as lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The healing compound can ease bloating, improve certain digestive diseases, and may even aid with weight loss. But that’s not all—curcumin may improve cognitive function, fight Alzheimer’s and elevate your mood. Is there anything this magical spice can’t do?
Before you get spice-happy, it’s important to know that how you consume turmeric matters. There are certain side effects of which to be mindful, so consider these points before you up your intake:
· Bioavailability: turmeric has low bioavailability (ability to be absorbed by the body). Consuming along with black pepper has shown to improve absorption. The active compounds in turmeric are fat soluble, so it should be consumed with a fat source (such as healthy oils, coconut butter, ghee, yogurt, etc.).
· Interactions: turmeric may interfere with anticoagulant medications that are used to slow blood clotting. If you are taking such medications, you should not increase your turmeric consumption or take a curcumin supplement.*
· Stomach upset: for some, turmeric may cause irritation to the stomach. If you find that increasing your consumption negatively impacts digestion, stop or reduce your intake and monitor how you feel.
· Stain: turmeric is used as a natural food dye…therefore it can stain, so be careful!
· Quality of supplements: for optimum results, it is best to consume turmeric in food form (vs. pill). If you choose to take a turmeric or curcumin supplement, opt for organic and select a good brand as the quality of supplements can vary. Also check to make sure the capsule includes black pepper.
· Dosage: it’s important to note that the dosage used in research studies is usually quite high compared to what you would typically consume at home in one meal or drink. To reap the benefits, try using the spice daily in multiple ways so that the dosage of curcumin adds up.
· Research: most of the research has been conducted in labs or is preliminary, so more clinical research needs to be done before conclusive evidence on the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin can be confirmed for humans.
Turmeric is no new kid on the block, yet it’s recent bump in popularity has led to wider availability of turmeric lattes and golden milks at various juice and coffee shops. While fresh ingredients often yield the best results, you can find powdered mixes that allow you to enjoy a turmeric tonic at home in no time (the gaia golden milk blend rocks, btw). Try this golden milk recipe at home and relax with a nourishing cup of liquid gold.
Golden turmeric milk
8 ounces organic cashew milk (or coconut milk/other nut milk)
1 heaping teaspoon of chopped turmeric (can substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric)
1 heaping teaspoon chopped ginger (can substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
1-2 teaspoons coconut butter (or coconut oil)
1-2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup, depending on preferred level of sweetness
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
freshly cracked ground black pepper
dash of sea salt
1 tablespoon collagen peptides
adaptogens of choice
Heat milk on the stove until just simmering. Combine remaining ingredients in blender. When milk is hot, add it to the blender and blitz with the rest of the ingredients. Enjoy with an added dash of cinnamon or turmeric on top or garnish with a cinnamon stick.
*As always check with your primary physician before making dietary adjustments to treat health conditions.