Turmeric: The Spice of Life


My brother, Bill, has been urging me for some time to choose spices for my monthly challenges. I have decided that it is time! I talk about all the phytonutrients in food, so it’s only fair that I point out the powerful boost that spices can give to our health. A half a teaspoon of ground cloves, for instance, contains similar amounts of phytonutrients as half a cup of blueberries, and a teaspoon of dried oregano as one cup of sweet potatoes. For this month’s Healthy Challenge, I’m choosing to concentrate on the all-powerful turmeric! It’s health advantages are amazing, and it’s delicious too. However, most people don’t know how to begin to use it.

It’s well-established that chronic inflammation inside our bodies likely causes cell damage leading to diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and even certain types of cancer. While maintaining ideal weight and exercise seem to have the greatest effect on chronic inflammation, there is growing evidence that certain food and drink patterns also affect the severity of chronic inflammation and can reduce the risk of these devastating diseases.

SpicesWay back in 2006, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published research finding that diets high in refined flours, sugars, saturated fats, and trans-fats increased levels of systemic inflammation while fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids decreased the inflammatory response of the body. It was also found that engaging in regular exercise and refraining from smoking were helpful in decreasing inflammation. Studies performed since then continue to affirm these results. If we can stop eating refined, processed food and eat more foods in their whole form like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, omega-3 fats from fish, and plant-based proteins like nuts, beans and lentils, we can decrease our levels of inflammation and our risk of disease.

Research looking for individual foods (within the above-mentioned food patterns) that decrease inflammation is promising. Dr. Steck and her colleagues at the University of South Carolina have developed the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII). Foods high in fiber, fruits and vegetables, teas and spices, herbs, and garlic seem to have the greatest impact in fighting chronic inflammation throughout the body. Turmeric had the highest anti-inflammatory rating among the seasonings group. Ginger and garlic were also rated to be especially high in anti-inflammatory properties, followed by rosemary, thyme, oregano, saffron, pepper and cloves.

Turmeric has been used for thousands of years to treat inflammatory problems in Ayurvedic medicine. It has also been used for its desirable flavor, rich yellow color and as a preservative for food. It contains potent phytonutrients called curcuminoids. Turmeric powder has the highest concentration of the turmeric root’s strongest anti-inflammatory phytonutrient called curcumin. Eating healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, fish oil, and seeds seem to increase the body’s absorption of this active phytonutrient. Turmeric offers poultry and seafood a warm color and compliments their natural flavors. It gives a subtle curry flavor to lentils, rice, soups, stews and vegetable recipes, although it needs to be cooked with these foods rather than added afterward. It also enhances vinaigrettes and pairs well with onion, garlic, cayenne and soup stock. Of course, it is a traditional part of many Indian recipes.  Keep in mind that turmeric should be added slowly, as its flavor grows during cooking and using too much at one time could ruin your recipe.

If you have a good recipe using turmeric, please share. I will add several recipes over the month to help you get started. Take February’s Healthy Challenge and use turmeric in your food preparation to boost color and flavor while helping to fight inflammation for better health. Turmeric is the spice of life!