Before there were prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines, herbs and spices were the foundation of traditional medicine practices around the world.
Fast-forward thousands of years, and researchers today are now taking a fresh look at the potential in these natural remedies. The Indian spice turmeric is right at the top of the list.
Turmeric, with its mellow flavor and bright color, is a key ingredient in curry powder, and a highlight of cooking in places from India to Nepal to Southeast Asia. Turmeric’s health benefits — along with that distinctive yellow color — come from a group of flavonoids called curcuminoids. (That's why the dietary supplement from turmeric is called curcumin.)
As modern science is now showing, turmeric is an outstanding example of the concept that foods can powerfully support the body’s healing processes. The past few decades have witnessed intense research devoted to this "sacred spice." Here are seven of the most important benefits it can offer:
1. It curbs fat growth.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, appears to help suppress the growth of fat tissue and reduce weight gain, according to research from Tufts University.
2. It helps keep you young.
This spice can work on a deeper level, including on your DNA. In studies, turmeric and curcumin have shown potential to prevent DNA damage and help DNA repair. That's good news for preventing disease and slowing the aging process.
3. It fights infection.
Researchers at George Mason University have found that turmeric shows promise in combating certain viruses.
4. It reduces blood sugar.
Research on the relationship between turmeric and diabetes looks encouraging. In laboratory experiments, Indian scientists have demonstrated that including the spice in your diet may be helpful in decreasing blood sugar and other complications of the disease.
5. It has antidepressant effects.
A study from leading universities in China revealed that a compound found in turmeric has antidepressant properties.
6. It protects the liver.
Curcumin’s ability to reduce inflammation is being studied for its potential in protecting against liver injury. Experimental research suggests that the spice seems to delay the liver damage that eventually causes cirrhosis.
7. It's anti-inflammatory.
Traditionally, turmeric has been used in India to aid in the treatment of stomach ulcers and in reducing inflammation in people with arthritis and colitis.
Because inflammation contributes to obesity and other chronic diseases, reducing inflammation has become a key goal of integrated medicine.
Turmeric is available as a powder in the spice section of the supermarket. You can also find it fresh at some farmer's markets and specialty stores. It's a root, or rhizome, that looks similar to ginger, like a carrot with multiple stems. Like ginger, you can use by peeling the skin, which reveals the characteristic orange color of turmeric, then slicing or grating.
Using turmeric is easy: Simply add a few shakes of turmeric to your favorite soups, chili, beans, vegetable dishes, or pasta sauce. It blends well into tomato-based sauces.
Not sure where to start? Turmeric is a star ingredient in many of the recipes I created for The Fat Resistance Diet. Here's one for vegetarian curry, an easy-to-make meal that highlights the powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients garlic, ginger, and, of course, turmeric.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 teaspoons ginger, minced
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 8 cups cauliflower florets
- 2 cups cooked kidney or garbanzo beans
- 1 cup peas
- ½ cup parsley, chopped
- your favorite grain, cooked, such as rice, quinoa, or millet
1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté for about 5 minutes on medium. Add crushed tomatoes, water, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, salt and black pepper, stirring to mix.
2. Add the cauliflower, beans, and peas, stirring to coat with sauce. Cover pot and simmer for 7 to 8 minutes, until cauliflower is fork tender. Add parsley, stirring to combine, then serve over rice, quinoa, or millet. Serves 4.