The Top 10 Health Benefits Of Turmeric (Plus, How To Use It In Everything)
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that’s been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. This root, which is a cousin to ginger, is native to Southeast Asia and sometimes called "Indian Saffron" because of its beautiful golden color. It also gives curry powder its yellow pigment.
Turmeric first found its way onto my radar back when I was a nutrition student volunteering where I had the opportunity to shadow an integrative medicine doctor for six months in an HIV clinic. As an infectious disease M.D., this doctor incorporated complementary and alternative approaches into her patients’ care plans. The results were amazing, and the patients loved being able to turn to food to assist them with managing their conditions. What I learned there about real-life ways of working healing foods into the diet gave me a strong foundation for what I help my clients with now.
If you’ve done even a little clicking around the wellness corner of the internet, you’ve likely encountered articles about turmeric and its awesomeness, but knowing how to actually fit it into your everyday life? Not always so obvious.
While many studies focus on very concentrated preparations of curcumin supplements, whether it be in powder, tablet, or extract form, intended for therapeutic dosing, eating turmeric as part of your day-to-day diet can be the best way to enjoy those benefits. Read on to learn more about how to use turmeric to boost your health and wellness.
1. Turmeric is a powerful weapon against inflammation.
Inflammation is a root cause of many health conditions like metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and even cancer. Inflammation has also been shown to play a role in cognitive decline. The effect of turmeric's powerful anti-inflammatory properties offer a protective benefit. To make it easy to add in, use turmeric in a go-to salad dressing. I love to whisk together white miso paste, tahini, apple cider vinegar, and turmeric—simply delicious and powerful (or check out the full turmeric salad dressing recipe).
2. Turmeric kicks free-radical butt.
Turmeric has been shown to increase antioxidant capacity and help fight free-radical damage. This is especially good for the immune system, brain function, and what’s behind those anti-cancer claims. It’s also been shown to amp up the body’s natural antioxidant capacity, boosting your defense system. Turmeric’s antioxidant properties also benefit our appearance too by protecting the skin from free-radical damage like environmental pollutants. Add a teaspoon to your favorite green juice or smoothie for an antioxidant boost.
3. Turmeric helps boost your immune system.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties make it a health-promoting powerhouse. While curcumin is not absorbed that well into the bloodstream, consuming it with black pepper enhances absorption, thanks to a substance in the pepper called piperine. One of my favorite ancient ayurvedic remedies I learned at the clinic was a cold-fighting tea with ginger and black pepper. Add one teaspoon of turmeric to 12 ounces of water and bring to a boil. Take the water off the heat and add one-quarter teaspoon each of ground ginger and black pepper. You could also make this into golden milk by using coconut milk instead of water. Since curcumin is fat-soluble, consuming it with a fat-containing food or beverage helps you absorb it more effectively.
4. Turmeric eases joint pain.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin may help ease joint pain. Studies have actually shown promising results in the ability of turmeric and curcumin to manage pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. It may also be helpful for athletes looking to soothe soreness. I recommend a smoothie packed with anti-inflammatory, soothing superfoods to my clients struggling with aches and pains. My go-to combo is frozen wild blueberries, roasted or steamed beets (another potent antioxidant-rich food), and turmeric. If you want to make it a meal, add your favorite plant protein.
5. Turmeric can help treat and prevent cancer.
Turmeric and curcumin have been studied extensively for their role in cancer treatment and prevention of cancerous cells, with many promising findings in animal and human studies. Turmeric is a natural pairing for a cancer-fighting plant-based dish. Mix turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and black pepper with olive oil and toss with chickpeas. Roast at 350°F until crispy (about 20 minutes) and enjoy over a salad or veggie-rich soup.
6. Turmeric protects your heart.
7. Turmeric helps heal your gut.
Though we often associate turmeric with spicy foods, it has actually been used to treat inflammatory bowel conditions like colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Try it in a gut-soothing soup using organic chicken bone broth as the base. Turmeric also happens to be a low-FODMAP food, so it's safe to use if you’re on a FODMAPs elimination diet. It pairs well with pureed kabocha or pumpkin, which are also low-FODMAP.
8. Turmeric boosts your mood.
Curcumin’s impact on BDNF has also been shown to have a potential use in depression treatment by reversing detrimental brain changes that occur in depression. It’s also been studied for its potential to boost levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Because tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, getting enough of this amino acid can also help support a stable mood. While it’s mostly found in animal protein, oats are a great plant-based source. Savory oatmeal, anyone? My go-to s’voats spice combo is turmeric, ginger, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Add an egg for staying power, veggies for extra nutrients, and you’ve got a meal.
9. Turmeric might stave off neurodegenerative diseases.
Because curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier, research has suggested the brain can also benefit from its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant benefits and stave off conditions like Alzheimer’s. Use turmeric in an all-purpose spice blend for fish or to toss with olive oil and toast up with walnuts, another food shown to protect brain function as we age.
10. Turmeric improves long-term cognitive function.
Curcumin has been studied for its potential to boost brain health by increasing and supporting healthy levels of a hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a key role in long-term cognitive function. Turmeric goes great with eggs, another brain food. Shake some into a veggie omelet or scrambled eggs.
How much turmeric should I consume?
If you're not looking to incorporate the golden spice in your meals, turmeric supplements, which contain turmeric extract, are also available. In general, turmeric powder is about 3 percent curcumin, and extracts are about 95 percent curcumin. While most clinical research studies look at turmeric extracts, consuming ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon or about 2.5 to 5 grams of turmeric powder with food per day has been associated with health benefits. But even smaller amounts (we're talking between 500 and 2,000 milligrams or about 15 to 60 mg of curcumin) may also provide some benefit.
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