We are all well used to hearing announcements that this plant or this vegetable is suddenly the best things for us, the healthiest or has the most benefits. Superfoods are a big part of life and there is plenty of evidence that they do provide substantial benefits. Other claims can be a bit more creative and lacking in substance. However, when you talk about the health benefits of turmeric, there is plenty of strong evidence to show they exist and may even include dealing with one of the modern health terrors – cancer.
What is turmeric?
If you have had a good curry or many other Asia dishes, then you have likely already samples turmeric. It is a key ingredient in a range of dishes and also to traditional Indian medicine. Turmeric is a member of the same family of plants as ginger and is native to southern Asia. It is also used as a dye due to its bright orange-yellow shade.
Turmeric is commonly available as a powder on spice shelves as well as in supplement form in health shops and even as a dried root.
Health benefits of turmeric
One of the big headlines about the health benefits of turmeric focuses on its possible ability to help cure cancer. This is down to a compound within the spice called curcumin. Laboratory tests have shown that curcumin can have an impact on cancerous cells, most often on breast, bowel, stomach and skin cancer.
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Turmeric has been shown to give a boost to the body’s immune system and to have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation over a short term is the body’s way of dealing with an invader, such as bacteria. But when the condition lasts for a longer time, it can cause problems and has been connected to a wide range of common conditions including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative conditions. Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory and can fight the cause of the inflammation at a cellular level.
These properties may also mean that turmeric can help people suffering with conditions such as arthritis where inflammation is a major factor. Some studies have shown it to have a great benefit for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis than some anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Boost antioxidant capacity
Oxidative damage is one of the processes that is believed to have a negative effect on our bodies over time and could even be the reason we age. It is caused by free radicals and therefore antioxidants are useful to fight off these substances and lessen the damage. Curcumin has been shown to help increase the body’s capacity for antioxidants, fighting off more of those pesky free radicals.
- Helps reduce the risk of heart diseases
Heart disease is a very complicated condition caused by a whole range of factors. But studies have shown that turmeric may help to reduce some of these factors and can reduce the risk of heart disease. This is because it improves the function of the living of blood vessels, called the endothelium. Dysfunction of this is a big part of heart disease but the spice can help improve it.
Benefits of turmeric on skin
It seems that turmeric can have benefits on the skin as well as to help with medical conditions. In traditional medicines from Asia, it has long been used as an antibacterial agent, to help deal with cuts and stop them becoming infected.
Another tradition is to use turmeric with other ingredients in something called Haldi paste. This is an exfoliator and was used by brides and grooms before their weddings in a special ceremony. It has been shown to give skin a glow.
Turmeric can also help with itching scalp and dandruff, soothing the itchiness and getting rid of the dandruff.
Mixed with a little coconut oil, turmeric makes an excellent solution for cracked heels or dry skin on the feet. It helps to cure the cracked skin as well as ridding it of any bacteria and can make the remaining skin softer.
How to use turmeric in food
Obviously, many curry recipes and dishes from Asian cuisines make use of turmeric and this is a great way to get some of its benefits. But there are also lots of other ways to use turmeric in food and drinks.
Turmeric gives a warmth to food so is ideal to add to a vegetable or chicken soup. It can also be tossed with vegetables that are then roasted in the oven. If you are sautéing potatoes, turmeric is ideal to add to this dish while it also adds colour and flavour to plain rice dishes.
Turmeric tea is made with milk and honey while the spice can also be added to smoothies. One recipe used one cup of mango and 1.2 banana with 1.5 cups almond milk, 1 teaspoon coconut oil and the same amount of chia seeds. Add 1.2 teaspoon turmeric and the same of cinnamon then blend together.
Turmeric is an easy spice to add into your diet and seems to have several benefits. Many of the studies are still provisional so there’s no guarantee that you will get any of these benefits from eating turmeric but as a tasty spice, there’s no reason not to include it in your diet. Avoid high doses as this can lead to stomach upsets and speak to a GP before considering any supplement versions if you have a medical conditions or health issues.