Variety is the spice of life and spices are essential for a healthy life! We have talked a lot about choosing from a wide variety of foods and “eating the rainbow” to ensure we get as many healthy antioxidants as possible into our diets.
We know that red onions have more antioxidants than white ones, and the darkest green broccoli will have more of the good stuff than its faded sad-looking neighbour. Intense colours are associated with higher benefits, healthwise.
Everyone is talking about turmeric these days! I have many patients telling me that they are now using turmeric supplements daily for the health benefits. (More about this later..). More than five thousand articles haven been published in medical literature about curcumin, which is the pigment in turmeric that gives it the bright yellow colour.
Curcumin plays a role in preventing or treating lung disease, brain disease and many cancers including pancreatic, colon and multiple myeloma. It has been shown to speed up recovery after surgery and effectively treat the pains of rheumatoid arthritis. In a study on ulcerative colitis it helped put fifty percent of the subjects into a remission.
Because turmeric is a powerful spice with medical qualities - be careful with its use. More is certainly not always better! While many traditional diets in India use up to a teaspoon a day, the average is actually closer to about a quarter of a teaspoon daily. Dr Michael Greger therefore recommends using this small amount each day.
Black pepper helps increase the levels of curcumin in your blood stream. Just a small pinch is enough. Most curry powders have black pepper as well as turmeric as one of their common ingredients. A fat source in the curry also helps absorption - and to keep to a plant based diet, using something like a cashew cream would be a great way to incorporate this.
If you use fresh turmeric (which looks similar to fresh ginger) - about a quarter of an inch would be the equivalent of a quarter teaspoon of dried turmeric. Cooked and raw forms of turmeric seem to have somewhat different properties. Eating it raw seems to improve the anti-inflammatory benefits, while cooked turmeric seems to offer better DNA protection. Fresh turmeric also has a more subtle flavour which may help those of you that are not partial to the taste of powdered turmeric.
So why not supplements? There are three reason why supplements should be avoided. Manufacturers state that curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, which is true, but it is just one of the many different components of the whole food spice which is turmeric. The second concern relates to dosing. Many supplements have amounts of curcumin so high that they could potentially cause DNA damage, the very thing the manufacturers are claiming to prevent. When black pepper is added to the supplement this can worsen the problem of overdosing.
Finally, there is concern about contamination with toxic metals that has been found in many curcumin supplements. This has not been the case with whole ground turmeric powder.