Have you heard? There’s a turmeric bandwagon on the loose! From food and drink recipes to “cure-all” medicinal talk and even human and horse supplements, there’s quite a bit of turmeric chatter lately.

It can be overwhelming to digest all this nutritional info—and even harder to determine if you should actually digest it. That’s why we’re breaking down the current fascination and explaining why turmeric is being touted as quite powerful for some folks (caveats included!). Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean you should change your diet. Let’s learn more.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric, also known scientifically as “Curcuma longa,” is a spice that has been prevalent in Eastern cultures for thousands of years, both as food and traditional medicine. Turmeric is what gives curry recipes their vibrant yellow color and unique flavor profile. This close relative to ginger hasn’t historically been widely used in Western cultures. But it’s gaining popularity with a rising superpower reputation.

Why care about turmeric?

Well, it’s actually curcumin, the active substance in turmeric, that provides its so-called superpowers. Research suggests that curcumin may have a positive impact on a variety of conditions, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis by lowering levels of inflammatory enzymes in the body
  • Anti-hyperlipidemia and heart disease by decreasing LDL cholesterol and preventing platelet clumping that could lead to blood clots
  • Cancer by acting as an antioxidant and inhibiting free radicals
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by acting as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and circulation promoter
  • Digestive issues such as irritable bowel, ulcerative colitis, and indigestion by increasing gastric secretions and thus acting as a gastroprotectant

But hold on, there’s more to know before you starting drinking “golden milk” every day.

Can it really claim all that?

The jury is still somewhat out on turmeric, but leaning toward it’s probably not quite as powerful as you think.

While increasing turmeric in your diet may elicit positive health implications, the University of Maryland Medical Center encourages us to take this research with a grain of salt, saying, “Many studies have taken place in test tubes and animals. Turmeric may not work as well in humans.” Curcumin also has low solubility in water and low bioavailability, meaning it is poorly absorbed in the body and therefore has a limited active effect.

“Can turmeric cure cancer? Not likely,” Registered Dietitian Nicole Osinga says in Readers Digest. “But can it reduce inflammation in the body that leads to chronic diseases such as cancer? Yes.” Great!

How to Incorporate Turmeric into Your Diet

Tumeric Golden MilkTurns out there’s a very specific reason that turmeric works so well in Eastern cuisines. “The best way to take turmeric is with fatty ingredients such as in curry or coconut milk,” says Dr. Claudia Gravaghi in the Belfast Telegraph. Remember, this is because curcumin plays well with fats, but not so well with water. Check out these recipes to incorporate some turmeric into your diet:

Intake of Turmeric

The good news is turmeric consumption in food—even in high amounts—is widely considered safe, but a doctor should be consulted before taking a turmeric supplement. While highly unlikely, prolonged doses of turmeric supplements may have side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or indigestion. It should also be noted that turmeric supplement manufacturers are not required to obtain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval prior to selling. This does not mean it is unsafe though. Supplemental turmeric must still pass food safety standards.

Ultimately, incorporating turmeric in foods is encouraged. It looks and tastes wonderful! And hey, it may even make you feel better. Just don’t set your expectations too high, as the health benefits gained from consuming turmeric will vary from individual to individual.

For more information:

  1. Turmeric: The spice of life or proceed with caution? By Taylor Heyman, 2017.
  2. Turmeric: Overview by Steven D. Erhlich, 2014.
  3. The Pharmacognosy and Therapeutic Efficacy of Turmeric (Curcuma Longa): A Systematic Review by Maghan Ballantyne and Kelly Orr, 2017.
  4. Turmeric and curcumin: Biological actions and medicinal applications by Ishita Chattopadhyay, Kaushik Biswas, Uday Bandyopadhyay, and Ranajit K. Banerjee, 2004.
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