Let’s drill down into one of the planet’s richest, most colorful, and aromatic spices that at once conjures images of rituals, mysticism, and cuisine. We’re talking about what was once called “Indian saffron” — the long revered spice of turmeric. While that may have been the description most commonly associated with this eastern spice, there is a side to this root with profound health benefits that far too often remains unsung.
Turmeric has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and is native to Indonesia and South India, where it has been harvested for more than 5,000 years. For centuries, turmeric has proven to be an important component of Ayurvedic pharmacopeia, the traditional Indian medical system.
Curcumin, the yellow or orange pigment that gives turmeric it’s distinct color, has been identified as the primary phytonutrient in turmeric responsible for the anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant effect. In fact, numerous research studies have been conducted in a variety of health conditions including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cystic Fibrosis, Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease to determine the potential of curcumin to slow the disease processes of these chronic degenerative conditions.
One of the primary areas of research that I have reviewed the most with regards to the health benefits of turmeric is in the field of neurological disease. Turmeric has demonstrated the potential to increase the production of antioxidants in the brain, reduce the inflammatory response, and protect the myelin sheath from free radical damage. In addition, research has also verified turmeric’s potential to clear amyloid protein fragments as well as preventing their accumulation. The potential for turmeric to clear amyloid protein fragments occurs through the activation of important immune cells, commonly known as macrophages. Macrophages are part of the innate immune system. Macrophages are responsible for engulfing and destroying abnormal cells and suspected pathogens.
In addition to the potential health benefits already described, turmeric has also been shown to provide:
The anti-inflammatory potential is achieved through curcumin’s ability to block NF-kappa B, a primary cellular mediator of the inflammatory process. Unlike drugs, which are often associated with numerous side effects, as well as potential toxic effects, curcumin produces no toxicity, even in long-term use.
As an antioxidant, curcumin neutralizes free radicals that have the potential to damage healthy cells, cellular DNA, and cell membranes.
Support Liver Function
Curumin has demonstrated the potential to support the detoxification of several environmental toxins and dietary carcinogens as well as increase the body’s production of two important enzymes that are central to the detoxification process.
To increase the potential health benefit of curcumin, research has shown that combining turmeric with other phytonutrient dense vegetables such as onion (rich in quercetin), and the cruciferous vegetables (abundant in isothiocyanates), may both prevent and inhibit the growth and metastasis (spread) of certain types of cancer cells including but not limited to both colon and prostate cancer.
This powerful nutrient offers hope to all of us as we mature and consider our vulnerability to common chronic degenerative diseases that seem to be increasing in number, in spite of our efforts to reduce our risk.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Turmeric into your Diet
- Beyond the familiar presence of turmeric in curry, it can be used to flavor many snacks or components of any meal.
- Add turmeric to a salad dressing
- Incorporate with organic mayonnaise to prepare egg salad or devilled eggs.
- Add to your favorite hummus or other bean dip recipe.
- Add turmeric to your next homemade pot of soup.
- Add turmeric with cinnamon to sautéed apples.
Taking these suggestions into account, I have created a recipe that combines all three suggested phytonutrients in a delicious stew to be enjoyed at any time of the day. As an additional option, you can transform this stew into a soup by adding vegetable broth and coconut milk, and pureeing the ingredients.
Curried Cauliflower and Chickpea Stew
2 tablespoons coconut oil (you can use olive oil if you prefer)
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons (or more) curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, chopped
Salt, pepper to taste
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped into florets (about 2 lbs)
1 15-oz can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz can organic diced tomatoes
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a thick-bottomed pot.
- Add the curry powder, cumin, and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Add the chopped onion and cook till softened.
- Add the ginger, chickpeas (drained and rinsed), tomatoes (including the juice) and cauliflower florets.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and allow to cook for 15-18 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.
- Remove from stove.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.
Curry Roasted Mixed Nuts
1 cup raw organic almonds
1 cup raw organic walnuts
½ cup raw organic macadamia nuts
½ cup raw organic pumpkin seeds
½ cup desiccated unsweetened organic coconut
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 tablespoons organic butter, melted
5 teaspoons curry powder (or more to taste)
Himalayan salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- Melt the butter and honey over medium heat. Stir in curry powder.
- Transfer the honey butter mix to a bowl and mix in nuts, coconut, pumpkin seeds, and salt. Toss gently to coat.
- Place nuts on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.
- Remove nuts from oven, sprinkle the additional 2 teaspoons of curry powder and return to oven for about 5 minutes.
- Cool and serve.
Our nutrition expert, Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D., has been a clinical nutritionist and metabolic specialist since 1996. Peta specializes in examining the root causes of complex and chronic health issues, and helping clients prevent the diseases caused by lifestyle choices, environmental influences, epigenetics, and aging. With her extensive clinical and research experience, she's been invited to share her knowledge at seminars and conferences worldwide. In Peta's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, she gives practical tips on how adults 50+ can improve their health right now. Learn more about Peta at PetaCohen.com.