Turmeric is a common spice used in both Indian and Asian cooking, and you can now find it in many new products hitting the shelves (including our new turmeric pitta breads). This powerful spice has been used for cooking and for medicinal purposes for centuries, but what makes it good for us and what does the science say?
Turmeric is a root that looks similar to the ginger root. It has a deep, golden orange colour, and a warm, bitter flavour, with an earthy, mustard-like aroma.
Most of the research into turmeric looks at an active compound called curcumin. Curcumin has been found to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Antioxidants are important molecules that help to prevent damage caused by oxidation in the body.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that results in the production of free radicals. These free radicals are derived either from metabolic processes in the body or from external sources such as cigarette smoke, air pollutants, industrial chemicals and exposure to X-rays. (1)
Free radicals can be beneficial for the immune system to destroy harmful bacteria. However, too many free radicals can cause damage to cells and are thought to be involved in the development of diseases such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. (2)
Curcumin has been found to destroy free radicals and increase antioxidants (3, 4), and could therefore help reduce the risk of disease.
If a food or medication is anti-inflammatory, it means it can help reduce inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is the body’s immune system response to an injury or infection, which helps protect the body from harmful substances. However, chronic inflammation that has persisted for a long period is thought to lead to many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and respiratory diseases. (5)
Curcumin has been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to reduce the number of molecules that are involved in inflammation. (6) One study found curcumin to be effective at reducing pain in people with osteoarthritis. (7)
Take home message
The evidence for turmeric therefore shows that this spice could have promising therapeutic effects on health. If you’re interested in including more turmeric in your diet, how about adding it to your cooking (curries, scrambled eggs, tofu, roasted veg), to hot drinks or try it in our new pitta.
To increase absorption there are a few things you can do. For example, black pepper and a source of fat such as coconut milk or seeds have both been found to increase turmeric’s absorption. (8)