Turmeric is one of those spices that often sits on our shelf for months at a time without being used. That was until we were given a few curry recipes that blew our boring old taste buds away. After cooking with turmeric for months and discovering all the benefits it has to offer, we thought we would provide our readers with an in-depth guide to turmeric.
In the health and nutrition world, we often hear more than our fair share of bogus claims about the magical powers of foods and supplements. Usually, without a shred of evidence, we’re told that spices, powders, and juices can cure cancer, make us feel 20 years younger, and make us rich and famous. Well, maybe not that last one, but you catch our drift.
With turmeric, there is a kernel of truth to some of these seemingly outlandish claims. Traditional medicine in India and Southeast Asia, turmeric has a long history of being used as a healing agent and tool for enhancing performance.
Do you want to find out more about the benefits of turmeric? In this article, our experts went all-out to discover everything there is to know about this delicious, leafy spice. By the end, you will be itching to get your hands on a bag of the stuff!
Turmeric: What Is It?
Curcuma longa, better known by its abbreviated name, turmeric, is a perennial plant that belongs to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). Naturally occurring in the Indian subcontinent, turmeric grows in warm, rainy climates between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Every year, millions of pounds of turmeric rhizomes are harvested, boiled, and ground into curry powder.
The main component of turmeric is curcumin. Ancient civilizations have harnessed the power of curcumin to treat disease and bring the sick back to health. While there is some evidence that curcumin and turmeric can fight inflammation and improve one’s mood, there is limited clinical evidence backing up the medicinal properties of curcumin.
The bright yellow turmeric color has made the turmeric plant a useful natural dye and food coloring agent. In Asian cuisine, turmeric is often added to dishes and soups to brighten the plate and give it a fluorescent yellow appearance. If you have ever ordered a bowl of curry-fried rice, you probably know what we’re talking about.
Today, turmeric is loved all around the world for its earthy flavor and powerful mustard scent. This beloved plant is utilized for its color and bitter taste in soups, pasta, rice dishes, and, of course, curries.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the main ingredient in turmeric, which Indians and Asian healers have long used for its anti-inflammatory effects. As an antioxidant, curcumin helps prevent the development of cancers but blocking their cell growth and fighting free radicals. Most of the therapeutic properties of turmeric are, in fact, the product of curcumin and other curcuminoids.
It is a little-known fact that curcumin is the chemical compound responsible for giving turmeric its yellow color. Curcumin sports a distinct yellow appearance due to its concentration of natural phenols. Although it is difficult to study because it is chemically unstable and not bioavailable, it has nonetheless been the subject more and more medical research in recent years.
Turmeric vs. Curcumin
When it comes to turmeric vs curcumin, it should be noted that there is no real contest between the two. What we mean is that the difference between turmeric and curcumin is marginal since the turmeric plant contains curcumin. Therefore, any debate about the merits of either must consider that, for our intents and purposes, turmeric and curcumin are the same.
The scientific debate about whether curcumin or turmeric offer more health benefits has come to a head recently. A 2013 research paper found that there is evidence to suggest that curcumin-free turmeric (CFT) has anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties. This defies the old prevailing attitude that curcumin is the main medicinal ingredient in turmeric.
One of our favorite turmeric “hacks” to help get the most nutritional benefit out of the plant is to serve it with black pepper. According to recent research, taking turmeric with black pepper helps improve its absorption in the body, which means more nutrients are transferred from the plant into your bloodstream.
The study found that the bioavailability of curcumin in human volunteers skyrocketed 2000% (or, over 20 times baseline) among those who ate a small serving of black pepper with it. Since poor bioavailability is a common critique of curcumin, this study shows promise that, with the right additives, curcumin can be better absorbed into the body.
Turmeric and Exercise
One of the hottest topics of discussion when it comes to turmeric is whether turmeric is as effective as exercise for improving one’s health. To get to the bottom of this question, we decided to look at the data.
According to one study, curcumin causes an improvement in heart and lung function during strenuous exercise in postmenopausal women. The researchers found that flow-mediated dilation of the blood vessels “increased significantly” in the curcumin test group.
A 2012 pilot study found that curcumin consumption is beneficial for improving age-related heart problems in older women when combined with exercise. The researchers subjected 45 postmenopausal women to various tests and ultimately discovered that pairing curcumin and daily aerobic exercise together was better for heart health than either treatment alone.
Recently, articles have been circulating that pit turmeric against exercise as if it were a competition to see which is better for one’s health. However, we don’t see it this way. Instead, we think that all the evidence points out how exercise and turmeric go hand-in-hand, and that adding both into your lifestyle will go a long way in bolstering your overall health.
In its relation to exercise, our opinion is that turmeric makes a better compliment than a substitute. Instead, regular exercise should be a central part of your life if you want to reap the full benefits of turmeric or curcumin.
The Ultimate Post-Workout Snack?
The gym rats reading this will know all too well how debilitating delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be after a hard workout. However, new research indicates that there are turmeric sports benefits that can help athletes and gym-lovers bounce back after an intense training session.
A breakthrough 2014 study found that there may be applications of turmeric for muscle recovery. In the study, the researchers gave a drug called Meriva, a curcumin delivery system, to healthy male athletes before and after muscle training while withholding the drug from a placebo group.
After their initial training session, the researchers made the volunteers perform a downhill running test and subjected them to magnetic resonance imaging. Not only did the group that ate curcumin report less pain in their legs compared to the placebo group, but fewer volunteers in the treatment group showed evidence of muscle damage in their MRI results.
The results of the study point to the fact that Meriva, which contains 200 mg of curcumin, has a positive impact on DOMS recovery. Although it remains to be seen whether athletes can receive an equivalent dose of curcumin by eating turmeric, it blows our mind to think about how such a small, plant-based substance can have an enormously powerful effect on the human body.
The health benefits of turmeric are many, for the young and old alike. No matter your lifestyle, age, or health status, you can benefit from the countless perks of incorporating turmeric and curcumin into your diet. Below, we compiled the best turmeric benefits for health, wellness, longevity, and athletic performance.
Turmeric is one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory substances. In other words, turmeric helps your body fend off nasty viruses and invaders that can damage your body’s organs via inflammation. Since inflammation is linked to physical and mental illnesses, from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease, it is crucial that we all do what we can to fight inflammation.
A breakthrough 2012 study discovered that curcumin and turmeric are superior to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in treating patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers assessed the tenderness of joints, redness, and swelling in determining whether patients were experiencing relief. To date, this is the best evidence we have that turmeric provides major anti-inflammation benefits.
Inflammation, although generally misunderstood, is a massively important factor in one’s health (especially as we get older). This is why the large body of evidence that suggests turmeric plays a role in fighting chronic inflammation must be taken seriously. Specifically, the curcumin ingredient in turmeric has been shown to block genes that lead to long-term inflammatory responses.
There is also some evidence that white turmeric benefits, also known as Curcuma zedoaria, outweigh regular turmeric when it comes to combating inflammation. This is a bit of a bummer because this variation of turmeric is a lot harder to find in the West than yellow turmeric.
Turmeric vs. Cancer
There are few ailments in this world worse than cancer. Cancer, a chronic disease marked by unrestrained cellular growth, takes millions of lives every year. However, science has proven that several foods and medicines exist that can slow down or outright prevent the development of cancer.
Studies have shown that turmeric can interfere with the cell signaling pathways responsible for causing cancer growth, including cyclin D1 and cyclin E. Cancer patients who were given turmeric-based medicines reported improvements in the growth prevention of leukemia and lymphoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and more.
For years, science has understood that curcumin has potentially powerful effects on the spread of cancer. In 2003, a major research paper discovered that curcumin could “suppress proliferation of a wide variety of tumor cells [and] down-regulate transcription factors” including NF-kappa B, Egg-1, and AP-1.
It seems that these days an increasing number of women are suffering from the debilitating effects of anxiety and depression. Although we all have our highs and lows in life, there is nothing normal about having a constant, never-ending low mood. For treating this, medicinal intervention is necessary.
That’s where turmeric comes in. Most who suffer from depression and anxiety are prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of pharmaceutical drug that has mixed results and a wide array of negative side effects. However, recent studies have shown that turmeric can have equal antidepressant effects as SSRIs, without any of the nasty sides.
Turmeric for Healthy Minds
Today more than ever, seniors are suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Sadly, there are no confirmed treatments or cures for these horrible afflictions. However, turmeric provides a glimmer of hope.
Since inflammation of the brain and oxidative exposure have been linked to the onset of neurodegeneration, curcumin and turmeric can help in this regard. A systematic review of curcumin’s relationship with Alzheimer’s found that curcumin consumption has positive effects on reducing brain tumor growth and dementia.
Furthermore, a 2006 research paper found that the polyphenols in turmeric elicited a significant decrease in early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease. The evidence is now clearer than ever that regular consumption of turmeric can help contribute to a strong and resilient mind in one’s old age.
Maintaining a good skincare routine is one of the best ways to enhance the natural beauty of your skin, keep up your youthful appearance, and embrace the benefits of anti-aging. Luckily, turmeric can bolster the health of your skin and keep it looking radiant and youthful well into old age.
Dermatological research has shown that turmeric yields several benefits for the appearance of one’s skin. One major study showed that daily turmeric consumption led to a “statistically significant improvement in skin disease severity” and other therapeutic benefits for skin health. Other research suggests that topical turmeric can reduce the size of skin lesions in cancer patients.
Turmeric and Aging
Recently, a breakthrough study of senior citizens in India discovered that a daily dose of a turmeric-based supplement led to “significant memory and attention benefits.” Over 18 months, non-demented adults were given brain scan tests that found the neurodegeneration and inflammation decreased and slowed down while they were taking the turmeric supplement.
The idea that turmeric slows down the aging process is not new. An earlier 2010 study found that the antioxidant properties of curcumin can slow aging processes by inhibiting select genetic signaling pathways and reducing inflammation.
For centuries, turmeric has been eaten in the form of a paste for use in various ethnic dishes such as Cambodian curry, Thai yellow curry, and Indonesian Sumatra. Over the years, turmeric paste has been introducing to Western cuisine through globalization and, honestly, we could not be more thrilled.
Ground curry-style paste is among the best turmeric recipes if you want a versatile and easy option for integrating turmeric into your diet. After learning about all the benefits of turmeric and curcumin, we have been quickly integrating turmeric paste into our weekly meal prep routines.
Do you want to find out more about turmeric paste? This nutritious and healthy dish is surprisingly simple to make and can be whipped up in the kitchen in five minutes or less. Below, we describe one of the easiest ways to make turmeric paste and provide tips for adding it into your diet.
Golden Turmeric Paste: A Step-by-Step Guide
For thousands of years, turmeric paste has been used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine to help facilitate digestion, bowel movement regularity, fight disease, and fend off inflammation. Fortunately, the recipes for delicious and spicy turmeric paste have not been lost with time. For your convenience, we have listed our favorite golden turmeric paste recipe below.
To get started, prepare the following ingredients:
- 1 cup water
- ⅔ cup turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup extra virgin organic coconut oil
Once all ingredients are assembled, combine the water and turmeric in a pan and heat on low-medium until the mixture solidifies into a thick paste. This step might take up to 10 minutes to complete, and extra water might be required if the paste becomes too solid to stir.
If the paste is sufficiently solid after 8-10 minutes, add in the freshly ground black pepper and the extra virgin coconut oil. Stir in the new ingredients for several minutes and whisk the solution until the oil is fully immersed in the dish. Allow up to five minutes to cool down before serving.
If you remember the study we cited earlier in this guide, you will recall that curcumin is better absorbed in the body when black pepper is taken at the same time. However, some readers may not be able to tolerate the spiciness of the two together. If this is the case for you, we advise using half the amount of directed black pepper so you can still reap the added benefits.
For a great, step-by-step guide to making turmeric paste, we recommend checking out this one-minute video tutorial by Turmeric Australia. The authors of this video are super creative and were able to make a simple guide to creating this dish without any flair or frills. Check it out below!
Adding Turmeric Paste to Your Diet
Now that you know how to make turmeric paste, you might be left wondering how you can work this into your standard American diet. Since we love spicy food, we prefer to store our pure turmeric paste in a mason jar and eat it by the spoonful whenever we want a light snack. But, we know this option is not ideal for those with more sensitive taste palates.
For the milder-tongued among us, we suggest getting a bit more experimental with turmeric paste. For instance, any of the following ideas for getting your daily dose of turmeric with going overboard on the spice:
- Add a half teaspoon of turmeric paste into a cup of brown rice
- Add a quarter teaspoon of turmeric paste into coconut yogurt with honey
- Add a quarter teaspoon of turmeric paste onto peanut butter toast
- Add a teaspoon or two of turmeric paste into our fruit smoothie
- Add a tablespoon of turmeric paste into your soup or salad dressing
Hopefully, some of the above meal ideas appeal to you. If not, you can always stir in turmeric paste in a watered-down curry or a basic Italian pasta dish. Believe it or not, turmeric is a highly versatile spice that can work well in countless dishes if you are willing to experiment a bit.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it around with your friends and family. Or, if you know someone who adores spicy food as much as we do, we recommend showing them this guide to making turmeric paste and adding it to their regular diet.
Ultimately, we can all benefit from adding a little turmeric to our diets here and there. However, the motivation to get started comes from learning about the many health benefits of turmeric. From warding off preventable diseases to aiding in digestion, slowing the growth of cancer, and reducing inflammation, everyone has something to gain from a spoonful of this delicious spice.
Resources & Further Reading