From helping reduce inflammation to preventing cancer, this Asian spice adds pep to your dishes and health to your life.
The name may be unfamiliar, but if you’ve had Indian food, you’ve had turmeric on your plate. This delightful yellow spice not only gives Indian dishes a kick, but also can boost your health.
Mostly known for the flavor and color it gives to curry, turmeric contains an active ingredient called curcumin, a powerful antioxidant that helps rid the body of harmful free radicals that can damage cell membranes and even lead to cell death. “It’s also a great source of iron and manganese and a good source of potassium and dietary fiber,” says Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD, a New York-based nutrition counselor and personal trainer.
For more than 4,000 years, turmeric, a spice derived from the root of a South Asian and Indian plant called Curcuma longa, has been used in Chinese and Indian medicine to treat infections, inflammation, and digestive problems and even ward off some cancers. Traditional healers also use it to treat skin diseases and wounds. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, recent studies suggest curcumin’s ability to promote cell health may help prevent or treat prostate, breast, skin, and colon cancers.
Researchers also believe turmeric decreases inflammation and thus can help combat conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties not only reduce joint stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis patients but also prevent cholesterol from oxidizing and building up as plaque. This decreases LDL (“bad”) and overall cholesterol levels.
Earlier studies also suggest turmeric may help prevent atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque that can lead to blood clots, heart attack, or stroke. “With Alzheimer’s, it helps reduce plaque formation on the brain,” Kaiden explains.
Turmeric also is believed to improve jaundice, menstrual cramps, colic, and gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders such as gas and bloating, and Crohn’s disease.
Turmeric is a good source of some powerful nutrients as well:
- Iron: This mineral carries oxygen throughout the body to promote good digestion and healthy cell function. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States.
- Potassium: Proper potassium intake can help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, infertility, digestive disorders, stroke, arthritis, and cancer. Potassium deficiencies are common in those who use diuretics or certain methods of birth control, suffer from digestive issues, are regularly active, or have physically demanding careers.
- Dietary fiber: The U.S. National Library of Medicine says the average fiber intake for children and adults is less than half of the recommended levels Dietary fiber can help lower someone’s risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and some gastrointestinal diseases.
Roasted Cauliflower and Sweet Potatoes With Turmeric and Garlic
1 head cauliflower (orange, if available)
2 sweet potatoes
1 red onion, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 6 wedges
21⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
11⁄2 tablespoon turmeric
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400˚F.
Clean the cauliflower, then slice from the top toward the core in roughly half-inch pieces. Peel the sweet potatoes and slice into half-inch circles. Place the cauliflower, potatoes, and onion on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the oil, turmeric, and garlic and drizzle over the vegetables. Work your fingers through the vegetables to coat them with oil and arrange them in a single layer, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning halfway, until the cauliflower is caramelized.
TD&N Nutrient Analysis: Calories: 121; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 54 mg; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Fiber: 4 g; Protein: 3 g
HOW TO PUT MORE SPICE IN YOUR LIFE
Turmeric is easy to incorporate into your everyday dishes. “But you want to make sure you choose turmeric and not curry,” explains Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD. “Curcumin levels are lower in curry.” She offers these suggestions for easily incorporating turmeric into your diet:
- Add turmeric to egg or tuna salad. “And with that stronger flavor, you can decrease or eliminate mayo,” she adds.
- For a quick veggie dip, mix turmeric, salt, and pepper with your choice of yogurt.
- Add turmeric to sautéed onions or cauliflower to enhance the spice’s beneficial effects.
- For a sweet and spicy lunch dish, mix turmeric with brown rice, raisins, and cashews.