Turmeric – the essential spice in your pantry

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By Shantha Kalia

Turmeric is a rhizome that belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. Long before its popularity grew as a nutritional supplement in Western medicine, turmeric was used as a healing agent for thousands of years in the ancient system of Indian medicine, Ayurveda. Curcumin (curcuma longa) is the pigment that imparts the bright yellow color to the turmeric root. Various fractions of curcumin, called curcuminoids, constitute about three to five percent of turmeric.

Turmeric roots are harvested and dried, powdered and used to prepare curry powder. Turmeric supplements are widely used for a variety of medical conditions. The supplements contain curcumin that is extracted from turmeric roots. Although turmeric is ideal to be used as a spice, a curcumin extract is a better choice for health benefits.  

In Ayurvedic medicine, curcumin finds use in the treatment of inflammatory diseases including asthma, allergies, diabetes and sinusitis. Synthetic drugs function against one single inflammation pathway, while curcumin’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties reduce inflammation by acting on multiple pathways. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, which can neutralize unstable reactive free radicals in your body. Free radicals cause cellular damage leading to chronic inflammatory diseases, including cancer. Curcumin has no side effects because of its dual role as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.

Role of curcumin in inflammation and chronic disease

Inflammation is a natural physical response when the body repairs damage. Chronic inflammation can lead to many disease processes in your body and therefore, it is necessary to slow down and stop the cycle of chronic inflammation. Unlike synthetic drugs, curcumin has the ability to work on multiple inflammatory processes and assist your body to maintain a normal balance.  

Health Benefits of Turmeric

1. Arthritis: The anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin are beneficial for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Free radicals are destroyed by curcumin by helping to stop the progression of arthritis resulting from cartilage damage and inflammation. In patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s own cells attack and destroy the lining of joints called synovium.  Curcumin extract taken regularly can reduce the joint pain and swelling.  

2. Cancer Prevention: Curcumin has been snown to stop cancer initiation and progression of cancer.  It can also stop cancer cells from migrating to other parts of the body. Research has linked curcumin’s anti-cancer properties to suppress breast, prostate, liver, skin, colon and lung cancer. Curcumin also protects normal cells from toxicity caused due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

3. Cardiovascular Disease: Curcumin protects against the effects of a high-cholesterol diet, similar to statin drugs.  It prevents the plaque buildup in arteries, reduces triglycerides and increase levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.

4. Diabetes: Although diabetes is linked to blood sugar metabolism, disease progression can result from inflammation. Scientific studies have shown that curcumin may protect against other diabetic conditions, such as nerve pain.  

5. Alzheimer’s Disease: Curcumin can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing inflammation of brain cells causing clusters of protein, beta-amyloid. Curcumin has properties to shrink the size of amyloid plaques by over 30%.  

6. Gastrointestinal Inflammation: Curcumin has shown to reduce inflammatory compounds in the intestines and strengthen the intestinal wall. It provides relief to most gastrointestinal conditions including, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.

7. Wound Healing: Curcumin protects the skin by reducing inflammation and helping to speed up the healing of damaged tissue. It is particularly helpful for patients suffering from skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

No toxicity has been reported when using curcumin.  To avail the benefits of curcumin, use turmeric as a spice in cooking or use turmeric supplements. Turmeric supplements are more effective than isolated curcumin for inflammatory disorders. Neither curcumin, nor turmeric is well absorbed unless taken together with black pepper or piperine.  When buying turmeric supplements, make sure that it contains black pepper or piperine.  

If you suffer from gallstones or have bile duct dysfunction, avoid using turmeric as it can exacerbate the condition.  

Recipe using turmeric – Savory Quinoa
 
This is a bright and colorful one-pot meal with quinoa and veggies. The turmeric imparts the lovely yellow color to the dish.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup quinoa (brown rice or millet will work too)
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables - carrots, peas, beans, etc.
  • 1 small tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (optional)
  • A few curry leaves (optional)
  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • Raw, roasted cashew nuts for garnish (optional)
  • Coriander leaves for garnish
  • 2 tsp coconut oil oil, divided
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of turmeric
Instructions
  1. Cook quinoa as directed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tsp oil in the same pan and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves (optional). When the mustard seeds splutter, add the onions. Sautee for a few minutes, until the onions turns golden brown.
  3. Add vegetables, tomato, jalapeno, salt and turmeric. Stir together and combine. Add about 3 cups water. Cover the pan and cook until the vegetables are done.
  4. Lower the heat and slowly add the cooked quinoa, stirring constantly to avoid any lumps. Continue to cook on a low heat until the water is evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove and garnish with cilantro leaves and cashew nuts (if using).
  6. Enjoy!

 

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Shantha Kalia

Shantha Kalia

Healthcare Professional and Certified Health Coach at Shantha Kalia
Shantha Kalia is a healthcare professional in New York City.After completing her Masters in Public Health, she has worked in different capacities in health care for over 15 years.

Shantha is a medical writer and contributes articles to several websites on various medical and health-related topics. She is a certified health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Her interests include cooking, health and wellness and nutrition.
Shantha Kalia

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