Turmeric's benefits have been known for thousands of years, but thanks to Instagram and Pinterest (we see you, golden milk), the spice is enjoying a massive surge in popularity.
Grown throughout India and other parts of Asia, turmeric is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine and is a major ingredient in curry powder. Today, it’s mainly found in spice- or supplement-form, and is commonly used to brighten up curries, stir fries, soups and even smoothies.
“Any time you have brightly coloured foods, you know there are plant compounds in there doing something great,” says dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. “And turmeric is a bright golden-there’s nothing like it.”
Curcumin, one of turmeric’s primary ingredients, is thought to help fight inflammation, says Jackson Blatner. “All diseases basically start with inflammation, from gingivitis in your mouth to heart disease, so the idea of having a teaspoon a day of turmeric may be a good thing.”
Here are a few more reasons why turmeric deserves a spot on your spice rack.
1. Turmeric may help improve your memory
Research done in Asian populations has found that people who eat more curry score higher on cognitive function tests (tests that measure memory, attention span, etc.) than those who don’t eat as much of the spice. The scientists chalked up this benefit to turmeric, which is a major part of the Asian diet.
Recent findings have backed up that theory: For example, a March 2018 study done in people aged 51 to 84 found that those who took a 90 milligram curcumin supplement twice a day for 18 months saw a boost in memory compared to those who took a placebo. The study was small and more research will be needed to confirm these findings, but scientists believe that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects might protect brain from memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.
2. Turmeric might ward off heart disease
Curcumin’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may help protect against certain heart conditions, including diabetic cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and more, according to a 2017 review in the journal Pharmacological Research.
3. Turmeric may help fight off certain cancers
A 2015 review published in the journal Molecules concluded that curcumin might have the potential to fight off certain cancers. So far, most of this research has been conducted in in vitro studies, but the authors of the review also note that curcumin has been shown to prevent or slow down the activity of certain tumour cells, including those of skin cancers, digestive cancers, and more.
4. Turmeric can help ease osteoarthritis pain
Osteoarthritis is leading cause of disability in Australia, affecting an estimated 2.1 million Amustralians. A 2016 research review found that taking curcumin for 4 weeks, however, could help relieve osteoarthritis pain among people who already have the condition-an effect that’s comparable to taking NSAIDs or glucosamine.
5. Turmeric makes healthy food taste even better
Call it the Midas touch, but if you’re a fan of turmeric’s flavour, it can turn even bland dishes into nutritional gold. (And let’s face it, we can all use a little help eating more produce.
“One of the easiest ways to eat a lot of turmeric is by making golden milk,” says Jackson Blatner. Add a teaspoon to plant-based or regular milk, then toss in a dash of black pepper (which increases turmeric’s absorption, she says) and sprinkle in some nutmeg or honey. You can also use it to spice up your condiments, too: “I make turmeric tomato sauce, mustard or barbecue sauce,” she says.
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