I love highlighting the health benefits of simple and affordable foods that you can enjoy for joyous health. You’re probably familiar with colourful turmeric root as an ingredient in curries or teas, but today I want to take an even closer look at the benefits of this healing spice. I love using fresh or dried turmeric in my cooking because it has a lovely earthy flavour and gives dishes a vibrant, golden colour. And the more colours we eat, the more phytonutrients and health benefits we get!
This post covers everything you need to know about turmeric including what it is, 8 powerful health benefits, how to choose the best quality turmeric, and tips for using it to support your health, naturally.
What Is Turmeric
Turmeric, or curcuma longa, is part of the Zingiberaceae family, which makes it a relative of ginger. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to South Asia. The part of the plant that is typically consumed for its health benefits is the rhizome, or root bulb, which is a vibrant yellowish-orange colour.
This spice has been used in Indian cuisine, Ayurvedic medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. You’ve likely seen it as a major component in many curry powders!
Thanks to its long history of use in different traditional medicines, turmeric is one of the most scientifically studied spices. While I’m a big fan of looking at the synergistic power of a whole food as opposed to its components, the curcuminoids, specifically curcumin, in turmeric are seriously impressive! It’s these compounds that give turmeric its beautiful golden colour and which are responsible for many of its studied health benefits.
Unfortunately, these components aren’t super easily absorbed, which is why I've included a section below on how to increase the bioavailability of curcumin with a couple of simple kitchen tricks!
Top Health Benefits of Turmeric
1. Powerful Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is an important process in the body as it helps to repair tissues and keep us healthy. What we don’t want is long term, chronic, low-grade inflammation. It is this type of inflammatory response that is the root of many chronic illnesses or conditions that end in “itis.” That’s why incorporating foods and supplements that have anti-inflammatory benefits can have big impacts on your health.
Turmeric and the main phytonutrient - curcumin have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body, which can play a key role in the prevention of inflammatory conditions.
2. Rich in Antioxidants
Oxidative damage is caused by free radicals in the body, which are molecules that have an unpaired electron and so are highly reactive. This damage can impact the health of our cells throughout the body. We come into contact with free radicals through our environment and as byproducts of our natural metabolic functions. Our bodies are equipped with the ability to create antioxidants, but sometimes the amount of free radicals can be much higher than the antioxidants we make.
That’s where foods such as turmeric can play a great role! They are loaded with natural antioxidants such as curcumin, calebin-A, vanillic acid, vanillin, and quercetin, which can bind with these free radicals and help to prevent or lessen oxidative damage.
3. May Be Useful For Those With Depression
Mental health is an important component of overall joyous health and while there are many factors that can contribute to the development of a condition such as depression, researchers are exploring the role of brain inflammation.
In fact, this study has found that curcumin had a similar effect as an antidepressant in participants, without any side effects. While more research is needed to understand the exact mechanism of action, the promising results highlight the power of food and supplements to support your mental health!
4. May Prevent Brain Degeneration
Neurodegenerative diseases are on the rise and the impacts can be felt individually and within families. Like most conditions, the causes and contributing factors are complex, but research on curcumin and brain health shows some impressive benefits!
A major component in brain health is the growth and development of new neurons as we age. One of the molecules that helps to support this process is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Certain neurological conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease have been linked to low levels of BDNF. Some animal studies have shown that curcumin may be effective in increasing levels of this important molecule.
Another brain-loving benefit of curcumin is that it may help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe it does so in a couple of different ways. Inflammation and oxidative damage both play a role in Alzheimer’s, so the above mentioned benefits are great for the brain! Curcumin may also decrease the build up of amyloid plaques that are seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
5. May Support Heart Health
One of the leading causes of death across the world is heart disease. While inflammation plays a role, another important contributing factor is the health of your endothelium, which is the lining of your blood vessels.
The endothelium is responsible for many important functions when it comes to heart health ranging from managing blood pressure to proper blood clotting. Curcumin has been shown to improve the health and function of the endothelial lining, while also lowering oxidative stress and increasing the availability of nitric oxide, another important compound for heart health.
6. May Help Prevent Some Cancers
One of the defining characteristics of cancer is uncontrolled and unregulated cell growth within the body. While there is never one food or supplement that is going to be a cure all, there are some promising studies that show that curcumin supplementation may help with cellular apoptosis (the death of cancer cells). It may also prevent the growth of new blood vessels within tumours and suppresses cancer cell metastasis, which is the spreading of cancerous cells throughout the body.
7. Helps Improve Arthritis Symptoms
Remember those amazing anti-inflammatory benefits I mentioned above? Well it turns out that it can have a beneficial effect for people with different types of arthritis. This condition is typically characterized by inflammation within the joints. Several studies have shown that curcumin can help alleviate symptoms in people with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
If you struggle with joint pain it may be worth incorporating turmeric into your diet or trying a supplement like New Chapter’s Turmeric Force.
8. Can Be Used Topically for Healthy Skin!
Try making a turmeric face mask! The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of this spice can have incredible benefits for the skin including:
Some studies even suggest that taking curcumin supplements may help with psoriasis flares by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
How To Shop for Turmeric
In order to get the most out of the impressive health benefits of turmeric, you want to make sure you’re buying the best possible quality that you can. I recommend buying organic herbs and spices for a couple of important reasons. While you may think that the only reason to buy organic is because the food is higher in nutrients or tastes better, there’s actually more to it than that!
When it comes to organic spices, what is not in your spice jar is just as important as what is! Conventionally grown turmeric is often sprayed with various pesticides and non-organic fertilizers to increase crop yield. This study shows that conventionally grown turmeric is contaminated by the pesticides that have been used on it. If you’re eating something every day, those residue levels can add up, especially if you’re also consuming other conventionally grown herbs, spices, and produce.
If you’re looking to use turmeric as a healing food, then you most certainly want to avoid the possibility of contamination with endocrine-disrupting pesticides.
Conventional spices and herbs can also contain various preservatives, additives, or anti-caking agents in order to extend shelf-life. If you look at the ingredient list of your turmeric packet and there is more than one ingredient, put it down and walk away.
So, how do you ensure you are buying the most nutrient dense, health promoting turmeric possible? Always buy organic! In order to be certified by a third party, organic products cannot be treated with conventional pesticides or irradiation, nor can they contain artificial colours, preservatives, or caking agents. This purity is why we only use organic turmeric (and ginger and other herbs & spices) in our best-selling Rise & Shine Tea!
In terms of choosing between fresh or dried turmeric, so long as you’re choosing organic I would say that preference depends on how you will be using it. Fresh turmeric is great for juicing or making simmered tea, while the dried spice is fabulous in soups, energy balls, and lattes.
Joyous Tips for Enjoying Turmeric
Unfortunately, turmeric is not a highly bioavailable spice. This means that it’s difficult for your body to fully absorb all its benefits when consumed in its raw form. Luckily, there are a couple of things that you can do to increase your absorption of turmeric. Below I've shared a bit more information so you can get the most benefit from this spice.
Do You Need to Add Black Pepper to Recipes?
Contrary to popular belief, not necessarily. While piperine (a phytonutrient in pepper), is responsible for the pungent nature of pepper, it can increase your absorption of curcumin (one of the active phytochemicals in turmeric) by up to 2000%! It's not without consequences though. Piperine inhibits detoxification enzymes in the liver in order to do this. Does that mean you should never use black pepper? Of course not, but it's good to be aware of all the effects of foods.
That being said, in the whole food, the turmerones work together with the curcuminoids to aid absorption which are naturally present in turmeric as a whole food. This is a wonderful example of food synergy! If you're consuming turmeric as a whole food, adding black pepper is not necessary.
Most supplements extract only the curcuminoids from the whole plant, which are less readily absorbed. So, if you’re taking curcumin as a supplement, look for brands that include piperine or other phytonutrients for better absorption or contain an aqueous extract. I love New Chapter’s Turmeric Force made with regeneratively grown turmeric and it doesn't need piperine added to it because the extraction process keeps all the phytonutrients intact.
Combining Your Turmeric With Healthy Fats
Turmeric is fat-soluble, meaning that it dissolves in fat. This makes it easier for your body to absorb and assimilate all the phytonutrients when you combine it with your favourite healthy fats. I love the flavour of turmeric and coconut together. The most popular soup recipe on Joyous Health is this Golden Soup but also try it my Lazy Lady Latte or Rise & Shine Latte, but if you’re cooking with it olive oil, organic butter or ghee, and avocado oil all work great as well!
I hope this information inspires you to start incorporating turmeric into your diet! It’s such an affordable way to increase nutrient-density and anti-inflammatory foods in your meals.