The spice with serious middle years benefits
I've been extolling the virtues of turmeric for some time now (the tips of some of my fingers even have a rich saffron tint from peeling and chopping the root!) so I'm delighted that this wonderfully colourful and fragrant spice is having its well deserved superfood moment. So much so that in a recent report on food trends in the US, Google singled out turmeric's rise after searches for the spice increased by 56% from November 2015 to January 2016.
Turmeric has long been a staple in Indian cuisine, while revered by Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic experts for its far-reaching medicinal properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, the spice is often referred to as 'Indian solid gold' and used to help curb inflammation and treat a wide variety of disorders from infections to stomach upsets and arthritis. Mixed with honey it forms a thick paste which can be taken orally for sore throats and colds and the sticky paste can be applied directly to the skin to relieve infections and certain inflammatory skin concerns like acne and rosacea. One of the most commonly used recipes calls for turmeric powder mixed with milk or water and a dash of black pepper, with an optional addition of ghee.
Modern scientific studies now support this time-tested belief that turmeric is indeed a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and that the spice's active ingredient is a group of polyphenol plant pigments called curcumin, which give the distinctive saffron/orange colour. Studies have shown how powerful curcumin is in the body as it helps protect against arthritis-related joint pain and swelling, inflammation, high cholesterol and so much more.
Most importantly for us middle years folk, curcumin’s potent anti-inflammatory properties are believed to offer protection against age-related cognitive decline too. Early days yet with more research to come, but worth investing in at this stage in our lives. It's also a powerful immune booster and reportedly some 5 to 8 times more potent on the antioxidant front than vitamin C.
Research is also showing that curcumin has cholesterol lowering and cardiovascular protective benefits as well, with possible cancer preventative actions to boot. I'm sure even more benefits will be soon be unveiled.
How to use it
I prefer using the fresh root but dried works too, especially in cooking (the dried variety is made by peeling, boiling and drying the turmeric root, then grinding to bottle it). Those with more pressing medical concerns may opt for curcumin in supplement form. If so, pertinent to heed the advice of pharmacist Shabir Daya, co-founder of online apothecary Victoria Health: "Aim for a supplement which contains 95% curcumin since this is the sort of strength that provides the benefits from turmeric. Research has shown that turmeric is not water soluble but dissolves efficiently in fats. So look for a supplement that either coats the turmeric in an enteric coating, which is expensive, or use one that contains some form of oil to ensure the greatest availability to the body."
Tumeric latte or cold pressed tumeric juice for anyone?