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Turmeric: A Super Spice

Turmeric, a yellow spice obtained from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, is commonly used in Indian curries and Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

It is often listed among the superfoods because it contains a number of health-promoting compounds, including the potent antioxidant curcumin, which is showing potential as a treatment for a broad array of medical problems.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (2011), evidence suggests that turmeric may:

  • Help fight bacterial and viral infections
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers
  • Treat digestive upsets and illnesses such as ulcerative colitis and stomach ulcers
  • Reduce inflammation and by extension, treat conditions such as arthritis
  • Decrease the risk of suffering from atherosclerosis, a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes

Research also indicates that regularly consuming turmeric may help to protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (George Mateljan Foundation, 2012). However, it should be noted that many of these studies have used animals or test tubes, and it’s not known if humans will enjoy the same benefits seen in laboratory studies. Although preliminary findings are promising, more research is required to determine whether or not turmeric is effective for treating or preventing illnesses in people.

In addition to being a core ingredient in Indian curries, turmeric goes well with egg salad, lentil and rice dishes, and salad dressings. The George Mateljan Foundation suggests sautéing cauliflower with a little turmeric and then tossing it with salt, pepper, and olive oil for a healthy side dish. Turmeric is also commonly used to provide color in cheese mustard, and butter.

When purchasing, choose products described as turmeric rather than curry powder, as the latter typically contain less of the health-promoting curcumin compound. Store powdered turmeric in a sealed container in a dark, dry, cool place and fresh turmeric in the refrigerator. Be careful when handling turmeric as it can stain fabric and skin.

Those who are considering taking turmeric medicinally should check with a doctor first. Although the amounts found in recipes are unlikely to cause problems, larger medicinal doses may trigger health issues in certain people and interact with some medications.

Sources:
American Cancer Society, “Tumeric,” 2013.
CBC News, “How Curry Spice Helps the Immune System Kill Bacteria,” 25 May 2012.
The George Mateljan Foundation, “Turmeric,” World’s Healthiest Foods, 2012.
University of Maryland Medical Center, “Turmeric,” 2011.
Vinent, L., “Top 10 Superfoods: Goji Berries, Cinnamon, Turmeric and More,” Canadian Living, n.d.

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