turmeric health benefit

Turmeric: Worth the Hype?

Turmeric aka curcumin

What is it?

The bright yellow spice known for giving curry its distinct colour. This ancient super-food, which has Indian origins, is gotten from a tuber (root plant) that’s closely related to ginger.

The health claims?

  1. Turmeric is a beauty super-weapon that can heal skin complaints like eczema as well as keep skin looking young
  2. The spice can heal gut inflammation and relieve diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and other symptoms of IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease
  3. Turmeric boosts the immune system and can shorten the length of a cold

The scientific facts?

  • It’s not often a super-food actually deserves that title, but for turmeric, this appears to be the case. Studies have shown that the yellow spice is a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant agent that can indeed support the immune system.
  • Research, like this, has found that turmeric’s active component, curcumin, can help reduce the inflammation that underlies serious inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
  • Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory activity is also thought to benefit individuals with heart disease (as the atherosclerotic process that underlies the bulk of cardiovascular disease is inflammatory in nature). But before you get too excited, it’s important to note that supportive studies, like this, cannot be taken as conclusive evidence because they were done in mice.
  • Health claims that turmeric can improve skin health are not unfounded. This study, showed that a by-product of curcumin can actually speed up the healing of damaged skin. And as curcumin has strong anti-oxidant properties it’s scientifically accepted that the super-food can fight off the free-radicals that contribute to skin-ageing and even cancer.
  • But, before you run out and buy dozens of tubs of turmeric, bear in mind that all of the aforementioned health benefits relate to curcumin, which makes up just 3% of turmeric itself. This means that to really experience noticeable health benefits you’ll need to either eat a lot of curry or try a turmeric supplement that’s high in curcumin.

Nutritional facts – Turmeric versus ginger

They’re both warming spices renowned for boosting the immune system. They even look a lot like each other from the outside (the fresh varieties that is)! But how nutritionally similar are they? Here’s how 1 teaspoon (8g) of dried turmeric compares with the same amount of dried ginger.

  • Kcals: Turmeric 8 v ginger 6
  • Protein: Turmeric 0.2g v ginger 0.2g
  • Carbohydrate: Turmeric 1.4g v ginger 1.3g
  • Fibre: Turmeric 0.5g v ginger 0.2g
  • Fat: Turmeric 2g v ginger 0.1g
  • Vitamins and minerals: Turmeric has at least twice as much calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, B6, potassium and iron as ginger. It is also a much richer source of anti-oxidants than ginger.

Winner: Turmeric – no contest! Both are very similar in terms of macronutrients (fat, carbs and protein)  but turmeric’s micronutrient profile is infinitely better than ginger’s – and the difference between the two is even greater when fresh ginger is compared with fresh turmeric.

Worth the hype?  Yes. It’s cheap, widely available (in dried/ground form) and has no noted side effects. I admit the spice is unlikely to turn you into a new person, but with an impressive mineral, vitamin and anti-oxidant profile, as well as proven anti-inflammatory action, adding turmeric to any diet is likely to do good, even if it’s only at a cellular level (preventing disease that you are unaware of).

(Photo credit: Steven Jackson Photography via Visual hunt)

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