Everything you Need to Know about Turmeric: Health Benefits & Recipe
Turmeric is one of the most versatile spices in the world, and it's also one of Dr. Andrew Weil's favorites for anti-inflammatory properties. Its popularity has grown internationally, originating in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indian cuisine (curry). It has an unmistakable, iridescent yellow color.
It may be used as a natural dye, due to its high concentration of the natural phenol, curcumin. That strong color is partly responsible for its strong effect for health, and in fact, it’s one of the biggest superfood trends right now.
Insider’s Guide to Turmeric
Curious to learn more or start getting more in your daily diet? Keep reading, we cover everything you’ve been wondering, including a delicious recipe to help you prepare it at home.
Be careful, we weren’t kidding by referring to it as a natural dye! It can stain clothes and hands.
WHAT IS TURMERIC?
It’s suspected that turmeric originated in the area surrounding modern day India, but it’s been revered for centuries (if not millennia!) around the world. It has long found a home with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic practice, and other outlets of natural healing systems.
Together with modern research, there is good cause that it supports our health. And the number of benefits for our overall wellness might surprise you. Turmeric grows well in a variety of climates and is cultivated across the globe. That’s at least one reason people have found so many uses for it.
Another of its ancient uses is as a cosmetic. It can pull debris and other contaminants from your skin when applied either as a paste made from dry powder or as a fresh juice. But today it’s beloved most as an aromatic spice and flavorant in international cuisine.
One nickname for turmeric is ‘Indian Saffron’, due to the similar capacity as a dye, rich aroma, and the color which can venture into a reddish yellow (like saffron, read more here).
It turns out that turmeric is a totally separate family or spices, related very closely to ginger, both in the family, Zingiberaceae.
TYPES OF TURMERIC
Well grown turmeric tends to be a rich, somewhat bitter flavor, but works in perfect tandem with other spices to create savory dishes. Varietals of this spice may hint with notes of citrus, or most familiarly, ginger.
These characteristics may change whether as a dried powder, freshly grated, or juiced (it is a root, after all). Plus, if you’re already a big fan of ginger, then you’re in good company with turmeric; it can be used as a tea, in smoothies, or virtually any culinary dish.
Further indicative of its special place in cuisine, it also bears the nickname, ‘Golden Goddess’, an homage to its Ayurvedic origins and traditional Hindu worldview.
This nickname represents its cooling (anti-inflammatory) effects; for context, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a balance of hot and cold is argued for good health. Where turmeric helps counteract excessive heat (inflammation).
IS TURMERIC AN ADAPTOGEN?
Turmeric is also a true ‘adaptogen’. It can act in both ways internally (heating or cooling), depending on what your body needs most. The latest science gives it a very high margin of safety, which means it can be tolerated by just about anyone.
It’s even reported to help optimize health by fighting against chronic inflammation, digestive issues, immune diseases, and potentially much more!
Turmeric in Natural Systems of Healing
Hindu religious beliefs are diverse, but the term ‘Golden Goddess’ can tell us a lot more than meets the eye. At least one Hindu perspective believes that there is a universal need for balance between feminine and masculine energy.
Daily activities may lead us to feel overworked and overheated, which are considered forms of ‘masculine energy.’ Whereas to benefit from the cooling properties of turmeric, it’s believed to help you energetically re-balance with the feminine.
This is analogous to how our bodies work on a metabolic and physiological level, and is a corollary of ‘Yin and Yang’ with TCM. And since most everyone would benefit from taking a break and relaxing more, turmeric is a simple gesture towards a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
IS TURMERIC SAFE
Turmeric has a long history of time-tested, safe use. Reports dating back to 250 B.C. describe healing and cleansing properties. It may counteract daily exposures to social and environmental stress, while encouraging healthy respiration, even regulating pain.
As a health optimizer, turmeric has a time-tested foundation. Cases of ill-effects are few-to-none. Best of all, we now have science to identify bioactive compounds and what their pathologies are.
One study which may have already caught your attention, is that turmeric may be as effective, if not more effective, than standard NSAIDs in the treatment of inflammatory disorders and patient pain levels.
DOES TURMERIC HAVE HEALTH BENEFITS?
More than 200 individual curcuminoids have been identified in turmeric. These are a class of phytochemicals called phenols. Many of these compounds share antioxidant capabilities and are chemically similar to polyphenols (a familiar class of antioxidants).
The wide range of natural compounds partly explains the adaptogenic quality of this root. When consumed, your metabolism may ‘pick and choose’ what it needs most, recently coined under the ‘entourage effect.’
With so many choices, you can see why your body could benefit from this cousin of ginger. Also, since there are so many natural compounds, research has had to pick the most concentrated ones to study first.
Curcumin specifically is the most abundant phenol in turmeric; you may find it sold in a supplement form at your local natural foods store, and it’s been rigorously studied.
Naturally high levels of curcumin make turmeric a bonafide superfood. On its own, it’s associated with countless health benefits.
RAISING YOUR LEVELS OF ANTIOXIDANTS
One of turmeric’s natural superfood powers is its ability to raise levels of antioxidants. The most abundant antioxidant in it is curcumin, which is a colorful plant compound that works inside the body.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid, consuming a range of colors in food and drink is a keystone of good health. In turmeric’s case, its vibrant yellow makes it easy to cross that hue off your daily dietary color palate.
Some superfoods and adaptogens actually increase the rate we produce our own antioxidants, too. Matcha green tea is one such adaptogen that can promote endogenous (made by the body) and exogenous (made outside the body) antioxidants.
It’s reported that turmeric is able to do something similar. And besides, it’s interesting that matcha and turmeric both provide an external source of protection, while making the antioxidants we naturally produce more effective.
One study found those who consumed curcumin had elevated levels of glutathione, a ‘super antioxidant’ our livers produce to remove toxins from the body.
It’s considered a primary line of defense, and by increasing the availability of this potent compound, we’re choosing to protect our cellular and mitochondrial health. Including against free radical damage (more about detox here).
TURMERIC AS AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY
Don’t mistake inflammation as a bad thing, it’s actually there to protect you! Yet with any system, things can get out-of-whack. Too much inflammatory response can lead to chronic inflammation and disease. Diet and lifestyle are common triggers, and matcha and turmeric are two common solutions!
So, what if inflammation wasn’t there? Think of a sprained ankle or a cut on your finger, these injuries wouldn’t get the extra nutrients to become strong again without inflammation. Our bodies wouldn’t heal!
Interestingly, the word ‘inflammation’ is related to ‘flame’ because of the connection with heat. If you think of an injury, you feel pressure, extra blood flow, and heat. This is the natural way to recover because it brings resources to the area to heal.
Creating a healthy response with this system relies on removing the causes of inflammation just as much as ways to keep it in check. That’s why an anti-inflammatory diet, reinforced with potent superfoods and adaptogens (like turmeric) makes for a powerful strategy to keep you feeling healthy.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES AND THE BRAIN
It’s intriguing (perhaps a bit daunting) that the latest research supports the belief that inflammation can negatively impact brain health, and even emotional wellbeing. So can Turmeric help out?
For one, studies in senior patients in India recognize a lower incidence of cognitive decline, including certain forms of dementia. The correlation concludes that the diet, rich in the spice turmeric, may be at play.
This preventative effect is thought to stem from the high levels of antioxidants, which are also known to reduce inflammation and even help excrete heavy metals. The abundant curcuminoid, curcumin, also is reported to trigger elevated brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels.
This special type of growth hormone is directly involved in neuronal growth and the maintenance of healthy brain cells. High levels of BDNF are reported in people who regularly meditate, believed to be one of only a handful of critical biomarkers which increase connectivity across the brain.
These effects are comparable to those of matcha green tea, where the antioxidant EGCG may yield increased connectivity, logical faculty, and mental well-being as well.
TURMERIC AND MATCHA, GOOD MOOD SYNERGY
Outcomes of improved brain health are shared in research between matcha, and turmeric. Many report synergy in promoting a satisfied mood. Increased BDNF levels are likely behind positive outlook and a relaxed cognitive state.
And the neurotransmitter activity of matcha’s amino-acids (and antioxidants) may bolster that daily energy. Suggested to elevate dopamine and serotonin, while L-theanine regulates neuronal-excitability.
Perhaps this brain-boosting intersection is why the turmeric matcha latte has become so popular.
TURMERIC FOR CARDIOVASCULAR (HEART) HEALTH
The polyphenols in turmeric are studied to regulate cholesterol, and improve arterial flexibility, key indicators of cardiovascular health. When consumed with black pepper, effects are reported to extend to improved circulation as well.
HOW CAN YOU USE TURMERIC
Getting more turmeric in your diet is easy! You can safely add it to just about everything you eat (or drink)! The choice is yours, since turmeric is available as a dried powder, a fresh root, and a healthy appetizing juice.
CHOOSING A TURMERIC POWDER OR FRESH JUICE
Powdered turmeric comes from the boiling, drying, and grinding of fresh roots. This helps the natural compounds become more bioactive and accessible to the average diet.
Arguably, powdered turmeric is the easiest to add into your diet. Great in morning juice, smoothies, or tea lattes. It’s also popular to add in scrambled eggs with a couple cracks of black pepper.
POWDERED TURMERIC VS. FRESH TURMERIC
Fresh turmeric has a costlier price-point than the powdered form. There is a less fresh root grown domestically, making it higher cost at your local natural food stores. Yet, if not regularly, the fresh root is a delightful and healthy indulgence.
Using the fresh root gives you extra flexibility in cuisine and health applications. But it usually means you have to peel it first, just like you would fresh ginger. If you’re adding to a hot tea or to a meal, you can use a grate to create zest and maximize absorption.
NEED EXCITING WAYS TO USE TURMERIC?
Fan Favorites: Below is a list of favorite, daily uses that make turmeric handier than ever. Remember, you can make its health effects significantly stronger by combining each serving with a dollop of ground, black pepper; black pepper’s natural compound, piperine, works to absorb more curcuminoids.
- Add ½-tsp while you beat eggs for scrambling.
- Make homemade turmeric butter by softening and mixing them together. Refrigerate for later use, or melt over tasty veggies.
- Mix ½-tsp into your first meal, or drink of the day. Examples include oats, smoothies, and matcha lattes (recipe below).
- Make a simple tea by adding grinding fresh root (about 1”) or powder (1-tsp) to hot water or your preference of non-dairy milk. Don’t forget the pepper!
How to Make a Turmeric Matcha Latte
Adaptogenic, daily drinks are on the rise! You can play around with your favorite adaptogens by adding them to this simple recipe. Or keep it easy and enjoy the benefits of turmeric and matcha together, two of the most important superfoods out there. Warm-hug, anyone?
GOLDEN MILK MATCHA LATTE
Golden Milk Matcha Latte is the perfect way to up your turmeric game! Remember, that to maximize the absorption of all the good stuff, you want to be sure to add a crack (or two) of black pepper, and always add your preferred non-dairy milk for healthy fats.
Like black pepper, fat content helps activate the turmeric by pulling the good stuff out. Coconut milk is a popular choice because of the high content of healthy fats. But if you prefer almond milk (or others with lower fat) you may add a teaspoon of coconut cream to achieve a balanced effect (and flavor).
Fair Warning: Your first sip is going to feel like cheating. This recipe has the perfect, naturally sweet taste, and is totally healthy for you!
You can’t go wrong. Plus, you can flex on friends and family with your superior intake of antioxidants and nootropic compounds.
- 2-tsp matcha powder
- ¼-tsp turmeric Powder
- pinch of black pepper
- ¼-cup hot (but not boiling) water
- 1½-cups non-dairy milk (coconut milk is popular)
- 1-tsp coconut oil (1½-tsp if using a lower fat milk)
- 1-tsp sweetener (optional, to taste)
- Combine matcha, turmeric and cracked pepper to a mixing bowl
- Add warm water and whisk
- Heat milk until it begins to simmer. Add coconut oil and mix.
- Add everything together! Including any sweetener
The Bottom Line
Turmeric goes beyond the basic spice used in curries and other Indian cuisine. It has brought delicate, savory flavor to dishes around the world. And has been widely welcomed in modern diets and healthy lifestyles.
The history of health benefits and strong track record of safety earns this spice a dedicated spot in your pantry. It’s also essential in many natural systems of healing, and today those benefits are supported by medical research.
The natural compounds (curcuminoids) found in turmeric may enhance your antioxidant levels and brain health. When consumed daily, it may also benefit digestive health and counteract the negative effects of chronic inflammation.
Like matcha green tea, there is plenty of space to make room in your daily routine for this health promoting spice. It’s versatile and can complement any active lifestyle. If you’re keen to give it a try, consider our recipe above as an easy introduction.
When you combine it with matcha, you’ll feel like a warm-hug, all the while improving circulation and sense of wellbeing. Try a Golden Milk Matcha Latte today!