The Golden Spice: Turmeric (Part 1: Nutrition)
Now that the leaves are turning their vibrant fall colors, and we look forward to moments gathered around the table with family and friends, there’s one herb that truly fits the autumnal season: turmeric. This energetic spice, and its golden yellow pigment, has been steadily gaining awareness over the years but needless to say it has been around for centuries. Turmeric has rich history in India’s religious ceremonies and holds an esteemed place in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia; a comprehensive holistic healthcare list that dates back to 500 B.C. Considered in the holistic medicinal arena as the “holy grail”, turmeric never seems to gets the short end of the stick.
The powerful turmeric plant is a beautiful aesthetic addition to family dinner but what we truly value with this lively spice is its nutritional embodiment. This herb wins a gold medal when it comes to it’s powerful natural antioxidants, but that’s just the start. Turmeric is packed full of iron, curcumin, and manganese, all containing nutrients we should be incorporating into our everyday lives. Find a full list of all the nutrients found in turmeric here.
It's important to note, however, that turmeric is not an easy one to fully digest. Combining with herbs or spices high in piperine, like black pepper, will help to squeeze all of the goods out of our golden plant. Rosalee de la Foret, one of our favorite herbalists from learningherbs.com, mentions this “To get the most out of your turmeric, add 3% black pepper to the mix. Black pepper improves the bioavailability of turmeric, making smaller doses more effective.”
Nature’s supply of endless vitamins and minerals offer us the nourishment we need everyday, and luckily, turmeric is not shy when it comes to this much sought after element. As it’s main function in carrying oxygen from our lungs to throughout the body, it’s essential to your every breath! In fact, turmeric takes 4th place for highest in iron content just behind thyme, cumin seed and celery seed. When we consume turmeric, however, we typically use it in a smaller dose as a seasoning. For example, this herbs contains a little more than 2.0 milligrams of iron for every 1 Tbsp of turmeric which is approximately 11% of the daily recommended intake (18 milligrams for women 18-50).
Curcumin is the main curcuminoid within turmeric and behind the life of its bright color. If there are any questions as to how Indian curry gets its golden yellow, look no further. Visually pleasing indeed, but we prefer its supernatural powers. Curcumin is well known as an effective antioxidant that provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Antioxidants provide a plethora of benefits to our bodies, especially when they fight off free radicals. This mighty miracle worker fights hard to protect against damaged cells, DNA, and ultimately preventing serious health issues.
Over the course of over thirty years until now (and a few dozen that have made it to clinical trials), according to The National Cancer Institute, curcumin is the most promising when it comes to chemoprevention or cancer-prevention. From preventing DNA mutations to interrupting tumor growth, curcumin is a threat for potential cancers.
Curcumin vs Iron Debate
Curcumin and iron are two key components of the whole food turmeric. However, the commonly and highly sought after curcumin extract has been studied to show potential iron-depleting side effects when taken over long periods of time. Here is our take on the topic: our bodies are natural extractors of nutrients when they are functioning properly. Looking for dietary supplementation in whole food form always ensures the most biological complement to how we are designed. Higher dosages, whether it be pharmaceuticals or extracts and supplements, will often cause an imbalance or side effects that should be understood before taking them over an extended period. Therefore, while curcumin as an extract may cause iron deficiency in some people (as seen in this study), there is no evidence to say turmeric as a whole food will have the same effect. Additionally, there have been small studies done that keep turmeric’s track record clear.
Manganese is an extremely important mineral to our overall health, but it is commonly over-looked. Researchers since the 1930’s have added manganese to the list of essential nutrients your body needs to survive, so it’s always been on our list as well. For starters, it’s required for the production of collagen, which is crucial for the protection for our skin against UV rays. Even more, it contains antioxidant strengths for skin cells and overall epidermis health. Manganese is also a leader when it comes to regulating blood sugar levels. Manganese has also been involved with studies (read more here) on its relevance to neuroprotective agents for certain treatments involving damage from traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy and stroke.
There are several ways to incorporate turmeric into our diets for its nutritional power. Below are a few of the many favorites to keep us warm as winter approaches and to keep us craving more!
THAI YELLOW CURRY
PREP/COOK TIME: 35 minutes
- 1 tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 4 tbsp yellow curry paste
- 2 15-ounce cans of coconut milk
- 3 cups water
- 4 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/8" rounds
- 4 medium-size potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 yellow onion, sliced into wedges, then halved
- 2 chicken breasts, very thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 tsp fish sauce
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- cilantro, for garnish (if desired)
- serve with jasmine rice (if desired)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and boil potatoes until fork-tender. Drain and set aside.
Then, in a large pot, heat up coconut oil.
Add curry paste to oil, and stir for a few minutes.
Add in coconut milk and water, and stir. Bring to a boil.
Add in carrots and onions.
Once carrots are almost fork-tender, add in very thinly sliced chicken and cook for two or three minutes. Then remove from heat.
Add in potatoes.
Stir in fish sauce, salt, and sugar.
If desired, serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.
To get turmerics full effect, Chef Kate added some black pepper to the mix. Enjoy!
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY TURMERIC TEA
This warm delight by Mickey Trescott will keep you refreshed throughout the day, and also be a warm treat to keep the chills down to a minimum as winter fast approaches. Cozy up with your winter socks in front of a movie and relax as the sun goes down with this nutritious glass of herbal tea.
PREP/COOK TIME: 20 minutes
-32oz boiling water
-½ tbsp turmeric powder
-½ tbsp fresh ginger, thinly sliced
-1 handful cilantro, chopped
-1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
-1 tbsp olive oil
-2 lemons, juiced
-5 peppercorns (whole)
-1 orange, juiced (or substitute 1 ½ tbsp honey)
- Put water on the stove to boil for about 5 minutes or so
- Combine all ingredients in a strainer or teapot
- Pour boiling water into pot and steep for 10 minutes
- Strain and enjoy!
A quick caution with using powdered turmeric -- it easily stains pretty much everything, so use with caution and be careful when pouring your tea!
Any special secrets with turmeric? Add them below and share them with the tribe!