Turmeric: What you need to know

Google “turmeric” and hundreds of results pop up touting its health and beauty benefits, but what exactly is it and can it really improve your health? We asked Courtney Cary, senior registered dietitian with the Department of Medicine-Gastroenterology and Hepatology, about the spice and ways to incorporate it into your routine.

A container and spoon of tumeric.Question: What is turmeric? What are its health benefits?

Answer: Turmeric is a bright orange spice from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It’s the active ingredient, curcumin, that gives the spice its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. I see it a lot in the gastroenterology clinic as some of our providers recommend it for inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis. It is not meant to be used in place of medicine, but research shows that turmeric can help increase the longevity of the remission period for IBD patients. Some literature shows turmeric improving memory in non-Alzheimer’s patients, reducing arthritis pain and lowering cholesterol levels. All in all, there’s some pretty promising research out there about turmeric.

Q: Is this something we should be including in our daily routines?

A: As far as supplements go, definitely ask your doctor and/or your dietitian before you start taking them. There are some conditions where it is not recommended, like liver disease, and it also might interact with some medications. In the general population, a low dose is not a bad idea. If all else fails, you can safely use it in your diet. It’s tasty, it’s earthy, it has that very vibrant orange color.

Q: How much turmeric should someone take to see the benefits? Do you have any recommendations on an easy way to add turmeric to your daily diet?

A: The upper limit of the curcumin in the literature is 8 grams a day, which is a lot. I would recommend fitting it into three meals a day. There are a lot of great ways to add it in. I put it in my scrambled eggs, and it gives them that umami flavor. I put it in a lot in soups or in rice to give it that yellow color. You could also find recipes for golden milk to use in a latte.

Q: Is there anything else you want people to know about turmeric?

A: I want people to know that turmeric isn’t a “fix-it-all” cure. If you have a balanced diet and you can safely add to turmeric in, you could see some added benefits, but if you have a poor diet and add a turmeric pill, nothing is going to change. In doing research, I found studies that showed that when turmeric is combined with black pepper’s active ingredient, piperine, it increases absorption by 2,000%. So, if you’re putting turmeric in your eggs, make sure to add some black pepper too!

-By Anna Kiappes

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