Want to know if those turmeric lattes are really helping your health? We asked an expert to explain the benefits of the spice.
Turmeric really had its moment a few years ago, when you couldn’t move for lattes, snack bars and supplements on the shelves loaded with it. Since then, it’s not just the wellness world that has been enjoying the spice, but the news of its health benefits have gone mainstream, with ours grandparents taking turmeric tablets and even Pret getting in on the action.
However, while it may feel new to us, turmeric is actually spice which has been used in traditional and ancient cultures for centuries, in both cooking and healing practices. It’s known as a super food, with a huge range of benefits, but it has only recently been studied as a medicinal supplement in the West. So does it really work? We asked Toral Shah, a nutritional and functional medicine practitioner, to explain all about the spice.
What are the benefits of turmeric?
The main reason that turmeric has been hailed as a natural hero in recent years is because it has anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation in the body can lead to all sorts of short-term and long-term conditions, illnesses and diseases, including cancers and diabetes.
“Our modern lives are geared towards inflammation,” says Toral, as inflammation can often be caused by our diets, smoking, excess alcohol and stress. “I think that these anti-inflammatory properties are why the rest of the world has got interested in it recently.”
And it’s not in vain: a 2012 study from the International Immunopharmacology journal shows that turmeric can reduce inflammation in the body by blocking some of the signalling molecules that are involved in inflammatory response. For that reason, turmeric is often associated with helping conditions such as:
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
There are other claimed benefits of the spice too, including having skin healing properties and potentially having anti-viral and anti-fungal compounds, but turmeric is still in the process of being studied. “There are so many different applications but at the moment it’s not being used as medicine because the testing and application just isn’t quite there yet,” says Toral, so if you suffer from any health conditions it’s always best to check with your doctor first.
Why is turmeric so good for us?
Turmeric contains curcumin, an active ingredient in the spice and a potent polyphenol – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
But even though the medicinal properties of curcumin have been proven, it’s not just about eating turmeric. “It’s about eating a diet that includes different fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, herbs, spices, nuts and oils. Eating these things in combination gives us these health benefits. More diversity in our diet supports our body to work optimally,” says Toral.
How much turmeric should you eat?
So, how can we add turmeric into a varied diet to really reap the benefits? “What people don’t realise is the sheer volume of turmeric you need to be eating to get those medicinal like qualities,” says Toral. “To get around 600 milligrams of curcumin, you have to eat 1.6 or 1.7 kilos of turmeric.”
The other thing that people don’t realise is that it’s fat-soluble, so it needs to be taken with foods that contain fat in order to be absorbed properly. That is why it is traditionally served as a drink with whole milk or in curries made with coconut milk or ghee. “An almond milk turmeric latte will do nothing for you,” says Toral. “Nor will taking a supplement with water.”
We also need to take turmeric with black pepper because piperine, the active ingredient, helps the body absorb curcumin and make it bioavailable.
However, none of this is to say that you need to swap out your dinners for turmeric, fat and pepper loaded dishes. Toral believes that including it in an already varied diet in moderation is enough to support your health.
And true health is about affecting long term change: “I have grown up eating turmeric in a range of delicious dishes and it’s these small, sustained doses of spices that helps to support a healthy body. However, if there’s a particular reason that you need to reduce inflammation in your body, supplementing curcumin could be a good idea,” she says.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).