It was called an anti-aging smoothie and it caught my attention. In one cup of coconut milk add half a cup of pineapple, a banana, a teaspoon of turmeric and a table-spoon of coconut oil. Blend it all together and drink. It’s yummy. That was years ago and it was m first introduction to turmeric.

Turmeric may sound foreign but the spice is neatly tucked in between the dried tomato flakes and the Brewer’s yeast in any bulk food store. It’s a vibrant orange coloured powder and the worlds’ most powerful spice.

Turmeric was the hottest functional food in 2016 and is showing signs of becoming even more popular this year. Just take a look at the long list of health claims that many authorities on the internet claim this orange fairy dust can be used for: an anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, and anti-coagulant; it helps in chemotherapy treatment, fatigue and recovery; used in therapy for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; an affective pain killer, diabetes drug, arthritis medication and some claim it even goes head to head with Lipitor as a cholesterol drug (draxe.com/turmeric).

 

Turmeric is commonly used for heartburn, headaches, bronchitis, joint pain, stomach pain, diarrhea, colds, lung infections, fever, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, liver problems, urinary bladder inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, gall-bladder disorders and the list just seems to go on and on. I also found a study from India that claimed curcumin supplementation treatment was as effective as Prozac at treating symptoms of depression.

This common culinary ingredient found mostly in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, is also used in traditional Indian medicine, Siddha. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, a yellow-coloured compound with active medicinal properties that modern science has started to research and conrm what the Indians have known for a very long time. Turmeric is natural and has the potential to become a very powerful ingredient in our overall health and well-being. So how does it work? Ontario licensed naturopathic doctor, Stephen Tripodi, ND, of Optimal Wellness Niagara (OWN, optimalwellnessniagara.com) agrees, “curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and also the active ingredient used in anti-inflammatory treatments.

Anything that relieves inflammation has the potential to improve a long list of health complaints from indigestion and aging to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular conditions.” However Dr. Tripodi further explains curcumin is not readily absorbable on its own. You need to add a, “little bit of black pepper, fat like coconut milk or bromelain, an enzyme from the core of a pineapple.” Wow, all of a sudden my innocent little anti-aging turmeric smoothie is beginning to make a lot of sense. “Those additions strongly improve the absorption of curcumin into your blood. Without these, most of the curcumin just passes through your digestive tract unabsorbed, and ultimately eliminated.” Other experts on the matter agree with Dr. Tripodi. Some have gone so far as to state that these three substances (black pepper, fat of some sort and bromelain enzyme) increases curcumin’s absorption by 2000%. That’s a huge difference!

The other interesting fact is that the curcumin content in turmeric is not that high, around 3%. That explains why most of the studies I found used turmeric extract containing mostly curcumin to increase the effectiveness and outcomes. Ha, that means it would be very difficult to reach any significant results just by eating Indian curry once a week or sipping on a delicious turmeric smoothie every day.

 

But Dr. Tripodi explains, “if you are beginning to experience arthritis in your fingers, not disabling arthritis, but mild, then adding turmeric to your diet in a strategic way (to improve the absorption) would probably influence the arthritis in a very positive way. But if you have debilitating arthritis, or a much more serious or severe condition, then turmeric used in the same way would probably not make a significant anti-inflammatory impact. In this case, I recommend complementing the curcumin with other strategies as part of an comprehensive treatment plan to achieve positive results.”

Overall Dr. Tripodi says, “my patients now more than ever before are taking a greater interest in understanding different ways the food they eat impacts their bodies.” Personally, I think it’s part of this growing sector of health science that promotes functional foods. While there may be some benefit to this new area of science, the downfall is the way some foods are marketed positively while others are demonized. We’ve all seen messages that promote broccoli as a lifesaver while butter will kill you.

“Everything in moderation and considerate of an overall healthy plan”, advises Tripodi. Dr. Stephen Tripodi’s practice is and has always been the natural, nutritional approach to wellness and he works with his patients on how to best achieve their goals with nutrition and natural supplementation programs. “I believe functional foods are most beneficial when they are a small part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle rather than taking them in large quantities.”

It appears to be all good news for turmeric and the best part is that you probably have turmeric languishing in your spice rack right now, so dust it off! Turmeric is part of the ginger family and grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. Centuries ago in Europe it was referred to as Indian saffron or the poor mans saffron because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice. It’s the main spice in curry (favour and colour) as well as a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. It’s even used to colour other foods like mustards and cheeses.

You can start to include turmeric in your diet by sprinkling it over your morning scrambled eggs, the colour and mild flavour turn an ordinary pot of rice into a more delightful pilaf, a bowl of creamy vegetable or chunky soup feels even more warming with turmeric and it’s turmeric’s warmth that make it such a delicious choice over roasted root vegetables.I’ve heard that many people really like turmeric tea that is turmeric simmered in milk and honey. Well, what’s not to like? I think I’d add ginger or cinnamon for more interest, but because turmeric is most popular in hot drinks, I predict we’ll be seeing turmeric lattes at coffee shops in Niagara soon.

After all, turmeric lattes are already popular coffee shop drinks in the big cities like New York City and Los Angeles already. Until then, I’ll continue to sip on my anti-aging turmeric smoothie with my new found knowledge of its incredible benefits.

 

TURMERIC SMOOTHIE

1 cup (250 mL) coconut milk

½ cup (125 mL) diced pineapple

1 banana

1 teaspoon (5 mL) turmeric

1 tablespoon (15 mL) coconut oil

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy.

 

TURMERIC BROTH

4 cups (1 L) Bone Broth

1 teaspoon (5 mL) turmeric powder

1 ½-inch piece ginger root, minced

(optional) salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Simmer the mixture in a saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes.

Blend with an immersion blender and enjoy warm on a cold winters day.

 

BY LYNN OGRYZLO