In 2010, scientists examining ancient pottery from the site of an ancient civilisation near Delhi found traces of eggplant with ginger and turmeric in clay pots. They dubbed it the world’s first curry. So, Ayurvedic medical practitioners have used the vibrant yellow spice, currently starring in teas, smoothies and dinner dishes in café and homes near you, for four thousand years or more. So what did the ancient food doctors in India know about turmeric that we’re only just learning? And can this flavour and colour boost also come with health benefits?
Botanist Dr James A. Duke, writing in Alternative & Complementary Therapies, has reviewed around 700 studies examining the benefits of turmeric (curcuma longa). He found that in some studies, turmeric has been show to be even more effective than a number of pharmaceutical where it comes to anti-inflammatory action – and with virtually no adverse effects.
Here’s where ancient wisdom and modern knowledge combine and just a few fast facts about this surprisingly beneficial spice …
Turmeric contains over 20 active medicinal compounds called curcumunoids; the most important of these is curcumin and this may have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties according to Harvard University[i].
The plant compound in pepper (which gives pepper its bite) is called piperine and this boosts your body’s ability to absorb turmeric by 2000 times[ii].
Because curcumin is fat-soluble, it needs fat to dissolve in before it can be absorbed. Could be one reason why many curries begin with the frying of onions and garlic in oil? Try using olive oil – it contains a unique range of beneficial phenolic compounds that aren’t found in any other food.
Turmeric may have a role to play in the prevention of dementia. It does this by reducing the formation of a substance called beta-amyloid (responsible for the formation of plaques that obstruct brain) in Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin fights oxidative damage and inflammation which both contribute to dementia. This may be especially important since curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier – i.e. it can pass from the blood into the brain helping to keep blood vessels clear and in this way, allow for oxygen and nutrients in blood to nourish the brain.
Turmeric contains six different COX-2-inhibitors. COX-2 enzymes promote pain, swelling and inflammation but COX-2-inhibitors selectively block this enzyme. Because of this, it may be able to play a role in keeping blood vessels clear. In one study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug[iii].
Powdered turmeric root contains around three per cent curcumin[iv]. Many of the newer studies examine the effect of 1gram of curcumin extract so you may want to consider a supplement as well as upping your intake from dishes that contain turmeric.
Turmeric may have a role in fighting depression, again due to its potent anti-inflammatory action. In one small study of 60 people, one group took a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI), called Prozac (fluoxetine), another took a 1g dose of curcumin daily while a third group took both the SSRI and 1g curcumin. After six weeks, the results showed that the group that took both curcumin and fluoxetine displayed the best results where it came to mood and depression[v]. The severity of depression was assessed using a common test for depression called the Hamilton Rating Scale (HAM-D). This evaluates mood, guilt, suicidal ideation, sleep problems, agitation anxiety, and more. Results showed that overall, the average change in the HAM-D scores was similar for curcumin and fluoxetine i.e. curcumin worked as well as fluoxetine in terms of improvements in the severity of depression. One of the ways in which curcumin may exert its effect is by boosting the feel-good brain transmitters serotonin and dopamine[vi].
Raw turmeric may have greater anti-inflammatory effects than cooked turmeric.
Cooked turmeric may have greater antioxidant effects than raw.
Ready to give it a go? The University of Maryland recommends a dose of 1.5 to 3 g cut root per day, 1-3 g dried turmeric or 400 to 600 mg standardised powder (curcumin) three times per day[vii].
Buy fresh turmeric from groceries and dried ginger from grocers and supermarkets.
[iii] A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):1719-25. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639. Epub 2012 Mar 9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22407780
You only need a little of this fruity, jammy spread to introduce an intense, delicious raspberry flavour. The chia seeds in this recipe swell up and absorb fluid providing a jelly-like consistency so you don’t need the traditional gelling agent, pectin. Oh, and chia seeds also provide essential omega-3 fats. So go on – try some on your toast, bagel, bun, bap …
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds
Place all of the ingredient into a blender and blitz until smooth-ish. You may need to add some extra water to help it combine.
Spoon into a pan and heat until the mixture bubble, reduct the heat and stir until thickens – this should take around five minutes.
Allow to cool before pouring into a sterilised jar.
Store in the fridge.
This jammy spread will last for around a week – unless the family doesn’t grab it all first!
All greens are full of stress-fighting vitamin C – it does battle with your body’s level of cortisol (a major stress hormone) Cortisol boosts your belly fat and is also linked with poor memory anxiety and even depression. Cortisol also dampens your immune system. So, for all these reasons, it’s important to get enough vitamin C.
You already know that veggies and fruits are vitamin C rich, but did you know that when they are spouting, tiny plants are super rich in this antioxidant vitamin? Baby versions of beetroot, cabbage and coriander aren’t just a pretty garnish – they can contain up to four to six times the vitamin C as their more mature relatives!
Think it’s just a fad? Think again! The ancient Chinese knew about the vitamin C wonders of sprouting veggies – while the British used limes and other citrus to ward off scurvy, sailors from the orient sprouted seeds and munched on the young plants to avoid the vitamin C deficiency disease, scurvy.
Grow your micro greens
Decide on your seeds – choose from:
Chia or more.
Place some organic potting soil in the bottom of a shallow planter and smooth the top.
To speed the germinating process, try soaking in water before sowing. This will make it more difficult to sow evening but don’t worry about overcrowding (you’ll sow more than you would when growing seeds to fruiting plants outside).
Cover with a thin layer of soil and spray with water or gently water them.
Place on a sunny windowsill and water at least once a day to make sure the water doesn’t dry out.
Snip with scissors above the soil level, rinse in a sieve with cold, running water.
Enjoy with salads and sandwiches to get the most out of the vitamin C. or garnish casseroles and curries – the heat will destroy the vitamin C, though.
Cauliflower is part of the brassica family of veggies – think broccoli and cabbage. And like its family members, cauliflowers are rich in protective plant pigments and a potent anti-cancer compound called sulphurophane. This soup is super easy and tasty. Add more potatoes for a thicker soup and if you want to use it as a way to take the edge off your appetite, try it before lunch or dinner or as a healthy snack.
1 brown onion, chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 litre really good vegetable stock
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
White pepper and cracked black pepper
Handful of chives, snipped
Place onion and potatoes and hot vegetable stock into a pan over medium heat. Cook for around 10 minutes.
Add the cauliflower, cover and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes or until the cauliflower and potato are tender.
Using a stick blender, whizz the soup until smooth.
Season with pepper and add salt if necessary.
Ladle soup into serving bowls and sprinkle with chives.