What Can Turmeric Do for You?
Average reading time: 3 minutes
You’ve probably heard about turmeric as a superfood or supplement, but is it worth making a conscious effort to add it to your thyroid-friendly diet? Let’s take a closer look.
What Can Turmeric Do for Your Health?
If olive oil is the Liquid Gold of the Mediterranean, turmeric is the Solid Gold of India. Turmeric is also known as Indian Saffron because of its strong yellow color, which infuses any dish you add it to. It’s added to most Indian curries for both color and flavor. It’s also used in many Moroccan and Thai dishes. Sometimes it’s used as a natural additive to things like mustard, cheese, and butter to make them more yellow. I add a pinch or two to my chicken stock to give it a touch of color.
The benefits of turmeric have been well known for millennia. Some say it’s like culinary ibuprofen in terms of what it can do for inflammation. It’s also recommended for heart and gastrointestinal health, as well as cancer prevention. It may even reduce the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s, and the arterial plaque (clogged arteries) associated with atherosclerosis (heart disease). The vibrantly colored spice is commonly used in Chinese medicine to treat dozens of ailments—from liver issues to respiratory issues, skin problems, wound healing, muscle and joint pain. It has anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. It lowers blood sugar and helps with diabetes. It may even help lower cholesterol.
The list is long, and though the spotlight that’s been put on this spice is not misplaced, it’s important to keep our expectations realistic. The internet has a way of uh, over-inflating certain claims. Many of the studies done on turmeric have not been of the gold-standard, double-blind, placebo-controlled variety, so before we dive in, let’s just add a grain of salt to the pot along with the turmeric on this one.
The bioactive component of turmeric, responsible for that long list of potential health benefits, is curcumin, a term sometimes used interchangeably in reference to turmeric and turmeric supplements. Curcumin is truly amazing stuff. And powerful. In studies it often outperforms pharmaceuticals.
Is Turmeric Beneficial for Thyroid Patients?
According to experts like Dr. Izabella Wentz, turmeric addresses some of the most common issues associated with thyroid disease and autoimmune thyroid conditions. For example::
- It can help protect and heal the intestinal barrier (leaky gut).
- It can reduce inflammation throughout the body, in joints, muscle tissue, and even from GI conditions like Crohn’s, IBS, and ulcerative colitis.
- Studies have shown it to be as effective as Prozac in treating depression, without the dangerous side-effects.
- Turmeric can help decrease brain fog by improving oxygen intake to the brain, helping it heal, reducing the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and improving memory.
- Turmeric may help reduce high cholesterol (though there is some debate on this).
- It can reduce heavy metal toxicity in the body and help it recover from the effects of heavy metals. In fact, Dr. Wentz used it to heal herself from arsenic poisoning.
So, the answer to our primary question is a resounding YES: Turmeric is worthy of a place on your thyroid-friendly menu.
3 Ways to Add More Turmeric to Your Life
- Supplementation: People take turmeric extract or curcumin in capsule form and it is in many cases considered safe. However, it can have some uncomfortable side effects and drug interactions, including risks for pregnant or nursing women. Consult with your trusted physician before taking a turmeric supplement.
- Drinking: You can drink turmeric in the form of an ancient Ayurvedic beverage called Golden Milk Tea. This is a middle-of-the-road way to achieve a substantial intake of the stuff without either taking a capsule or eating more curry. Check out this 5-minute recipe.
- Cooking: This is my favorite way to obtain the healing powers of turmeric. (More recipe ideas and info below.) Because of its strong, pungent flavor, it’s used in small doses in cooking, which begs the next question:
Is Cooking with Turmeric Enough?
If you’re wondering whether adding those small, culinary “doses” of turmeric to your diet is enough to make a difference, here’s some food for thought:
A medical study entitled “The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease” compared the rate of Alzheimer’s in curry-loving India versus the United States. Among adults age 70-79, India’s rate of Alzheimer’s is 4.4 times lower! It went on to say that test subjects who ate curry on an occasional (less than 1x/month) or frequent (more than 1x/month) basis, performed better on cognitive function tests than those who ate curry rarely or never.
Bottom Line: Yes, cooking with turmeric, even once a month may have benefits to your health.
But How Much Turmeric is in Curry Powder?
That depends. Turmeric is often the primary ingredient in curry powder, which is a blend of spices that can contain twenty ingredients or more. In creating a curry powder, the turmeric serves as a base layer upon which to build all the other flavors in the curry. Its profile is bittersweet and fruity with a subtle heat.
There are endless variations on curry powder recipes, and some of them contain more turmeric than others. One way to make sure you are getting plenty of turmeric from your curry powder, as well as a much more vibrant flavor, is by making your own.
In this recipe for Curry Powder from Alton Brown, turmeric comprises nearly half of the spice blend. Other ingredients include cumin, cardamom, coriander, dry mustard, and cayenne. I would also add black pepper, which increases the length of time curcumin remains in the body (i.e. its bioavailability).
You can also use store-bought blends in your cooking and simply add a little extra turmeric and pepper to the dish.
How Can I Get the Most Benefit from Cooking with Turmeric?
One thing to keep in mind is that the bioavailability—or absorbability—of the spice to our bodies is somewhat low. It flushes right through our systems. To help your body absorb and retain more beneficial curcumin from turmeric, there are a few things you can do when cooking with it to increase the benefits:
- Add healthy fat (ghee, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, etc.). Curcumin is fat soluble.
- Add black pepper. The piperine found in pepper can increase the bioavailability of curcumin in humans by up to 2000%.
- Add heat. In other words, cook with it to increase solubility.
Fresh vs. Dried Turmeric
In terms of flavor, the difference between fresh and dried turmeric is similar to the difference between fresh and dried ginger. Fresh turmeric root has a much brighter, and more forward flavor. Dried turmeric is muted but still manages to infuse flavor when cooked with moisture of any kind. Dried is also more convenient, and easier to find and store than fresh turmeric root.
The Kitchn recommends this rule of thumb for equivalents:
“1 inch fresh turmeric = 1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric = 1 teaspoon ground turmeric”
If you have access to both, you can experiment and decide which type of turmeric is best for which application. if you can find fresh turmeric, it’s definitely worth a try.
Turmeric Recipe Ideas
So who’s ready to do some turmeric-infused cookery? Here are a few recipe ideas from Thyroid Refresh®:
Salmon, Sweet Potato and Watercress Salad with Turmeric Cream
AIP Lamb Hash with Carrot and Celery Root
Chicken Bone Broth (aka Stock)
I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these recipes best fits your bio-individual needs. Hope this has inspired you to try cooking with more turmeric and to believe in the healing potential of what we choose to eat. Happy healing and bon appetit!