The A-Z of Indian Superfoods: Haldi
Modern research shows that haldi, or turmeric, has amazing benefits for your body and mind. But did you know that it is poorly absorbed by your body, thus not giving you its full benefits? We tell you all about turmeric and how to increase its bioavailability.
From being added to curries for flavour and colour, to being added in natural skincare or being used to make herbal salves for burns, none of us are new to the various uses of haldi, or turmeric. This common Indian household spice comes from the root of Curcuma Longa, a rhizome belonging to the ginger family. Known as the “golden spice”, it has been used for at least 6000 years in Indian ayurvedic medicine and religious practices, apart from its common use in Indian cuisine. Around the world, turmeric also finds use in Japanese teas, Thai cosmetics, Korean drinks, Malaysian antiseptic remedies, and American condiments such as mustard and cheese dips.
Turmeric is composed of compounds known as curcuminoids, and of these, curcumin is the most biologically active. Curcumin has been extensively studied for its health benefits, and its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent a lot of serious conditions and diseases. However, curcumin has low bioavailability, which means it gets rapidly metabolised and eliminated before it can be absorbed by the body. An easy solution to make sure that you are getting the full benefit of curcumin is by consuming it with pepper, which contains the substance piperine, that increases its bioavailability by 2000%. Curcumin is also fat-soluble, which means cooking it in oil or ghee can improve its absorption. Also, pure turmeric powder contains about 3.14% by weight of curcumin, which can only give the benefits of the compound through long term consumption.
Benefits of Curcumin in Turmeric:
1. It increases the antioxidant properties of your body.
Antioxidants are beneficial for your body because they neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules present in your body, which if unregulated, cause a condition called oxidative stress, which in turn can lead to a number of diseases like diabetes, arthritis and asthma. External antioxidants help to prevent oxidative stress, and curcumin has great antioxidant properties.
2. It is a natural anti-inflammatory compound.
Arthritis, a chronic joint condition, is caused both by an inflammation of joints and systemic inflammation, which is why curcumin is found beneficial for its treatment and prevention. In a study conducted on 40 subjects in the USA with moderate knee arthritis, curcumin was found to both reduce pain and improve physical function. In a study conducted on rheumatoid arthritis patients in Kerala, curcumin showed even better results than an anti-inflammatory drug.
3. It has anti-arthritic benefits.
4. It reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is the name given to a cluster of conditions that include high blood pressure, increased blood sugar, abnormal triglyceride levels and raised cholesterol levels. All of these collectively contribute to your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or stroke. Curcumin reduces several aspects of MetS by reducing blood pressure and oxidative stress, as well as improving insulin sensitivity. It also has a significant effect on increased triglyceride and cholesterol.
5. It protects your brain.
Brain-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and epilepsy are caused by inflammation of the brain. Curcumin has neuroprotective abilities, not only because of its anti-inflammatory property, but also because it can prevent the buildup of protein tangles in your brain that cause these diseases. Apart from this, curcumin has anti-depressive benefits, and increases the production of serotonin and dopamine, your happiness neurotransmitters.
6. It may help prevent cancer.
Cancer is characterised by uncontrolled cell growth. In a study conducted by the National Research Council of Italy, it was found that curcumin can help prevent the cancerous growth of cells in the digestive system, as well as contribute to the death of such cells.
7. It protects your liver.
Curcumin has been extensively studied for its ability to prevent liver disorders, and has shown great promise in being used to prevent oxidative stress-related liver diseases.
Other Benefits of Turmeric
- Lipopolysaccharide, another compound present in turmeric, has anti-bacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, which can improve your immunity.
- Turmeric can help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness.
- Essential oils extracted from turmeric can help dry acne and reduce acne spots, as well as soften cracked heels.
Ways to Add Turmeric to Your Daily Diet
Toss it in a salad: Liven up your bowl of green leafy salad or potato salad by adding very thinly sliced fresh turmeric. Add some freshly ground pepper to improve its absorption.
- Make turmeric dressing: Add 1 inch of peeled fresh turmeric to 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 clove of garlic, ½ tsp pepper, 1 tsp of honey and 2 tbsp of yoghurt to make a turmeric dressing that you can drizzle over roasted vegetables.
- Turmeric Cauliflower Steak: Add 1 inch of grated fresh turmeric, 1 inch of freshly grated ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp of oil, 1 chopped chilli, a pinch of salt and pepper, and some dried herbs to marinate a whole cauliflower. Bake in an oven at 200°C for 25 minutes.
- Golden Milk: Make the traditional haldi doodh, or golden milk, by stewing milk with turmeric powder. Add some sweetener like honey, and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to make it tastier.
What to watch out for
- Turmeric is usually tolerated very well by most people, and it does not have any serious side effects due to its poor bioavailability. There have been some reports of stomach ache, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting on consuming more than 8g of turmeric.
- However, in people with a history of kidney stones, consumption of turmeric can increase urinary oxalate levels, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones.
- Allergic contact dermatitis, which causes skin rashes, can happen because of turmeric.
- Commercially available cheap turmeric powders often contain harmful additives that you need to watch out for.
The above information has been verified by Dr Lakshmi K, Ph.D Food Science and Nutrition, University of Georgia (USA), Head Nutritionist, URlife.