Turmeric is one of the top 5 “eat2run superfoods” in which I’ve long promoted for it’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and circulatory benefits. Of the few foods I really try to ensure I include in my habits on a daily basis, turmeric spice is definitely one of them. However a few months ago I noticed I wasn’t really doing a great job of that… So stepped up my efforts – and am pleased with the results thus far!
As a result, today I’d like to share with you 6 reasons why you probably want to be eating more turmeric, and 5 easy ways to do just that.
By way of interest, turmeric has been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine for treating many, many ailments. However I’m not coming to you with claims on turmerics healing powers based on tradition and anecdotal reports – curcumin, the most potent component found within turmeric, has in fact been studied extensively. To see for yourself check this out: a search of pubmed will give you over 8,700 peer-reviewed articles on curcumin!
Note that while curcumin is the most widely studied component in turmeric, this spice actually contains over 2 dozen anti-inflammatory components, so although many of the studies I reference pertain to curcumin, turmeric as a whole is worth using for more than just the curcumin it contains.
Reasons to Eat More Turmeric
1. Recover faster from hard, tough workouts
When we workout, we create inflammation in our bodies due the small amounts of muscle damage experienced (required in order to become stronger). Basically, the longer and/or harder we run or workout, the more inflammation our bodies experience. Inflammation helps our bodies to heal – it’s necessary in fact. However, problems such as slow recovery or simply failing to heal occur when chronic levels of inflammation are too high – which can happen when we experience stress (and thereby inflammation) from not only hard/long workouts, but also life stresses (anything from feeling frazzled or not having enough time to handling hard unhappy life-changing situations), lack of sleep or nutritional stress (eating to many sugary, processed foods full of processed oils; too much caffeine, or too much alcohol). When levels of stress are high, you can bet inflammation also is, therefore anything we can do nutritionally will help bring it down, and thereby help us recover better and faster.
Turmeric can help to manage inflammation by bringing it down to levels where healing and recovery can occur fast. The curcumin in turmeric actually modulates the inflammatory response by down-regulating the activity of COX-2, lipoxygenase and iNOS enzymes, among other anti-inflammatory actions as outlined in this 2009 review of the anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin. For these reasons, it can also act in high doses (curatively) as an agent to help heal from an injury faster.
However, not only can turmeric modulate inflammation, it also contains strong antioxidant properties, as outlined in this 2013 review of curcumin that actually reduces the free radical damage our bodies sustain during exercise in the first place by enhancing cellular resistance to oxidative damage. This is great news, as it means if we are consuming turmeric regularly, we should complete each run with less overall damage (and thereby less resulting inflammation) than if we were skipping out on the turmeric.
2. Protect against and assist in healing from inflammatory diseases
As detailed in this review on the therapeutic roles of curcumin, this extract of turmeric has been found to have promising effects in patients with various diseases including:
- Heart disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel disease
- Peptic and gastric ulcers
And many more. It’s worth looking into if you are worried about or have been touched by a pro-inflammatory condition.
3. Protect against and assists in healing from degenerative neurological diseases
As this 2013 pubmed article on curcumin and neurodegenerative diseases outlines, there is enough evidence to suggest that curcumin could be of help in the treatment of several neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease – enough so to significantly improve health span. Whereas many medications for these diseases have undesirable side-effects, curcumin has shown to be a promising treatment with no ill side effects. It is limited by it poor bioavailability, however that is being increasingly overcome by companies devising optimized formulas for optimal absorption.
4. Useful in various digestive system ailments such as indigestion, bloating and gas
As this pubmed article points out, turmeric acts as a digestive stimulant. It’s also been shown to stimulate the gallbladder to produce more bile, which aids in digestion. One study showed less bloating and gas with regular use. If supplementing with turmeric to aid in digestion, it’s best to have it before meals.
5. Boost Mood
Turmeric has been shown in a number of studies to have antidepressant benefits – in fact the curcumin contained in turmeric has been shown to have influence on neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. The curcumin contained in turmeric is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and once there act to protect serotonin and dopamine in the brain – it prevents the degradation of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. On a more serious level, as this 2015 double blind study provides partial support for, the supplementation of curcumin has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in people with major depressive disorder.
6. Protection and treatment of skin conditions
Curcumin as been shown to protect skin by combatting free radicals as well as reducing inflammation, however as outlined by this 2007 study, it also reduced wound-healing time and is a nontoxic agent for treating skin diseases. It can be used orally or topically to deliver its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory healing powers to affected skin tissue, as pointed out in this 2013 dermatological review of curcumin.
Those are only six reasons – in fact there are many more, including oral health and boosting the immune system, that turmeric can be of use for. So really the question becomes, how do you ensure you’re getting enough of it daily?
How to Incorporate Turmeric into your Daily Nutritional Habits
It’s important to note when it comes to dosing, curcumin is safe in doses up to 12 g. Being that curcumin is only a small part of turmeric, about 1 tsp turmeric equals 4 g of curcumin. That said, you don’t need a full teaspoon daily though to get positive benefits – just ¼ teaspoon of turmeric consumed daily is enough for a preventative effect – that is, to build a stronger body more resilient to injury. Whereas you’d need 1 to 2½ tsp daily as a therapeutic or curative dosage – for example, to recover from an injury faster.
Additionally, turmeric isn’t absorbed very well by the body – so it’s best where possible to serve with fresh ground pepper (the piperine in black pepper increases absorption by 2000%) and with a fat such as coconut or olive oil, nuts, seeds or avocado (which also helps increase absorption).
Now here’s some ideas on how to actually ingest your turmeric!
1. Mix turmeric into your breakfast. Now, if you’re eating oatmeal I don’t expect you’ll be tossing turmeric on there instead of cinnamon (but, hey, you could certainly give it a go!!). However there are a number of ways to easily incorporate turmeric into various breakfasts.
- turmeric goes very well in any egg or tofu scrambles or dishes (such as these Savoury Zucchini Pancakes)
- it’s easy to hide a ¼ tsp or less in any dark or orange coloured smoothie smoothie, such as this Pumpkin Spice Smoothie
- make devilled eggs using plenty of turmeric in the yolk mix
- have a ginger turmeric tea with breakfast (as outlined in this recipe here)
2. Add turmeric into your snack. Add it to popcorn (along with nutritional yeast for the cheesy flavour – YUM!), or to kale chips, or slip a teaspoon or two into Pumpkin Muffins! Add fresh turmeric into your Green Smoothie along with ginger. Or try these Curried Cashews.
3. Cook or add turmeric into your lunches and dinners. Turmeric goes well in practically every savoury dish – it’s not just for curries!! You might start by sprinkling it on virtually any dish like you do salt and pepper. Or add 1-2 tsp into any savoury dish (soup, stew, stir-fry, chili, etc) that you’re preparing. Or try these:
- Curry Bowl (my personal all time favourite and weekly staple)
- Cauliflower Yam Soup
- whisk a teaspoon into any salad dressing
- mix turmeric into mustard and serve on burgers or anywhere you’d use mustard as a condiment
4. Shoot it back! Try elixirs or shooters to drink it up quickly. You might try mixing 1-2 tsp turmeric with a shot of tart cherry juice (or concentrate), or mix with lemon, lime or carrot juice. Or you might find a product already mixed up for you, such as Moonshine Mama’s Organic Turmeric Elixir’s.
5. Utilize a supplement. When struggling to recovery from an injury or inflammatory condition, sometimes it’s worth going to a supplement short-term simply to get the highest therapeutic dose possible. After all, curcumin accounts for only about 3% of total turmeric (although turmeric as a whole contains over 2 dozen anti-inflammatory and beneficial compounds).
Even when the curcumin is extracted from the turmeric and sold in supplement form, it’s important to ensure you find one that’s been optimized for absorption. Longvida has been extensively researched, so I prefer to use brand that utilized Longvida curcumin such as AOR Inflammation Relief or AOR Cucumin Active. Sometimes you’ll find brands that mix the curcumin with bromelin, which also is known to increase absorption.
Utilize a supplement only when suffering from an inflammatory condition or take when you might otherwise reach for an anti-inflammatory med such as ibuprofen – don’t use supplements as a preventative measure. My standard advise to those suffering from injury and looking for a quick comeback is to work your way through 1 bottle and then re-evaluate – but never take for longer than 6 weeks. The actual turmeric spice, however, you can eat everyday long-term for the rest of your life!
Turmeric is the most powerfully anti-inflammatory spice available to us, and certainly one that we as runners stand to greatly benefit from incorporating it into our daily nutritional routines.
To deliciously healthy food and stronger faster running… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN