Finding Antioxidants in Strange Places: Turmeric

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports:

In 1957, the average fast-food soda was 8 ounces and a theater serving of popcorn was 3 cups. Today, average take-out sodas range from 32 ounces to 64 ounces and a medium popcorn is 16 cups.

The next time you order curry, you may be doing a favor for your overtaxed liver as well as your taste buds. Turmeric, the traditional curry spice that gives many Indian dishes their golden hue, is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and has been shown by scientists to protect the liver against a variety of toxic substances.

Usually thought of as just a coloring agent by Westerners, this close cousin to ginger has been considered potent medicine in Asia for thousands of years and is used by Indian doctors to treat everything from sprains to jaundice. Turmeric is also far less expensive an ingredient as its counterpart which also imparts a similar color. Moreover, in the days before refrigeration, the yellow rhizome, which possesses antimicrobial properties, may also have kept food-borne illnesses at bay.

Recently, one of the spice’s active ingredients, curcumin, has piqued the interest of Western researchers. In large doses, it’s been shown to be as effective as cortisone for the acute inflammation caused by arthritis. But one of the most promising uses of curcumin may be in treating cancer. Researchers from Cornell University investigating colon cancer reported in Cancer Research (February 1999) that curcumin successfully inhibited tumor growth. More research is currently under way on curcumin’s cancer-fighting abilities.

To reap some of the benefits of this powerful antioxidant, head to the natural food store for a turmeric supplement, available in extract, capsule and tablet form. Most formulas are standardized to 300 milligrams, and advise taking two to three doses per day. Because this spice has blood-thinning effects, however, the supplement should not be used by people taking anticoagulants or by women who are pregnant or nursing.

Many herbalists recommend supplements containing whole turmeric as some of the spice’s healing properties — and their synergistic effects in the body — are yet to be discovered. And though it’s commonly used in small quantities to flavor food, eating more curry surely can’t hurt.

Some of my favorite recipes that contain turmeric are included in this site:


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