The Indian Kitchen as an Ayurvedic Pharmacy – Turmeric

As discussed in my earlier blogs, the concept of ‘Food as Medicine’ was an integral part of the Indian ethos and a basic principle of Ayurveda.

Herbs, spices and many meats, vegetables and fruit were eaten according to seasons and regional availability for their health benefits. They were also combined with other foods to increase the bio-availability of the nutrients they contained.

Among the many ‘medicinal’ foods in the Indian kitchen, one of the stars is Turmeric.

Turmeric Rhizomes

The Turmeric plant is a native of southeast Asia and a part of the ginger family. Its rhizomes (i.e. the stems that grow underground), is the part from which turmeric powder is produced. However, in India and other parts of Southeast Asia, the leaf is also used in cooking and known for its antiseptic properties, as well as for stomach ailments.

As a food, Turmeric has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, antiseptic and antibacterial properties among its many other health benefits.

As a paste it is applied to the skin for burns and to improve skin complexions – a traditional ‘must have’ for Indian brides.

Turmeric milk (Haldi doodh) is a tradition cure for any viral or bacterial infection including coughs, colds and fevers.

Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin, are now a worldwide rage, with Turmeric smoothies, teas, milk and pills available in almost every nook and corner of the world. The Japanese eat it prior to a night out to prevent hangovers as well as after as a hangover cure.

Although there is no debate as to the many benefits of turmeric – there is a discussion as to ‘how good’ – there are many questions on how to take it to increase its bioavailability.

The primary question is raw or cooked.

Most researchers agree that although there is a significant loss of curcumin in turmeric when it is heated, the cooking process releases a compound known as ‘deketene curcumin’ that increase its antioxidant properties by 50%. It is better to have your turmeric smoothie with Turmeric powder than with a piece or raw turmeric.

To make turmeric powder, the turmeric rhizomes are cleaned, boiled in water, dried, and then powdered. It is therefore ‘cooked’.

With the plethora of health supplements available that are made of either turmeric and curcumin extracts, the question arises as to which is better? The whole turmeric extract, or an extract of only the main active ingredient, curcumin. Although there is a loss of certain elements of turmeric when heated, including its essential oil, the whole is greater than sum of its parts. Whole turmeric extract is better than just curcumin for immunity, antioxidant properties and brain functions including helping in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other constituents of turmeric help with neurological diseases, cancer and stomach ailments.

The major problem with turmeric and curcumin is its bioavailability. It is poor in almost all its forms. When eaten with some fat (oil), its bioavailability increase 7 to 8 times as it can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system.

A recently developed, ground breaking delivery system for turmeric has shown that by avoiding the liver, turmeric becomes significantly more effective and is absorbed in the plasma in free form.

I have used them and find them to be a extremely effective.

In India, most of our preparations involve frying the turmeric powder with black pepper and other spices. This is the best way to eat it – Vasant

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