While all herbs and spices have some health benefit, turmeric really leads the way! Most of turmeric's beneficial properties stem from curcumin, the compound in turmeric that gives it a bright yellow hue. It's a powerful anti-inflammatory spice and has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack, diabetes and cancer, and may also be beneficial for arthritis pain.
Mood Boosting Turmeric for Brain Health
Most interesting to me is the powerful effect turmeric has on the brain. It was first realized when scientists found significantly lower rates of Alzheimer's disease in India (turmeric is native to India and is used frequently in Indian cuisine) and began to hypothesize dietary components that may be responsible. Subsequent studies found the curcumin in turmeric helps block the formation of the plaques found in brains of those with Alzheimer's.
That's impressive enough, but turmeric works on the brain in other ways as well. Its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect extends to the brain. It also increases serotonin (the "happy hormone") and modulates cortisol, a stress hormone. Another compound in turmeric — turmerone — boosts the regeneration of brain stem cells. It also inhibits monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that is linked to depression if found in high levels.
Although there hasn't been a ton of research looking at depression and turmeric, one impressive study found curcumin was only 2 to 5 percent less effective in treating depression than Prozac, without the side effects. Now, please do not stop taking an antidepressant and start chugging turmeric supplements! We certainly need more research. But, knowing the safety of turmeric, its other health benefits along with its positive effect on the brain, I think it's a smart idea to start incorporating more turmeric into your diet if you're looking to boost your mood.
Cooking with Turmeric
If you do want to increase your turmeric consumption, I recommend doing that through food instead of supplements. The spice's earthy, almost gingery flavor is not overpowering, and you'll find you can work it into a lot more than just curry. I mix it into tomato sauce, creamy pasta sauces and soups, blend it in fresh turmeric juice and even hide it in my ultra-creamy quick vegan yogurt.
Turmeric Smoothie with Mango and Coconut
- 2 mangos, peeled and chopped (or 2 cups pre-cut frozen mangos)
- 1 orange, peeled
- 1 raw carrot, chopped or shredded
- ¼ cup cashews, soaked at least an hour or overnight
- 1½ cups coconut water
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- A couple grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
- If using fresh mangos, freeze them after peeling and chopping. If using pre-cut frozen mangos, skip to next step.
- Drain cashews and discard water.
- Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve in a pair of glasses. Makes 2 smoothies.
- You can purchase turmeric fresh or dried and ground into a powder. Powdered turmeric is easier to find.
- Don't leave out the black pepper. Piperine — the substance in pepper that makes it taste, well, like pepper — actually helps you absorb the curcumin in turmeric. It's just a little bit and you hardly taste it, so even if you're a little weirded out, keep in it there!