Turmeric regularly features in health news stories and there’s a raft of products based on the yellow spice now available, including turmeric lattes, teas and more supplements than you can shake a stick at.
If those don’t appeal, you can simply add more turmeric to your cooking. It’s a key ingredient in curries and will turn rice a delightful shade of yellow as well as giving it a slightly earthy, bitter flavour if added to the water you cook it in.
But beyond its taste, the question is: should you actively up your consumption to benefit your health? Turmeric might have been lauded as a cure-all by health writers spinning eye-catching stories out of small studies, but is there enough evidence out there to make it worth adding to your diet for health reasons? We asked Emily Robinson, assistant nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.
Are there any proven health benefits to eating a diet high in turmeric?
Although there’s been a great deal of interest in the potential beneficial effects of turmeric in relation to cancer and other conditions, we don’t currently have good evidence to show that consuming turmeric can provide health benefits.
Curcumin is often cited as the key ingredient in making turmeric healthy. Is curcumin something people should include in their diet?
Curcumin, a polyphenol, is the principal active component of turmeric – although this only accounts for about 3% of the spice composition. While research on high doses of curcumin in animals and in vitro – cell cultures in a dish – has shown some anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, this has not been shown in human studies.
In addition, studies have consistently shown that curcumin is not well absorbed by the body. More research is needed to see whether curcumin can really have beneficial effects.
Are there any downsides of eating a lot of foods containing turmeric?
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a variety of foods containing turmeric as part of a healthy, balanced diet. However, it would be generally unnecessary to consume it in large amounts for the purpose of a health benefit, which is currently unsupported by science.