11 Ways to Use Turmeric

Nutrition experts tell you how — and why — you’ll want to incorporate turmeric into your diet.

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Golden Child

Long known as the ingredient that gives curry its golden hue, turmeric is now capturing attention for its medicinal qualities. That’s because it contains curcumin, a substance with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It’s been touted as a remedy for everything from everyday digestive ills like heartburn and indigestion to serious conditions like arthritis and cancer. But does this spice really measure up to its wunderkind reputation? We asked our top nutrition experts to weigh in on turmeric’s health benefits, along with their tips on the most effective and delicious ways to use it the kitchen.

Combine Turmeric with Fat

"Turmeric is fat-soluble," says Cynthia Lair, CHN, Professor at Bastyr University’s Nutrition and Exercise Science Department, and author of Feeding the Whole Family. "Fat is essential for 'waking up' all spices, both from a nutritional and a flavor perspective. From an Ayurvedic viewpoint, heating turmeric in ghee magnifies its healthful properties. You can make this combination and store it in a small jar in the refrigerator. Then it’s on hand whenever needed. It can be used to perk up a pot of rice, or stirred into a soup."

Mix it with Other Spices

"Studies have shown that black pepper can significantly improve the gut’s absorption of turmeric," says Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, Author of Nourish Your Namaste e-book and The Foodie Dietitian Blog. "I advise clients to combine turmeric with black pepper in whatever they're cooking. I also find that turmeric is better absorbed from food, as opposed supplements."

Soothe Stress with Golden Milk

"Turmeric has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to help improve gas, bloating and indigestion," notes Lydon. "While the research is still out on whether or not it can soothe an upset stomach, Golden Milk, a trendy beverage similar in flavor to chai, is a delicious way to consume turmeric. From a mindfulness standpoint, drinking a warm, non-caffeinated beverage like Golden Milk can be a calming experience for many people. By engaging your senses--the warm mug, the steam rising from your cup, you may feel a sense of relaxation that could help with stomach upset caused by stress."It’s also easy to make your own Golden Milk mix at home: "Just combine dried turmeric with heated ghee to form a paste," advises Lair. "Adding black pepper to the mix increases the efficacy. I also add other spices like fresh ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and a bit of honey. Then, whenever you want a soothing drink, combine a teaspoon of the paste with a cup of warm milk or a non-dairy milk."

Reduce Pain and Inflammation

Some research has shown that curcumin, the substance that gives turmeric its golden color, can work as well as ibuprofen for reducing the pain of osteoarthritis. "Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory. But to make a real difference, you’ll need to take it in supplement form," recommends Maggie Ward MS, RD, LDN, Nutrition Director at the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA."The general dosage recommendation is 500 mg, 1-3 times a day. Some brands are now using a formula that includes ingredients that have been shown to increase the absorption of curcumin, like black pepper, or liposomes, which are fat molecules that help the gut. Some people report results within days, but it may take up to a few weeks to experience a positive effect."

Up Your Antioxidants

"Turmeric is a potent source of antioxidants," says Lydon. "I tell my clients that even if they don’t see direct health results by cooking with turmeric, look at using it as another way to add antioxidants to their diet and flavor to their cooking."

Ease a Sore Throat

"Because of its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric can really help with a sore throat," says Ward. "Just combine fresh or dried turmeric with tea or hot water. You can also mix dried turmeric with warm water and sea salt and use as a gargle to reduce the pain and inflammation."

Think Beyond Curry

"Though turmeric is traditionally associated with Indian cuisine, there are so many more ways to use this ingredient," says Lydon. "My favorite way to use turmeric is to sprinkle it on scrambled eggs with kale. I'll also add it to smoothies, roasted vegetables and soups."

Fresh v. Powdered

Fresh turmeric is becoming more available in grocery stores, and is usually found right next to the ginger. The flavor is cleaner and less bitter than the dried version, and has lately become a popular ingredient at juice bars. The only downside, according to Lair: "Fresh turmeric root requires peeling and chopping or grating. The dried version is just a lot easier to work with. And for a therapeutic effect, you might want to stick with dried turmeric. It takes a lot of fresh root to add up to the concentration of the dried powder."

But Don't Go Overboard

"There are reasons to be cautious when incorporating turmeric into your diet," warns Ward. "Even though it is good for digestion, some people experience GI distress with it. My recommendation is to go slow and discontinue it if you experience any negative symptoms."

Lydon also cautions: "Taking too much turmeric can result in unwanted side effects for those with diabetes, gallbladder problems and GERD. Also pregnant women and people taking anticoagulants should avoid taking large doses of turmeric."