While completing my dietetic internship, I took a functional foods class. This class was the sole reason for why I love the idea of food being able to help heal the damage that has happened within our bodies. I learned so much in that class and it has shaped most of my philosophies on food today. The term functional foods refers to going above and beyond basic nutrition (if you want to read my article 'Basics of Functional Foods' click here). Within certain foods there are phytochemicals, which could be argued are the most important part. These molecules go beyond providing nutrients to our bodies, and help actively reverse disease or aid in preventing damage or diseases to form. The first phytochemical I want to talk about is one of my absolute favorites - turmeric.
Turmeric is a spice that has been used medicinally for centuries in Asian cultures. It is the primary spice within curry powder. The active ingredient in turmeric that makes it amazing is called Curcumin. This spice is toted to help decrease inflammation, act as an antioxidant, decrease risk of cancer, have neuroprotective qualities, and help alleviate some skin conditions (acne, psoriasis, alopecia, etc...). The question is, does it actually do all those things?
The good news is - yes! There have been studies done that have shown curcumin to help decrease inflammation, reverse some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and actively fight against free radicals within our bodies! When looking specifically at skin conditions there are limited amounts of studies, but the outcomes have been positive by both ingesting and topical use of products with turmeric/curcumin. The bad news is curcumin actually has a very low bioavailability when taken orally. This means it isn't absorbed well into the body. So, in order for it to work efficiently it has to get into the bloodstream. Scientists are continuing to search for more ways to help make curcumin more easily absorbed. They have found some success with altering the molecule, but there is still much to do in increasing the bioavailability of curcumin.
All that sounds pretty grim, but there is one thing you can do while we wait for the scientists to do their thing. Add black pepper to anything you have turmeric in or on. That's right - black pepper! The easiest way to help increase the activity of the curcumin and help increase the bioavailability is to pair it with pepper. Pepper contains piperine which is its active ingredient that activates the curcumin. I promise that's all the science I am going to talk about today!
There are a ton of products currently on the market offering turmeric and spouting its health benefits. If there is no black pepper anywhere on the ingredients list or supplement list, it's not going to be doing what you want within your body. So make sure to educate yourself on the product before purchasing or taking anything. Unfortunately, people jump on the train of current health trends without making it the best, most bioavailable product it could be.
Now, for the application! Here is my newest addition to the diet that is a great way to get in all that curcumin goodness. Turmeric Bone Broth! Enjoy, and have fun adding this spice to all your go-to recipes to change it up and help your body, but don't forget that pepper!
Side Note: When cooking with turmeric don't use a wooden spoon unless you want it to be a beautiful neon yellow afterwards :)