Monday, December 3, 2007

Eat Your Curry - It's Good For You

Turmeric, that age-old, golden-yellow powder most often associated with yellow curry powders, has recently come under the scrutiny of western science as a possible combatant to Alzheimer's disease.

Closely related to the ginger plant, turmeric powder comes from the roots of a plant that thrives in southern Asia. Centuries ago, people there found that boiling, drying and grinding these roots produced a fragrant yellow powder with a nutty, acrid flavor which had strong healing properties.

Used in India for centuries as a healing medicine and a culinary spice, turmeric or, more specifically cucurmin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has become an item of interest and research in western medicine for its strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxident properties.

According to the September 15, 2007 issue of Science News, Vol. 172, No. 11, "Alzheimer's... involves the steady deterioration of nerve cells in the brain ... (which can lead) to dementia." Science News goes on to say that Alzheimer's may be caused by a toxic buildup of placques in the brain which then triggers inflammation, "... a state of heightened immune system activity that can damage the body's own cells."

A number of years ago, American researchers began studying cucurmin and found it to beat out all other anti-inflammatory compounds in reducing the placque-forming proteins that can cause Alzheimer's. Later studies in Japan found that "... curcumin not only blocks placque formation but also weakens existing placques... and triggers their disintegration." (Science News)

Now understand that these studies are being conducted in research facilities using laboratory mice and researchers are quick to say that the studies are promising but non-conclusive. There is a study being conducted right now with 40 Alzheimer's patients at UCLA, the results of which are due to be published next year. Other studies have been conducted comparing the rate of Alzheimer's among curry-consuming populations and those populations that consume little to no curry and, while again not entirely conclusive, those studies do show strong evidence that regular, life-long consumption of yellow curry-containing turmeric may prevent the incidence of Alzheimer's.

An added benefit that has shown up during the testing of turmeric and its secret ingredient curcumin is that the ingestion of the powder raises good (hdl) cholesterol and significantly lowers a person's overall cholesterol levels. And that just can't be bad.

I wasn't brought up on curry dishes, more's the pity, but have been experimenting with yellow curry lately and, while I haven't made traditional curry dishes yet, I can tell you that it's wonderful when added to veggies which are then roasted in the oven, or added to root vegetable soups, or used in a spice rub for grilled chicken or fish.

Go on, experiment. It certainly can't hurt and it just may bring about surprisingly healthy results.

My good friend Simona is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week. WHB, one of the longest running events among food bloggers, is the brainchild of dear friend Kalyn who, after this week, will give WHB the vacation it, and she!, deserve. Click here to read about WHB and how to join in the fun. Check in with Simona at Briciole this coming Monday for the roundup.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved


  1. Rand has been on a real turmeric kick lately. It all started when we had dinner in Salt Lake at a mediteranean place and he couldn't figure out what made his food taste so great. Then he found out it was turmeric and he's been using it like mad ever since.

    I don't quite get a vacation yet! There is still one more week for WHB after this one, then two weeks of vacation. Unfortunately I don't get out of school until Dec. 21 this year. (I feel some personal leave days coming on though.)

  2. This is one I should have sitting out on the counter! I'm sure you're right, I could use it in lots more than a traditional curry and the roasted veggies sounds perfect.

  3. I love the sound of the word, both in English and in Italian (curcuma). I also love its color and its flavor. Thanks for all the info, Christine.

  4. You learn something everyday. We use it quite a bit but didn't realise it's health benefits.

  5. You convinced me, Christine. For sheer color alone, turmeric has long been my favorite spice. The taste is a lovely benefit.

  6. Now, you're making me crave for chicken curry...


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