Turmeric – medical jack-of-all trades, or just a great curry ingredient?

Chemistry-of-Turmeric
http://www.compoundchem.com/

Turmeric is a wonderful ingredient to add to a curry – it has also been exalted as a wonder food with lots of great benefits for health. Some of the more pervasive anecdotes with regards to turmerics ‘heath benefits’ are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and benefits for digestive health and IBS.

I have always had a bit of a problem with the anti-oxidant hypothesis in health, as an ex-polymer chemist, I was very experienced in protecting polymer products such as paints and adhesives from the effects of oxidation and environmental free radical degradation. This was not always easy to achieve – even the in simplest of formulations.

These free radical reactions do occur in our bodies – at a base level we are a very complex mix of chemical reactions and our bodies contain polymers. Turmeric is a polyphenol, and polyphenols do show anti-oxidant properties. With anti-oxidant protection, as a chemical reaction, one factor needs to be fulfilled – the anti-oxidant has to be situated at the site where the free radical reactions occur to be able to mop them up. Therefore any research involving turmeric in Petri dishes to observe it’s anti-oxidant (and anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer effects), or by feeding animals unsustainably large amounts may be very interesting, but far from proving it to be an effective anti-oxidant in our body. There is a problem with turmeric – it is very poorly absorbed in the digestive tract, it has poor solubility – therefore it would be difficult to transport it to the site of reaction. If the anti-oxidant cannot physically be transported to the site of free radical reaction, then it is clearly not possible for it to react! Until this problem is solved it is perhaps an entirely useless medical treatment, and of course, it needs to be studied in humans as a treatment, with randomized controlled trials and ultimately a systematic review. These problems can possibly be solved – by utilizing chemistry.

But…but…turmeric is ‘natural’, is the response, so therefore it is surely better for us than all those ‘chemicals’ in medicines? If you are going to use the anti-oxidant theory for the promotion of ‘alternative’ natural care, then you are buying into chemistry by using this as your argument. Spoiler alert – curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, is a chemical – see the infographic above. If it was effective it would be called a medicine, which may be possible in the future with lot’s more health research – but certainly, we are a very long way from this now. One research paper proposed turmeric as a jack-of-all-trades, in other words ‘useful’ for numerous health areas, which concomitantly also means master of none, an insightful figure of speech here, perhaps.

For digestive complaints, turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine as a compound which can be useful for indigestion, but with little strong evidence for effective use in either IBS or indigestion – just tantalizing pre-clinical trials and uncontrolled studies.

Past history has taught us that medicines are often derived from naturally occurring pharmacological plants, so research of turmeric should certainly continue – but we really shouldn’t be tempted to jump the gun with promoting turmerics alleged health effects, this is disingenuous.

So does turmeric have any benefits at all? Of course! Turmeric is low fodmap as a spice and can be used to flavour low fodmap recipes for people who have irritable bowel syndrome and imparts these foods with a very vibrant colour. If you are wanting a January ‘health kick’ from turmeric, or use it to ‘cure’ your IBS, then think again, but enjoying a great, warming, vibrant low fodmap meal made from turmeric, either low fodmap curry, or the low fodmap soup recipe below, in the depth of winter, is surely a sublime use of this wonderful spice?

Carrot, ginger and turmeric soup

Ingredients

500g carrots

1 tablespoon of oil

1 teaspoon of Moroccan spice (Fodify)

1 teaspoon of ginger

2 teaspoons of turmeric

1500mls water

seasoning to taste

Method

Peel and chop the carrots

Fry the spices in oil to release the flavour

Add the water and carrots to the spices

Cook till the carrots are soft, then blend with a hand blender

Season

Serves 3-4

https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/curry-spice-kills-cancer-cells/

https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/spice-for-mice/

https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/could-curry-spice-boost-brain-cell-repair/

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11894-016-0494-0

Chestnut, carrot & celeriac soup – low fodmap Christmas recipes

Having guests around for Christmas lunch and wondering what to serve for a starter? This recipe is a tasty soup, suitable for vegan low fodmappers and has Christmas flavours with mixed spice. I have been using my copy of the flavour thesaurus by Niki Segnit, a gift for my birthday, and this marries chestnuts with carrot, celery (celeriac is a low fodmap food with a similar flavour to celery – a good substitution) carrot and rosemary and yes, this really works. It is a slightly sweet, winter roots flavour with a light addition of spices. Your guests will never know you have a low fodmap starter for them that is really easy to make and really tasty!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients

200g celeriac

500g carrots

200g cooked chestnuts

1/4 teaspoon of mixed spice

10 g rosemary

Drizzle of hazelnut oil

Some chilli flakes (if tolerated)

Seasoning

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Method

Chop the vegetables

Add all ingredients to a pan

Add water to just cover the vegetables

Season to taste

Puree

Serve, drizzle with hazelnut oil and chilli flakes!

serves 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celeriac Soup – low fodmap

I have half a celeriac left so as promised I have made a soup. This was very easy to do and is based on home made chicken stock and has a topping based on bacon, pecan and sunflower seeds. If you want a vegetarian version just omit the bacon and chicken stock and use vegetable stock instead. I really like soup, it is filling and yet low calorie and this soup has a very refreshing flavour due to the added tarragon.

Ingredients

Half a celeriac

1 courgette

2 carrots

A small cup of home made chicken stock

2 teaspoons of chopped fresh tarragon (use one if dried)

1 pint of water

Seasoning to taste

For the topping

1 rasher of bacon

1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon of chopped pecan nuts.

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil

Method

Chop vegetables and add stock, water and tarragon and bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes till the vegetables are soft.

Blend

Chop the bacon after remove fat and rind. Fry the bacon in a teaspoon of oil, add the pecans and sunflower seeds and toast.

Sprinkle on the top of the soup and serve

Serves 2-3

celeriacsoup1

Autumn thick warming roasted carrot and pumpkin soup, lactose free, milk free, egg free – vegeliscious!

Roasted carrot and pumpkin soup

600g peeled carrots, cut into 4 lengthwise

500g pumpkin

1 tablespoon of garlic infused olive oil

1 teaspoon of turmeric

1 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of coriander

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

1.2 litres of water

small bunch of coriander leaves (depends how much you like the taste.)

Salt & pepper

coriander leaves and nigella seeds to serve

Method

Peel and slice carrots and pumpkin and place in a roasting tin, pour in the olive oil and coat the vegetables well. Sprinkle on spices and mix well.

Roast till the vegetables are soft in texture.

Place in a food processor or blender, add the other ingredients and blend well.

Warm the soup again then serve with a sprinkling of nigella seeds and coriander leaves.

Serves 6

(approximately per serving)

Kcal 67

Protein 1.2

Fat 2.9

Carbohydrate 9.0

Fibre 2.8

There is some debate as to whether pumpkin is safe for the FODMAP diet – it contains mannitol – amount varies on where it is grown, the one I used was grown within 10 miles of home. If you have problems with pumpkin, or are on a FODMAP exclusion you could replace the pumpkin with more carrot and this should work just as well.