You’ve probably heard about turmeric as a super food or supplement, but is it worth making a conscious effort to add it to your hypothyroid-friendly diet? Do turmeric and hypothyroidism go hand in hand? Let’s take a closer look at this week’s featured ingredient.
What Can Turmeric Do For Your Health?
The benefits of turmeric have been well known for millennia. It’s like culinary Advil in terms of what it can do for inflammation. It’s also recommended for heart and gastrointestinal health, as well as cancer prevention. It may even reduce the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s, and the arterial plaque associated with atherosclerosis (heart disease). It’s commonly used in Chinese medicine to treat dozens of ailments from liver issues, to respiratory issues, skin problems, wound healing, muscle and joint pain. It has anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. It lowers blood sugar and helps with diabetes. It may help lower cholesterol.
The list is loooooong, and the attention we’re now paying to this little golden root is absolutely deserved. If olive oil is the Liquid Gold of the Mediterranean, turmeric is the Solid Gold of India.
It’s also known as Indian Saffron for it’s strong yellow color, which infuses any dish you add it to, and stains by the way, so head’s up. It’s added to most Indian curries for both color and flavor. It’s also used in many Moroccan and Thai dishes. Sometimes it’s used as a natural additive to things like mustard, cheese, and butter to make them more yellow. I sometimes add a pinch or two to my chicken stock to give it a touch of color.
The bioactive component of turmeric, responsible for that long list of potential health benefits, is curcumin, a term sometimes used interchangeably in reference to turmeric and turmeric supplements.
Curcumin is truly amazing stuff. And powerful. In studies it often outperforms pharmaceuticals.
How is Turmeric Beneficial in Treating Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s?
I was recently reminded of it’s amazing health bennies after reading this article from Dr. Josh Axe:
And another informative article by our Hashimoto’s hero and pharmacist, Dr. Izabella Wentz:
Turmeric for Your Thyroid and Hashimoto’s (with recipe for Tandoori Chicken)
According to these experts, turmeric addresses some of the most common issues associated with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.
- It can help protect and heal the intestinal barrier (leaky gut).
- It can reduce inflammation throughout the body, in joints, muscle tissue, and even from GI conditions like Crohn’s, IBS, and ulcerative colitis.
- Studies have shown it to be as effective as Prozac in treating depression, without the dangerous side-effects.
- Turmeric can help decrease brain fog by improving oxygen intake to the brain, helping it heal, reducing the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and improving memory.
- Turmeric may help reduce high cholesterol (though there is some debate).
- It can reduce heavy metal toxicity in the body and help it recover from the effects of heavy metals. In fact, Dr. Wentz recently used it to heal herself from arsenic poisoning.
So, the answer to our primary question is a resounding YES, turmeric is worthy of a place on your hypothyroid-friendly menu.
3 Ways to Add More Turmeric to Your Life
- Supplementation: People take turmeric extract or curcumin in capsule form and it is typically considered very safe. However, it can have some uncomfortable side effects and drug interactions, and high doses of the stuff, especially over long periods of time, can be harmful to the liver and are not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, or children. As my own guinea pig, I have tried turmeric capsules, and found that it gave me GI upset. I’m one of those uber-sensitive people though– just call me Captain Side Effect– and I wonder if I may have been feeling the effects of the black pepper extract which is added to increase the bioavailability of curcumin (more on that below). Who knows? At any rate, I won’t be taking it again without the guidance of my doctor or naturopath, and I urge you to do the same.
- Drinking: You can drink your turmeric in the form of an ancient Ayurvedic beverage called Golden Milk Tea [link includes recipes]. This is a middle-of-the-road way to achieve a more regular intake of the stuff without either taking a capsule or eating more curry.
- Cooking: This is my favorite way to incorporate the healing powers of turmeric. Cooking with turmeric is something everyone can do. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, turmeric in food is considered safe, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children. Because of it’s strong, pungent flavor, it’s used in small doses in cooking, which begs the next question:
Will Cooking with Turmeric Make a Difference to My Health?
If you’re wondering whether adding those small, culinary “doses” of turmeric to your diet will make a difference, here’s some food for thought:
A medical study entitled, “The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease” compared the rate of Alzheimer’s in curry-loving India versus the United States. Among adults age 70-79, India’s rate of Alzheimer’s is 4.4 times lower!!! It went on to say that test subjects who ate curry on an occasional (less than 1x/month) or frequent (more than 1x/month) basis, performed better on cognitive function tests than those who ate curry rarely or never.
Bottom Line: Yes, cooking with turmeric, even once a month can have significant benefits to your health.
But how much turmeric is in curry powder?
That depends. Turmeric is often the primary ingredient in curry powder, which is a blend of spices that can contain twenty ingredients or more. In creating a curry powder the turmeric serves as a sort of base layer upon which to build all the other flavors in the curry. It’s profile is bittersweet and fruity with a subtle heat.
There are endless variations on curry powder recipes, and some of them contain more turmeric than others. One way to make sure you are getting plenty of turmeric from your curry, as well as a MUCH more vibrant flavor than you’ll get from the dried out powder that’s been dying in your spice cabinet since 1998 (I tease, but seriously, get rid of it) is by making your own.
In this recipe for Curry Powder from Alton Brown turmeric comprises one-half of the spice blend. Other ingredients include cumin, cardamom, coriander, dry mustard, and cayenne. In making my own curry powder I would add black pepper, which increases the length of time curcumin remains in the body (i.e. it’s bioavailability) significantly. But you can also use store-bought blends in your cooking and simply add a little extra turmeric and pepper to the dish.
How Can I Get The Most Benefit from cooking with turmeric?
One thing to keep in mind if you want to get the most bang for your turmeric buck, is that the bioavailability– or absorbability– of the stuff to our bodies is somewhat low. It flushes right through our systems. To help your body absorb and retain more beneficial curcumin from turmeric, there are a few things you can do when cooking with it to increase the benefits.
- Add fat (ghee, olive oil, animal fat, coconut oil, etc.). Curcumin is fat soluble.
- Add black pepper. The piperine found in pepper can increase the bioavailability of curcumin in humans by up to 2000% (see most recent link)
- Add heat, as in COOK it, to increase solubility.
It’s hard for me to recall the last time I cooked a dish that didn’t have some type of fat or black pepper added to it, but I suppose it helps to keep that in mind.
Fresh vs. Dried Turmeric
You might think of the difference between fresh and dried turmeric, like the difference between fresh and dried ginger. Fresh turmeric root has a much brighter, and more forward flavor. Dried is muted, but still manages to infuse flavor when cooked with moisture of any kind. Dried can also be more convenient and easier to find and store than fresh turmeric root.
The Kitchn recommends this rule of thumb for equivalents:
“1 inch fresh turmeric = 1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric = 1 teaspoon ground turmeric”
If you have access to both, you can experiment and decide which type of turmeric is best for which application. My heavily-used copy of The Flavor Bible shares one chef’s opinion:
“Fresh turmeric gives you fruitiness and upfront flavor, plus a touch of acid that perks up a dish. If you add fresh turmeric to your curry, you will make a world of difference. When you smell the powdered stuff, it smells like nothing. Dried turmeric hurts me. It hurts the soul. It is really not what turmeric is. Unfortunately, frozen turmeric isn’t a good substitute either. You have to use it fresh.” ~Chef Brad Farmerie, PUBLIC (NYC)
Personally, I don’t share his disdain for dried turmeric. We don’t all live in NYC where every ingredient known to man is at our fingertips, but I think the point is this: if you can find fresh turmeric, it’s worth a try. I can now get it at my regular grocery store here in Montana, so you never know. It’s worth keeping an eye out.
Turmeric Recipe Ideas
So who’s ready to do some turmeric-infused cookery? Here’s a fresh idea:
And here are some more turmeric recipe ideas from around the interwebs:
I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these best fits your unique hypothyroidism diet. And by all means, leave a comment if you’d like to share a review or your own favorite recipe featuring turmeric.
Hope this featured ingredient foray has inspired you to try cooking with more turmeric, and to believe in the healing potential of what we choose to eat.
Wishing You the Best of Health,