Nutrition Spotlight: Turmeric & Black Pepper
What they are, ways to enjoy them, and their health benefits
Have you heard of turmeric and curcumin’s surprising health benefits? These spices have been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can aid in reducing joint pain and prevent a variety of health conditions.
In this blog post, learn more about these spices, their benefits, how to increase their absorption in your body as well as ways to enjoy turmeric and black pepper together.
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric, also known as Curcuma Longa, is a perennial herb, and relative to the ginger family. The plant has green leaves and yellow flowers, but this is not where the spice itself is derived. The turmeric found in your spice jar actually comes from the rhizome, or root of the plant. Once harvested, the roots are boiled, then dried in a hot oven. Once dry, they are then ground into a powder.
The use of Turmeric dates back about 4000 years to the Vedic culture in India. In fact, India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crops and consumes 80% of it. With its inherent qualities and high content of curcumin, Indian turmeric is considered to be the best in the world. (1)
Turmeric has historically been used in Ayurveda and other traditional Indian medical systems, as well as Eastern Asian medical systems such as Chinese medicine. (2) It is also a common spice and a major ingredient in curry powder.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is a major bioactive component of turmeric, and it is responsible for that bold yellow color you see. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant as well as has anti-inflammatory properties.
Let’s break those benefits down to understand their impact:
A substance that protects cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals may play a part in cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other diseases of aging. (3)
Reduces inflammation (the body’s complex biological response to harmful stimuli, such as irritants, pathogens, and damaged cells). (4)
Health Benefits of Turmeric/Curcumin
Including turmeric in your routine, along with other plant foods and foods known to support overall health and wellness can be a great way to reap its benefits. Research has shown possible benefits of turmeric for (5):
- Reducing joint pain
- Degenerating eye conditions
- Metabolic syndrome – for example lowers blood pressure and high blood sugar
- High Cholesterol
- Muscle soreness
- Kidney health
In addition, some studies have also shown Curcumin’s effects on Cancer, including (6):
- Contributing to the death of cancerous cells
- Reducing angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors)
- Reducing metastasis (spread of cancer)
Bioavailability – Turmeric’s ability to be absorbed by the body
One downside of turmeric is that curcumin and its other active ingredients are not bioavailable, meaning they are not easily absorbed by the body. Also, the digestive process breaks these beneficial compounds down and eliminates them quickly.(5) In addition to this, Curcumin only accounts for 5% of Turmeric, so one can imagine how much turmeric they would require to achieve any type of benefit.
Black Pepper to the Rescue:
Piperine is a compound found in black pepper. It is responsible for pepper’s bold colour, and it can help increase your body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial compounds. By adding just 1/20 teaspoon or more of black pepper to your turmeric, the bioavailability of it will be greatly improved. It has been shown that combining black pepper with turmeric can increase its bioavailability by 2000%! (5,7)
Ways to Enjoy Turmeric and Black Pepper
- Make “golden milk”: in a small saucepan, warm up 1 cup of your milk of choice, ½ teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Sweeten with cinnamon or honey to taste.
- Add to scrambled eggs.
- Sprinkle into rice, and other favourite grain side dishes.
- Mix into salad dressings and pour over favourite greens or potato salad.
- Use in marinades for chicken, fish or vegetables.
- Try adding to ginger carrot soup.
- Sprinkle into taco filling.
- Add to pasta sauces and curries.
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1. Prasad, Sahdeo; Aggarwal, Bharat. “Chapter 13: Turmeric, The Golden Spice” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/#:~:text=The%20use%20of%20turmeric%20dates,Jamaica%20in%20the%20eighteenth%20century
2. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Turmeric”. Accessed Jan 31, 2023. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric
3. National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Accessed Jan 31. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/antioxidant
4. Stone, William L.; Basit, Hajira; Burns,Bracken. “Pathology, Inflammation”. National Library of Medicine. November 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534820/#:~:text=Inflammation%20is%20part%20of%20the,essential%20to%20evaluation%20and%20treatment.
5. Brown, Mary-Eve. “Turmeric Benefits”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/turmeric-benefits
6. Healthline. “10 Proven Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin”. May 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric
7. Olendzki, Barbara; Chaiken, Jennifer. “Using Black Pepper to Enhance the Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Turmeric”. UMass Chan Medical School. June 28, 2019. https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/blog/blog-posts/2019/6/using-black-pepper-to-enhance-the-anti-inflammatory-effects-of-turmeric/
Christine Devaney Towsley B.A.Sc., RD
Registered Dietitian & Online Nutritionist
Specialty: weight concerns, intuitive eating, heart
health, family nutrition, IBS (irritable bowel disease)
A nurturer at heart, Christine will always greet you with a smile and
attentive ear. Kind hearted, empathetic and sensitive to others,
Christine takes the time to connect, build trust and truly understand
each client and tailors her sessions to each person's specific needs.