All of the Health Benefits of Turmeric, Explained

With superstar nutrient curcumin, turmeric is teeming with perks for your brain and body.

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What do mustard and curry powder have in common? Their bright hue comes from turmeric, a bright and earthy spice. You've probably seen it crop up in dishes such as golden lattes and stir-fries, but it's so much more than a colorful ingredient. Ahead, learn all about the health benefits of turmeric, plus ways to enjoy it in recipes.

What Is Turmeric?

This golden spice comes from the curcuma longa or curcuma domestica plant, which is native to South Asia. The plant is part of the ginger family, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Specifically, the spice comes from the plant's root-like section that grows under the soil, called a rhizome. The rhizomes are boiled and dried to make turmeric powder, which is sold on its own and incorporated into many curry powder blends. You can also find whole, fresh turmeric rhizomes at some specialty grocery stores.

Turmeric Nutrition

One teaspoon of turmeric powder contains just 9 calories, but the golden spice is a star because it contains curcumin. This compound, which is exclusively found in turmeric, has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, according to NCBI. Curcumin also offers "antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and immune-modulating activities," according to Maribeth Evezich, M.S., R.D., M.B.A., a dietitian based in New York City. In fact, these properties are so noteworthy that "turmeric and curcumin have been the subject of thousands of studies," says Evezich. Oh, and get this: Curcumin is also an orange-yellow pigment, which explains turmeric's vivid gold hue, according to a 2020 review article. (

Aside from curcumin, turmeric also offers modest amounts of fiber, folate, and minerals, including iron, potassium, iron, and calcium, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Here's the nutritional profile of one teaspoon (~3 grams) of ground turmeric, as per the USDA:

  • 9 calories
  • < 1 gram protein
  • < 1 gram fat
  • 2 grams carbohydrate
  • < 1 gram fiber
  • < 1 gram sugar

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Wards Off Disease

As mentioned above, turmeric contains a compound called curcumin. Its role as an antioxidant means that it can quell oxidative stress. And this is a pretty big deal because oxidative stress — which, ICYDK, is brought on by high levels of free radicals (aka harmful molecules) in the body — is a major contributor to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, according to a 2017 review. But by eating turmeric (and, therefore, the antioxidant curcumin), you can help control free radicals, protect cells from oxidative stress, and, thus, stave off illness.

And the health benefits of turmeric (thanks to curcumin) don't stop there: The compound also possesses potent anti-inflammatory abilities, due largely in part to its ability to fight oxidative stress, which fuels inflammation, according to a 2016 review article. Curcumin also interferes with cell pathways (read: a series of signals) that cause inflammation, according to the NCBI. In turn, curcumin can help keep inflammation in check, further protecting the body from chronic disease.

Reduces Blood Cholesterol

Curcumin may also have artery-clearing effects. In a 2014 study, people who consumed curcumin extracts daily for 12 weeks experienced reductions in their LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Another 2017 scientific review of seven studies also found that turmeric and curcumin may improve cholesterol levels, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease. Here's the deal, according to the researchers: Curcumin works its magic by suppressing the LDL-C receptor gene (a gene that promotes the production of LDL cholesterol in the body), thereby lowering LDL blood cholesterol levels. This is key because high levels of the "bad" stuff increase the risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Supports Digestive Health

Got gut problems? Turmeric spice might help — and, as you probably guessed, it's because of good old curcumin. For starters, according to a 2020 scientific article, the compound can improve gut dysbiosis or the imbalance of "good" and "bad" microbes, which can otherwise lead to GI issues, such as irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and indigestion. What's more, a 2021 scientific review suggests that curcumin can reduce inflammation in the guts of people with IBD.

Relieves Joint Pain

As if curcumin wasn't impressive enough, you can add "pain killer" to its resume. First, a quick fact: Chronic inflammation can lead to joint pain, according to the NCBI. Got that? Good. Now, in a 2014 study, curcumin extract worked about as well as ibuprofen to relieve pain among people with knee osteoarthritis. Another 2021 study found similar results, noting that turmeric extract promoted a pain-relieving effect in folks with arthritis. Both of these effects were likely due to the anti-inflammatory abilities of curcumin, thereby making turmeric a smart spice to eat (or drink) for anyone dealing with achy bones. (

How to Use Turmeric

Now that you're well versed in the health benefits of turmeric, head over to your local supermarket and you'll likely find turmeric in dried powder form, often packaged in jars, as is the case with Simply Organic Turmeric (Buy It, $4,, or bags, such as Anthony's Organic Turmeric Root Powder (Buy It, $11, the purest version, check the label to ensure the spice contains nothing but turmeric. You might also find whole, fresh turmeric in the produce section, but this is less common, according to the University of Florida. In this form, turmeric looks a bit like small wrinkly ginger roots — they are related, after all. If you're lucky enough to find whole turmeric, it's best to choose a firm piece to ensure freshness, according to UFL.

Additionally, turmeric is an ingredient in packaged foods, such as nut mixes and snacks. Try: Daily Crunch Golden Goodness Sprouted Almonds (Buy It, $15 for two, Similarly, it's found in drinks — e.g. REBBL Turmeric Gold-Milk (Buy It, $48 for 12 bottles, — or powdered drink mixes — e.g. Spicewalla Golden Milk Powder (Buy It, $10, Finally, as a main ingredient in dishes such as curry, turmeric is found in pre-prepared curry products, e.g. Maya Kaimal Jalfrezi Curry Sauce (Buy It, $4, As with all packaged foods, the most nutritious choices contain whole, recognizable ingredients and little to no added salt and/or sugar, so be sure to check the label if these factors are on your radar.

If you've chosen the dried or fresh turmeric, you'll be glad to know that both versions are easy to use at home. For starters, they're interchangeable in recipes — use one grated tablespoon as a substitute for one teaspoon of the dried form, shares Evezich. Otherwise, you can use turmeric (dried or fresh) just like you would any other spice, e.g., sprinkling it in dishes, sauces, soups, stews, and more.

BTW, to maximize the health benefits of turmeric, combine it with fat such as coconut oil, says Evezich. Why? Well, the curcumin in turmeric is fat-soluble, according to a 2020 scientific review in the journal Molecules. This means fat enhances the absorption of curcumin, ensuring your body gets the most out of the compound. While you're at it, add black pepper to boost absorption (and flavor!) even more. Black pepper contains piperine, a compound that increases curcumin's bioavailability (read: the level at which a substance is absorbed by the body) by a whopping 2000 percent, according to a 2017 review in the journal Foods. (See also: The Best Foods to Eat Together for Nutrient Absorption)

Read on for several delish ways to use turmeric at home:

With roasted vegetables. Sprinkle turmeric powder on vegetables such as cauliflower before roasting them, recommends Evezich. This recipe for turmeric-roasted cauliflower is the perfect example.

In a latte. A golden latte, aka golden milk, is a tasty caffeine-free drink made of milk and turmeric powder. It can be made with dairy or plant-based milk, depending on your preference. You can also drink it cold, or with cocoa powder.

Use it cook rice. Before cooking a pot of rice, add a dash of turmeric powder to the water. The result will be flavorful and vibrant rice that will liven up even the most basic veggies.

Add it to smoothies. Brighten up your next smoothie (or juice) with a pinch of turmeric. Try it in a simple banana smoothie or make this creamy golden milk smoothie by Minimalist Baker.

Sauté with eggs or tofu. Ready to spice up your morning scramble? Season your eggs or tofu with turmeric. In fact, turmeric powder is often used to make vegan tofu "eggs," as it adds an omelet-like color and flavor.

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