If you've eaten Indian food, you've probably tasted turmeric. This yellow spice is commonly used in curries and gives other foods, including some types of butter and mustard, their yellow color. People have also used turmeric for many years as a traditional herbal remedy to improve digestion and reduce inflammation. One potential benefit from including more turmeric in your diet is lower cholesterol, although research is still in the preliminary stages.
Turmeric and Cholesterol
In a study published in the "Indian Journal of Community Health" in 2012, people who took a daily turmeric supplement lowered their total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, levels more than those who didn't take this supplement. Although turmeric may help lower cholesterol on its own, a mix of turmeric, ginger and garlic had a greater effect on cholesterol levels in another study, published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" in April 2011. Turmeric can also have an additive effect, improving the cholesterol-lowering effect of the medication simvastatin, note the authors of an animal study published in the "Indian Journal of Field Veterinarians" in 2011.
Turmeric contains an antioxidant called curcumin, which may be at least partly responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effects. The sodium curcuminate in turmeric may help increase the excretion of cholesterol from your body, and thus lower your blood cholesterol levels. Turmeric also limits the amount of dietary cholesterol that is absorbed through your intestines.
Add turmeric to scrambled eggs, potato salad, stews or cooked greens. Cooking Indian dishes at home will let you use turmeric while keeping the calories and fat in these dishes at a healthy level. Make rice with turmeric, raisins and cashews; top baked chicken with a mix of tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin; or try aloo gobi, a spicy Indian vegetarian dish made with cauliflower, potatoes, turmeric, cumin, paprika, garlic and ginger. You can even use turmeric in your dessert if you make a traditional Lebanese cake called sfoof that contains turmeric, pine nuts and semolina flour as well as more traditional cake ingredients.
While the amounts of turmeric typically used in food are safe, speak with your doctor before taking turmeric supplements. These supplements can interact with certain medications, including blood thinners, cancer medications, NSAIDs, antacids and diabetes medications. Turmeric supplements can also cause side effects, especially when used in large amounts over long periods of time. These include ulcers, upset stomach, nausea, indigestion, gas and skin rashes.
- British Journal of Nutrition: Modulatory Effects of Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric and Their Mixture on Hyperglycaemia, Dyslipidaemia and Oxidative Stress in Streptozotocin – Nicotinamide Diabetic Rats
- Indian Journal of Field Veterinarians: Effect of Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) and Simvastatin on Serum Lipid Profile in Rats
- Romanian Journal of Biology - Plant Biology: Curcuma Longa and Curcumin: A Review Article
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Turmeric
- American Cancer Society: Turmeric
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.