July 1, 2015

Touting Turmeric

Soon after I moved to Columbia in 2003, I asked a friend to tell me about the grocery stores near my house. She named the national food chains and added, “There’s also Earth Fare, a health food store on Devine.” I had driven by Earth Fare. I pictured aisles stocked with peculiar “off” brands, so for the next six years I continued to snub this wonderful store and others like it. Sadly, while cancer was quietly lurking in my body, I was missing out on an abundance of exceptional foods, including the anti-inflammatory herb known to the nutrition savvy as turmeric.

I now frequent all the health food stores in my town and turmeric is a star staple in my home! This morning I made a smoothie with homemade almond milk, strawberries, banana, rhubarb, chia seeds, turmeric powder, a pinch of black pepper (for turmeric absorption), coconut oil, pea protein powder, and Berbere Ethiopian seasoning (an anti-inflammatory spice blend). As you can see, I think a little outside the box when I make smoothies.

In my ongoing effort to increase my chances of survival, I research nutrition and integrative medicine. I listen to lectures and converse with people who do the same. One day I attended a lecture on inflammation presented by Dr. James Hébert, the Health Sciences Distinguished Professor and Director of the South Carolina Statewide Cancer Prevention and Control Program. Prior to his talk I was unaware that while one may have no evidence of inflammation outwardly, high levels of inflammation may be wreaking havoc at the cellular level.

Dr.  Hébert spoke of the role inflammation plays in disease formation. He named foods and other factors that either contribute to, or fight, inflammation. We saw data that revealed the low rate of disease in populations that routinely incorporate anti-inflammatory foods in their diets. He shared his recipe for Chai Tea, with its many spices and inflammatory properties. He also encouraged each of us to learn our “C-reactive protein (CRP) level, a marker of inflammation. I learned that we should strive to have a level as close to zero as possible.

After further research I asked the doctor to include this test during my next routine blood work. “A zero. No problem,” I thought, as I rolled up my sleeve for the nurse. “I’m eating pretty clean these days!” Well, I was in for a big surprise! To my dismay, I was a five!

That prior year I had become lazy about my diet. I was eating some foods with refined sugar and allowed snacks like potato chips and French onion dip (my weakness) to creep back into my diet. I wasn’t exercising, and I was probably stressing out about something silly that I have since forgotten. This was a recipe for inflammation.

After my test result, I quickly changed my diet. I compared lists of anti-inflammatory foods and began to eat those foods. I made Dr. Hebert’s tea (also with turmeric) and began to sprinkle turmeric powder in salads and on lightly steamed cauliflower drizzled with cold-pressed olive oil. I also made a few other positive changes.

A few months later I had my CRP level re-checked and again I was astounded! This time it was only .08. I have had it checked twice since then. Each time, it has remained between .08 and 1.1. It seems to trend up or down based on how diligent I am with sticking to anti-inflammatory foods.

For thousands of years turmeric has been used in India and in Chinese medicine. It is at the top of anti-inflammatory food lists. Its profound and positive effects on population groups where turmeric is widely used (like southern India) have caught the attention of researchers at hospitals and clinics throughout the world. Thousands of peer-reviewed articles have been written on the heels of countless scientific tests. Researchers are looking at how the properties in turmeric may prevent or stall diseases and conditions like arthritis, cancer, diabetes, depression, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, chronic pain, and Alzheimer’s. While experts agree that much more research is needed, many are excited about the healing potential of turmeric.

Fresh turmeric rhizomes (underground root-like stems) are part of the Curcuma longa plant. They are sold in the produce section of most health food stores and some mainline grocery chains. You’ll often find turmeric near the ginger, another anti-inflammatory root herb in the same family. Turmeric’s skin is dark and tough. It is nubby and crooked like ginger and its flesh is deep orange. Fresh turmeric should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks (make sure the root skin is dry).

Dried ground turmeric is a rich yellow color and is sold in bulk bins at most health food stores and on spice aisles in most grocery stores. Ground dried turmeric should be stored in a cool, dark place (but not in the refrigerator), in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. It is very susceptible to light and heat, and should be stored correctly and used within six months.

Good Life Café exists to help others achieve better health. They love to hear customers share how their lives changed after they began to incorporate living foods into their diets. Last week a woman shared how her life-long pain from arthritis significantly decreased after she switched to a steady clean, mostly raw diet filled with anti-inflammatory foods. She recently heard about Good Life Café and is super excited to have a place where she can enjoy so many wonderful foods that contribute to good health.

Good Life Cafe’s menu reflects their commitment to nutritional excellence. Come experience a freshly blended smoothie! I recommend The Joint Power with—you guessed it—turmeric!

Anne Buck for Good Life Café

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