As an integrative rheumatologist, I am often asked about how to use Turmeric. Turmeric, an ancient relative of ginger, contains curcumin, which has both potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. I frequently prescribe curcumin supplements, often combined with other botanicals, for my patients with degenerative and inflammatory arthritis.
However, I also encourage my patients to use turmeric as a spice in their cooking, as well. This is because eating the whole, powdered turmeric root provides the full spectrum of phytochemicals from this plant. These compounds, in addition to turning off the main inflammatory switch (NFkB) of the body, also have anti-cancer properties, and lower cholesterol. And, as you likely know if you have an autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation may increases your lifetime risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The best way to lower these risks is to treat the underlying disease, but the use of dietary turmeric may directly offset some of this risk as well. Additionally, turmeric is carminative, meaning that it aids with food digestion, and reduces bloating in your GI tract.
Cooking with turmeric is a good way to increase your intake of plant-based pigments, also called flavonoids, which are the basis of the anti-inflammatory diet. The active constituents of turmeric are best absorbed when cooked with some fat, as well as with black pepper.
Kitchen-Prescription Recipe:Morrocan Lentil and Butternut Squash Stew
This dish has all the comforts of winter warmth. Fragrant turmeric and spices, nutrient-dense black lentils, and soothing butternut squash come together in a one-pot meal that nourishes from the inside out. Enjoy, Dr. Weintraub
Morrocan Lentil and Butternut Squash Stew
one medium onion
two cloves of garlic
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Cup of parsley, leaves and tender stems
1/2 Cup of cilantro, leaves in tender stems
2 plum tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
2 teaspoons of tumeric
2 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
one pinch of saffron, dissolved in 1/2 of Cup hot water
6 cups of organic, free range chicken stock, preferably low sodium
1 Cup of black lentils, soaked for at least one hour in water, and rinsed
2 pounds of butternut squash, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon of salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the butternut squash with two tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt. Arrange on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Roast for 45 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned.
Pulse the onion, garlic, parsley, and cilantro in a food processor until finely minced. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, and then add the onion mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the coriander, tumeric, cumin, dry ginger, and cinnamon, and cook for another minute until the spices are fragrant and toasted. Add in the stock, the soaked saffron with its water, and the lentils. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, or until the beans are very soft, and cooked through. Taste for seasoning, and add up to 1 teaspoon of salt.
Stir in the cooked butternut squash, and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Serve hot, with extra cilantro on top.
K-P Food as Medicine Cooking Tips
Buy powdered turmeric that is grown in the USA, and preferably organic. Countries outside the US, particularly those that have more pollution, have higher soil levels of arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals. These can leach into the turmeric root.
Another good way to get turmeric into your diet is by drinking Golden Milk. There are many variations of this, but here’s the one I like: Mix 1 tsp of turmeric into 1 cup of your choice of milk-not nonfat-the turmeric needs fat to be absorbed. Add a pinch of both black pepper and ground ginger, 1 tsp of agave, and mix well.
Turmeric, like many plant based products, is a mild blood thinner. Use caution if you are eating large amounts of this spice and also take a blood thinner.
I chose lentils for this dish because smaller beans are more easily digestible than large ones. However, if you are not used to eating beans regularly, start slowly, eating small amounts each day. This will give your microbiome time to adjust appropriately. Soaking, and/or sprouting the lentils, will also aid digestion.