Should People with Diabetes Eat Turmeric?


Turmeric is the spice that’s yellow but not too mellow. A favorite of foodies, turmeric is gaining attention for its purported health benefits, including possible applications in the treatment of diabetes. Even the medical establishment is keeping its eye on this unique spice.   

Turmeric is what makes mustard yellow. If you’re a fan of curries, you have eaten plenty of it, but you may not know that it has been used in ayurpedic medicine for centuries. Practitioners consider it an anti-inflammatory. Modern researchers are primarily interested in turmeric for its active compounds called curcuminoids, of which curcumin is the most abundant and the most studied.


Evidence for the Benefits of Turmeric

Let’s get the science out of the way first. Turmeric has been investigated by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health(NCCIH), which is a division of the National Institute for Health (NIH).  According to the NCCIH, preliminary studies indicate these benefits for turmeric and its curcuminoids:

  • pain relief for arthritic knees
  • relief of skin irritation caused by breast cancer radiation treatment
  • reduction of heart attacks following bypass surgery.

Studies demonstrating that turmeric could be valuable in the treatment of diabetes are also considered preliminary, according to the NCCIH. Most studies have been animal studies, and those carried out with humans have been small. Still, reviews of the research suggest that turmeric could play several beneficial roles for people with diabetes. First, it could play a role in preventing those predisposed to diabetes from developing the condition. Second, in those who have diabetes, it could help to lower blood sugar and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Third, it could mitigate some of the complications of diabetes, such as fatty liver.  

When you consult reliable sources for the benefits of turmeric, you will see many references to what turmeric “may” do. That brings us to the question of safety. Many people with diabetes are willing to try something that “may” help as long as there are no significant risks. It’s wise to ask next if there are dangers associated with supplementing with turmeric or curcuminoids.


Turmeric: A Generally Safe Supplement

The good news is that turmeric is considered safe. Taking high doses may result in gastrointestinal distress, but no other side effects are listed by the NIH.

Supplements including turmeric may be harmful if used in place of conventional treatments. Product claims that seem too good to be true almost always are. No product known today, including turmeric, can “cure” diabetes.


Questions of Dosage and Bio-Availability

Turmeric can be taken in powder, capsule or powder form. It may be labeled as turmeric, turmeric extract or curcumin. Of course, turmeric can also be taken in food or as a tea. More about that later.

Deciding upon a proper amount of turmeric to take isn’t easy. The USDA does not recommend dosages for supplements other than basic vitamins and minerals. A conservative dose would be around 200-300 mg a day. Many of the studies that have been done have used higher doses.

Another issue is that the curcumin in turmeric isn’t high in bio-availability, meaning it isn’t readily absorbed by the body and is quickly excreted. Interestingly, it is better absorbed when combined with piperine, an ingredient in black pepper. For this reason it makes sense to use it in food.


Cooking with Turmeric

Turmeric gives foods an intense yellow color and a pungent, earthy taste. In its powdered form it is considered a spice. A common component of many Indian, Caribbean and Middle Eastern foods, it is an ingredient in curry powder, and some versions of garam masala will contain turmeric.

Turmeric is a favorite way to add flavor complexity to chicken. This Indian-spiced chicken with tomato and cream takes a while to cook but results in delicious, falling-off-the-bone morsels (omit the potatoes/bread/rice for low carb version). Turmeric rice is a classic recipe, and you can make a low-carb version with cauliflower rice. It’s a great go-with for chicken, salmon or other main dishes.  This versatile spice is a natural in soups, too, especially ones based around squash or carrots, like this butternut squash and tomato soup

Do you enjoy nutrient-rich drinks? Turmeric is popping up more and more in smoothies and lattes. Golden milk is a classic drink that can be made using real milk or in a version like this one that uses coconut or almond milk. Another time-honored way of using turmeric is in teas, such as this ginger-turmeric brew.

True gourmets swear by using the root itself instead of the spice. Turmeric root looks much like ginger from the outside, but cutting into it reveals its bright orange-yellow hue. It looks something like a small sweet potato. When handling the root, use plastic gloves or be prepared for your fingers to be yellow for a few days. (Turmeric is also used as a dye.) 

If you’re not particularly fond of the taste of turmeric, try adding it in small amounts to almost any food in the red to yellow color spectrum. If the food is strongly flavored, you can add more. The other flavors will keep the turmeric taste in check.

Turmeric has been described as a homely root, but it excels at adding vibrant color and layers of flavor to foods. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it also turned out to be a potent tool for the treatment of diabetes? Stay tuned!

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