Tricks with Turmeric: How to Sneak the Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Into Your Diet

illustration by: daiana ruiz

It’s the stuff that turns so many tasty SouthEast Asian curries a bright, warm yellow hue—and is so vibrant that many cultures use it as a gorgeously golden clothing dye.

Turmeric (a cousin to ginger, also sometimes called Indian saffron) is way more than just a pretty face or just a delicious spice; it’s also a multi-tasking, medical workhorse that studies show is one of the most effective nutritional supplements out there—with major benefits for your body and brain.

How so? Well for starters, its anti-inflammatory powers aren’t messing around. Ask most any scientist about low-level inflammation, and they’ll tell you about how it plays a major role in a slew of chronic, Western diseases like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and many degenerative conditions.

But turmeric contains a component (a phytochemical, to be exact) called curcumin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help our bodies fight foreign invaders like bacteria and free radicals and also helps repair damage. On top of all that, new studies are being done that look into its helpfulness in improving cognition, kidney functioning, and balancing our blood sugar levels. Oh, and it’s also great for all kinds of skin issues too.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But here’s the catch: The turmeric that we find on shelves and in spice cabinets (which is made of the roots of the plant that have been ground to a powder) contains varying amounts of curcumin, but on average, every teaspoon of turmeric has about 200 milligrams of the stuff it in. And doctors and scientists say that if you want to reap the full anti-inflammatory effects, you need to take in somewhere between 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcumin every day. That means that getting the full benefits calls for at least two and a half teaspoons a day. That’s a big bunch of turmeric flavor, and probably more than even those of us who absolutely love the stuff want to add to our food every single day.

You can always take a daily supplement, but if that’s the only way you ever get your turmeric on, then you miss out on actually enjoying the warm and rich, complex flavors of it.

Besides, all that said, anything that can help fight chronic inflammation and prevent and/or even treat major diseases is worth embracing, right? Every little bit helps, so why not turn your intake up a notch? Here are some ways to do that throughout your day that are equal parts delicious and simple:

In the morning:

A sweet-tart smoothie

After a great workout, this may just be one of the best things in life. Whipping one up is as easy as grabbing a blender and adding seven ingredients: a half cup of fresh carrot juice, a large ripe banana, a cup of fresh or frozen pineapple, a cup of skim milk or unsweetened almond milk, a big squirt of lemon, half a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, and a half of a teaspoon of turmeric. Blend, pour and drink up.

Sprinkle a dash over your oatmeal

The vaguely sweet and fragrant taste of turmeric is a perfect foil for the nuttiness of oats, and both enhance one another’s earthiness. If you mix it into the oatmeal, the whole bowl of it will take on that sublime yellow color, and the more berries you add, the prettier (and better for you) it becomes.

In the afternoon:

Around lunchtime, dig into salads with poultry marinated in turmeric

Tumeric adds earthy aromas and a beautifully intense flavor to a bevy of turkey or chicken dishes. We see this all the time in the aforementioned curries, but they tend to be quite rich, so if you’re looking for something on the lighter side in the afternoon, try taking this route. The day before, mix up a quick marinade of one cup canned coconut milk, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a clove of chopped garlic. Toss in a teaspoon of turmeric, another of ground coriander, and a tablespoon each of fresh lime juice and ground ginger. Marinate your favorite poultry parts in the mixture for a few hours, then roast it up. The next day, slice up the meat and eat it chilled over your choice of a bed of greens.

Snack midday on turmeric-dusted nuts

This couldn’t be more of a cinch: Just measure out a cup of your favorite nut (walnuts, pecans, and pistachios are particularly fantastic with the spice) and mix in a pinch of salt, another of pepper, and a teaspoon of turmeric. Try not to eat it all in under a minute (if you can).

At night:

For dinner, grill up a classic (or not-so-classic) shawarma

Chicken and beef are the traditional proteins in this addictive Middle Eastern street food roll-up, but you can sub them with shrimp or scallops, too — all of the above work really well with these versatile flavors. Whichever you choose, marinate it in a whisked-up combo of lemon juice, half a cup of olive oil, and a teaspoon each of minced garlic, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and turmeric, plus a few dashes each of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Let it sit for at least an hour in the fridge, and then grill it all before serving it on pita bread with tahini, and chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

Use it to transform a side dish into a main

Vegetarians will rejoice when they get a bite of what roasted cauliflower tastes like once lightly dusted with turmeric, salt, and pepper and drizzled with olive oil. Just add all of those condiments before you pop it in the oven to roast. It’s so flavor-packed, you’ll never mistake it for an afterthought to any meal.

Before bedtime, turn it into a beauty treatment

Since we already know what a terrific anti-inflammatory turmeric is, it only makes sense that skin experts extoll the virtues of it as a face mask. It reduces acne and scarring, prevents bacteria, cuts down on hyperpigmentation, and calms skin down. What you mix it with to create the ideal mask for you will depend on your skin concerns: for an acne fix, combine it with honey and warm water; for hyperpigmentation, add it to plain yogurt; and for the full-blown antioxidant effects, add it to water with a bit of rice flour to thicken it. In all of the above cases, just stir it up in a bowl and apply to your face like any other mask. Leave it on for 10 minutes and then simply wash it off before going about the rest of your bedtime beauty regimen. And just like that, you’re on your way to healthiness inside and out!

About the Authorscreen-shot-2017-08-03-at-3-49-53-am

Alexandra Hall is a lifestyle journalist covering food, fitness, beauty, and parenting. A Boston native and alum of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she now lives in Portland, Maine with her blended family of six--all of whom like to eat different things for dinner.