Turmeric has been receiving a lot of praise due to the health potentials of its bioactive compound, curcumin. Lately, it seems like every nutrition TikTok you scroll past and every summer recipe on Instagram’s For You page involves the bright spice in some capacity. We’re just catching onto this now – turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as both a spice and medicinal herb. Now, it is getting more traction in Western cultures as research is able to provide evidence behind the medicinal properties. 

So, what is that evidence? A lot of it has to do with something called free radicals. Curcumin has been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect our bodies from free radicals, which can ultimately damage important organic substances in our bodies and in the foods we consume, such as fatty acids, proteins, and DNA. Due to its chemical structure, curcumin can neutralize these harmful free radicals. 

Free radicals come from many sources. For instance, a crowd favorite at summer BBQs is always the hamburger. According to a recent food composition and analysis study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, depending on the fat content, hamburger meat patties are susceptible to lipid oxidation during cooking. Lipid oxidation leads to lipid free radicals which can be further oxidized to become lipid peroxide which  then damages cell membranes and tissues. Lipid peroxidation has been implicated in disease states such as atherosclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and more. In addition, digestion in the stomach can further exacerbate lipid oxidation and the production of secondary products, such as aldehydes, can produce free radicals. 

The study found that a spice mixture of turmeric and black pepper exhibited the strongest ability to quench lipid peroxidation in the hamburger patties. Since curcumin is fat-soluble and is poorly absorbed in our bodies when used alone, the addition of black pepper enhances absorption by about 2,000% due to a compound called piperine. Results after eating a burger showed a reduction in oxidative damage, inflammatory processes and vasoconstriction, which could have beneficial implications for reducing age-related chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. The next time you fire up the grill for some hamburgers, try adding a teaspoon of turmeric powder to the hamburger meat and don’t forget the black pepper!

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Edited by Starkel Nutrition Marketing Assistant, Mairin McCurdy