Just don't expect it to cure all your ills.
Just don't expect it to cure all your ills.

Niki Bezzant: A turmeric latte won't prevent cancer

Have you tried a turmeric latte yet?

It's delicious: spicy and earthy, with a gorgeous yellow hue. It tastes lovely - but will it make me healthier?

If you google "health benefits of turmeric" you will come up with hundreds of articles about the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the spice.

You will also read it can benefit brain function, prevent heart disease, Alzheimer's and cancer, and that it may delay ageing and alleviate arthritis.

It's curcumin, the compound in turmeric, that's reputed to be responsible for all these effects, and by the time you've finished your Google research you'll be wanting to chow down on a daily turmeric lattes, alongside a generous yellow curry.

Turmeric's reputation as a newly minted superfood has just taken a knock, though.

A review of studies on curcumin, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, has concluded there is no evidence curcumin has any specific therapeutic benefits, despite thousands of research papers and more than 120 clinical trials.

It seems curcumin is a tricky compound that can throw up false signals in drug testing. Confused research - and reporting of that research - has helped propagate myths about curcumin's magical properties.

The study authors say this doesn't necessarily mean curcumin (or other turmeric extracts) do not have beneficial effects.

They may do - but it hasn't been proved, and finding it out from here could be difficult, if not impossible.

This is a noteworthy example of a superfood bandwagon in action, and a cautionary tale about jumping on those bandwagons.

How did it happen?

We know turmeric has been used for centuries in some countries for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Perhaps this helped lend credibility to reports of its healthy reputation. It sounds "truthy" and makes sense to us intuitively.

All those Indian healers were on to something, we say to ourselves.

But as with all things given that superfood label (a purely marketing term, by the way, banned in the EU without an authorised health claim), no single food is going to magically transform us into glowing, healthy people, even if there is credible evidence of its beneficial properties.

Eating bowlfuls of blueberries or piles of quinoa and chia seeds is no guarantee of health, particularly if we don't change anything else in our diets.

Expecting a turmeric latte to protect us from cancer when we're still eating minimal vegetables and drinking alcohol is like ordering a Diet Coke with your Mega Bacon burger: false health economy.

The big picture is important. The idea is to have a super diet, not to eat super food.

That doesn't mean these things are not good, healthy foods. Blueberries and quinoa are well worth including in our super diet.

And, if you like the spicy taste of a tongue-staining turmeric latte, there's no reason not to enjoy it.

If you have it with cow's milk, you'll get some protein and calcium.

With almond or soy milk it'll be a dairy-free treat.

Just don't expect it to cure all your ills.

- Herald on Sunday

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