Sunday, September 24, 2023

Forget Your Turmeric Latte: A Case For Turmeric Supplements

Active ingredients in turmeric are four per cent by weight. Only two per cent of them are absorbed by the body. A turmeric supplement can bypass these limitations, unlike a turmeric latte.

Turmeric latte is becoming famous the world over for its taste, flavour, aroma, and health benefits. Indians know it as Haldi Milk and have been consuming it for thousands of years, as mentioned in Ayurveda, the Indian Traditional Medicine.

Turmeric has significant health benefits, which have been extensively studied in the last few decades. To a varying extent, it is found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, heart-protective, liver-protective, brain-protective, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, and digestive properties.

I have covered them briefly in this article: Turmeric (Curcumin): A Complete Guide. A far more extensive coverage is in my upcoming book on the medicinal properties of superfoods like turmeric.

I consider turmeric to be the most important health food mankind has. But it has a serious lacuna, which prevents this wonder food from showing its great benefits quickly.

In this article, I present a case for why turmeric latte and most foods containing turmeric fail on that benchmark and why a good turmeric supplement is the only way to go.

Nutrients in Turmeric

  • A typical Indian diet has two to three grams of turmeric a day. Experts suggest a bit more—six grams—a day through food and beverages for general health.
  • Based on this number, turmeric is an excellent source of manganese (59% daily value) and a good source of iron (11% daily value). It is a poor source of other vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, contrary to what some websites claim.
  • Some ingredients in turmeric prevent iron absorption. So just because it is a good ‘source’ does not mean that your body will get enough iron from it.
  • Most benefits of turmeric come from powerful plant compounds called curcuminoids, eighty per cent of which is a compound called curcumin. As a result, all curcuminoids together are referred to as curcumin, and I will do the same in this article.

Tumeric Latte

So far, turmeric latte looks like a great health option. Here is a simple recipe for it:

  • Mix half a teaspoon of turmeric in another half teaspoon of ghee or clarified butter.
  • Add warm milk to it and stir.

Such a latte or turmeric milk will give you two and a half grams of turmeric. Along with a similar amount from food, you will get five to six grams of turmeric a day—just what the experts advise.

Imagine a delicious glassful giving half the daily amount of a superfood. No wonder the turmeric latte is a super hit.

This is great for general well-being; but when you consider turmeric for medicinal benefits, it starts getting tricky.

How Much Turmeric To Consume?

Curcumin compounds are about four per cent by weight in the best organically-grown turmeric. In cheaper quality powder that most people buy, they are two to three per cent. We will use four per cent in our calculations.

  • A teaspoon of turmeric weighs about five grams, containing 200 mg of curcumin.
  • For medicinal benefits, that is quite inadequate. The studies that have shown curcumin benefits in various health conditions have used between 500 and 1,500 mg of curcumin.

That brings a major challenge: You will need to consume 13 to 37 grams of turmeric a day to get medicinal benefits.

Safe Levels of Turmeric

Thirty-seven grams is too much turmeric to consume on a daily basis.

Up to eight grams of turmeric is considered safe by most Western regulatory agencies. Above eight grams a day, turmeric may cause diarrhoea or dizziness.

By the way, it is amusing that many Western experts advise one gram of turmeric a day to be safe for consumption—Indians have consumed more than 2 grams a day in their diet for generations and so far, 1.4 billion of us are all right.

It is also interesting that for most foods, Indian health websites quote the same numbers as their Western counterparts. However, when it comes to turmeric, the numbers guided on Indian websites are often much, much higher than what Western experts recommend. Who do you think has more experience with turmeric: Turmeric latte drinkers or Haldi milk drinkers?

When you take even higher doses (numbers unclear for obvious reasons—no one can test them ethically on humans), you can face low blood sugar, iron deficiency, excessive bleeding, and kidney stones. Turmeric is a gallbladder stimulant and people with gallstones will get severe pain.

So the next question: If you cannot consume so much, how are researchers giving that amount to their patients in the trials?

Turmeric Extract

Most researchers use turmeric extracts, not turmeric. The former has concentrated curcumin—instead of four per cent, the extract has ninety-five to hundred per cent. So you can give twenty-five times less quantity to get the same benefit.

When such an extract is given, turmeric compounds other than curcumin are eliminated. For example, by removing oxalates from turmeric, kidney stones are prevented.

If you have not figured it out so far, a turmeric extract is a supplement. A rule of thumb: If it is in a natural form, it is food; if it is processed, it is a supplement.

Curcumin Absorption

Let us go one step further. We reduced the non-curcumin compounds; can we remove most of the curcumin, too? That will prevent iron absorption in the intestines, for example.

But how will that work? After all, the medicinal benefits of turmeric come from taking a lot of curcumin.

  • It turns out that curcumin has very poor absorption in the intestines. You can expect less than two per cent to be absorbed.
  • So your body does not need a lot of curcumin after all; your intestines do. For your body to absorb just 30 mg of curcumin, you must dump 1,500 mg of curcumin or 37 grams of turmeric into your intestines. Talk about using a hurricane as a hair dryer! And that can cause most problems of turmeric excess.

Increasing Curcumin Absorption

There are many proprietary technologies that increase the bioavailability (intestinal absorption) of curcumin by 4 to 180 times.

  • You can increase curcumin absorption twenty times by mixing it with a compound found in black pepper called piperine.
  • Such a tiny 75 mg blended curcumin supplement will have enough potency of 1,500 mg unblended curcumin without its side effects such as iron malabsorption.
  • Even better, it will give medicinal benefits similar to consuming 37 grams of turmeric or 15 cups of turmeric latte.

Curcumin is better absorbed when consumed with fats. So adding a small drop of vegetable oils or soy lecithin in a supplement can enhance this absorption even further.

Frequency and Timing of Curcumin Supplements

Ideally, turmeric intake should be divided over three equal doses a day. This is because curcumin is utilised and cleared from your blood very fast. Technically speaking, curcumin’s half-life in blood is 6-7 hours. So divided doses help more stable blood curcumin levels.

An even smaller supplement with 25 mg of blended curcumin consumed thrice a day will offer enormous medicinal benefits, with negligible side effects.

Curcumin is considered safe even up to 8,000 mg a day. By staying a hundred times below that level, you are getting the best of both worlds.

Disclaimer: Irrespective of what Hippocrates said, food is not medicine; the two serve different purposes. Do not consume any food item in lieu of your medications. Use the information in this article to learn about the benefits, read more from the reference links, and have a healthy discussion with your doctor. Only after her consent can you incorporate that food into your diet; don’t do it on your own.


  • For general health, consume 5-6 grams of turmeric a day through food or beverages such as turmeric lattes.
  • For specific medicinal benefits, you need 13 to 37 grams of turmeric a day, which can cause many problems and even toxicities.
  • In such cases, a turmeric extract of 1,500 mg of unblended curcumin a day is an option.
  • Even better is taking a supplement of 75 mg of curcumin blended with piperine (or similar proprietary absorption enhancers) a day.
  • The best would be taking a supplement of 25 mg of blended curcumin thrice a day, preferably with meals.

Finally, there is one more serious consideration against your latte: adulteration.

Turmeric Adulteration

In the less-regulated world:

  • Turmeric powder is often mixed with chalk powder, sawdust, rice powder, or starch to bulk up the quantity.
  • Sometimes, bright synthetic colours such as metanil yellow, lead chromate, acid orange, or Sudan red are added to make the powder look more vibrant yellow.
  • Even raw or wild turmeric is added to the powder.

These make turmeric hazardous and unfit for consumption. I will write a separate article on how to test for such turmeric adulteration at home, though I have covered it in detail in my book.

If the powder is sold loose in the markets, such adulteration is easier. If you buy packaged turmeric powder from a known brand, this risk can be mitigated. But then you pay more for this peace of mind.

Perspective About Costs

Here is my way of thinking about such extra cost: The branded turmeric powder is not more expensive—that is the correct turmeric cost. The loose, possibly adulterated powder is cheap, with reduced prices indicating the risk component. Won’t you expect lower prices if you buy food or gadgets from street hawkers?

If you don’t know the risks, it does not mean there are none. There is always a cost to safety; you decide how much you want to pay for it.

The other option is to buy your own turmeric roots (called rhizomes) and grind them at home—a choice for people with more time at hand. Mind you, rhizomes also can be adulterated. But more on that in another article.

Most of the information in this article is taken from my upcoming book to be published by Macmillan Publishers in Nov 2023. The book discusses a thousand such preventive health tidbits. It covers twenty superfoods, their nutrients, health benefits, recommended amounts and excess levels. It also explains how to select and store and who should avoid them. Some of the superfoods are tomatoes, coconut, capsicum (Shimla mirch), drumsticks, amla (Indian gooseberry), jamun (Java plum), turmeric, cinnamon, flax seeds, asafoetida (hing), and sabja (sweet basil seeds).

To Read More

First Published on: 30th June 2023
Image Credit: azerbaijan_stockers on Freepik


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