Curry ResearchJuly 7, 2014 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Mrs. Healthy Fellow and I are just back from a five-week trip to London and Marrakech. The next few blogs are inspired by our recent time away from home. First stop: London. Whenever we “cross the pond” to jolly ole England we make it a point to eat some great Indian food. And, that means a visit (or two or three) to Dishoom, a Bombay inspired cafe, and Quilon, a regal dining spot which features south western Indian fare. These two delicious destinations have transformed our concept of what authentic Indian food tastes like. An important part of our personal culinary enlightenment is a newly found appreciation for curry.
The exact composition of curry powder varies. Many versions include chili powder, ground coriander, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, mustard seeds, pepper and turmeric. This is the type of curry spice blend you’re likely to find in many markets and specialty shops. There are also numerous curry pastes which can be homemade by adding fresh ingredients such as almonds, coconut and tomatoes. While the composition of curries differ based on their regional and traditional origins, the one commonality is the health benefits they possess.
In modern times, researchers have postulated that the lower incidence of certain diseases in the Indian population may be due to their consumption of medicinal spices. Turmeric, a root which imparts the yellow color to curry, was once believed to be largely or partially responsible for the noted health protection. But, this is unlikely to be the case. A 2006 study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer examined the content of curcumin, a therapeutic component of turmeric, in 28 curry powder products. The results indicate that the actual amount of curcumin was highly variable and very small. On average, even pure turmeric powder contained only 3.14% curcumin by weight. In practical terms, this indicates that the amount of curcumin present in curry spice falls far below the quantity required for therapeutic activity.
Allopathic medicine typically likes to identify an isolated chemical, such as curcumin, to explain a particular health effect. In the case of curry, nobody has yet isolated which specific ingredients are responsible for its health promoting potential. That mystery aside, more and more studies are finding medicinal properties of curry spice in controlled, scientific trials. For instance, the June 2014 issue of Nutrition Journal documents an improvement in endothelial function, a measure of cardiovascular and circulatory health, after just a single meal containing curry. Other research informs that curry intake improves pulmonary function in non-smokers and smokers alike, lowers the glycemic index of carbohydrate-rich meals and possibly reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline and various cancers.
As enthusiastic as I am about curry, there are a few instances where it should be conditionally avoided. The medical literature describes the potential for worsening of symptoms in individuals with gastric reflux (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Combining curry with fatty foods, ingredients and/or hot peppers tends to exacerbate this reaction. So, if you have either condition, proceed with caution.
To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:
Study 1 - Curcumin Content of Turmeric and Curry Powders … (link)
Study 2 - A Single Consumption of Curry Improved Postprandial Endothelial … (link)
Study 3 - Curcumins-Rich Curry Diet and Pulmonary Function in Asian Older … (link)
Study 4 - Effect of Dietary Curries on the Glycaemic Index … (link)
Study 5 – Curry Consumption and Cognitive Function in the Elderly … (link)
Study 6 - Cancer Risk and Diet in India … (link)
Study 7 - Consumption of Spicy Foods and the Prevalence of Irritable Bowel … (link)
Study 8 – Curry Induces Acid Reflux and Symptoms in Gastroesophageal Reflux … (link)
Study 9 - Fat, Spices and Gastro-Esophageal Reflux … (link)
Study 10 - Oral Regurgitation After Reflux Provoking Meals: A Possible Cause of … (link)
Cancer Rates in India vs the United States
Image 2: Source: J Postgrad Med. 2003 Jul-Sep;49(3):222-8. (link)
Tags: Curry, GERD, IBS
Posted in Food and Drink, Heart Health, Memory