Turmeric, turmeric, turmeric. The queen of ‘superfoods’, the cure-all wonder-spice, the Asian health insurance policy; whatever you want to call it, along with goji berries, quinoa and chia seeds these foods have been responsible for a wholesale shift in the way we talk about what we eat. Rather than considering whole food groups the focus has changed to single foods and their supposed healing powers, what has been termed the ‘food as medicine’ movement.
This was very much at its peak when I was writing my cookbook The Midlife Kitchen. When my co-author Mimi Spencer and I were recipe developing we spent a lot of time looking at single ingredients and their health-giving properties, in particular in relation to midlife and our all-consuming (no pun intended) quest for a longer healthspan. Our process was:
Research ingredients with health-giving properties in midlife
Identify which ingredients work well together from both a health and a flavour perspective
Build recipes from those combinations
The important point to note is that we were not ultimately considering the foods in isolation but rather as part of a synergistic recipe – the sum being more than the parts. For example, the health-giving component in turmeric is called curcumin which is more bio-available (i.e. your gut can absorb it better) if you eat it with black pepper – so when we use turmeric in recipes we combine it with pepper to ensure the benefits are realized. There is no denying that turmeric is good for you but the idea that it can achieve anything in isolation is nonsense … you wouldn’t live long on a diet of turmeric capsules!
Of course, I love an interesting fact about turmeric as much as the next person, in fact The Midlife Kitchen is packed with little tips like ‘garlic is full of vitamin B6 which is important for energy release’ and ‘bananas are a great source of potassium which is important for heart health’ … but that doesn't mean we should eat a ton of garlic or bananas! The nutritional power of a single food is only realized when combined with other healthy foods over the long term. Avocados are great but are so much better squidged on grainy toast with an egg and seeds on top. Dark berries are brilliant but offer so much more when added to Greek yogurt and sprinkled with nuts.
And, if we are talking about variety let’s not forget the other hot topic of the moment, gut health. The science is not really there yet to fully understand how the gut works (leaky gut and so forth are not much more than theories at the moment) but what we do know is that the gut is of paramount importance to our overall health and we should look after it. The best way to do that is to eat as wide a variety of healthy foods as possible and, if you like them, probiotic and fermented foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, live yogurt etc.
So, next time you see that headline extolling the virtues of Albanian dofu seeds* please don’t rush out and buy an overpriced pack. Better by far to just pick up a different fruit or vegetable from the ‘in season’ section of the supermarket and add it to your next meal.
Until next time, happy, healthy eating!
*Yes I did make them up!