Spice of life: 7 surprising health benefits of curry powder
It’s such a store cupboard staple that it’s easy to take humble curry powder for granted. We even neglect it in our cooking, although it’s a simple way of adding depth and warmth with just a pinch or two in a soup, a sprinkle to liven up a stir fry or, of course, a fully-fledged Indian feast.
In fact, aside from being a little flavour bomb, a good quality, fresh curry powder brings with it a surprising range of health benefits.
What is curry powder?
In the UK, when we talk about curry powder, we usually mean a blend of spices from East Indian cuisine. The details may vary but we’re talking turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried chillies, black pepper, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns and bay leaves.
And it turns out such a heady mix of ingredients teams up to pack quite the health punch:
1. Reducing inflammation
Turmeric is the key here. This wonder spice has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to help treat inflammation, pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Scientific studies appear to support the idea that turmeric’s active ingredient curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and lowers levels of two inflammation-causing enzymes. Some experts even suggest its powers rival ibuprofen.
2. Fighting cancer
Again, that feisty little curcumin could help to prevent or treat cancers, including prostate, breast, skin and colon cancer.
A small study on patients with precancerous changes in different organs seemed to show that curcumin could stop these changes from developing into cancer. There’s also evidence that certain cancers are less common in countries where people eat curcumin daily over long periods
Other research indicates that curcumin could even kill existing cancer cells, possibly in conjunction with chemotherapy.
3. Combating Alzheimer’s disease
Because of curcumin’s powerful antioxidant properties, it’s thought to help prevent and treat diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
But turmeric also contains another chemical, turmerone, which could also help with these kinds of neurodegenerative conditions by stimulating stem cells to make new brain cells.
4. Boosting your bones
Some studies have suggested turmeric could increase bone regrowth, connectivity and repair. More research is needed but it could prove to be great news for osteoporosis sufferers.
5. Aiding digestion
But it’s not just turmeric that’s fighting the good fight inside your body after a curry. A cocktail of spices is helping your tummy, with black pepper great for relieving gas and promoting stomach acid, bay leaves and cumin known as digestion helpers, cinnamon soothing diarrhoea and vomiting, while coriander is kind to upset stomachs.
Efficient digestion means less wind and lots of good bacteria jostling around in your bowels and doing its job.
6. Looking after your heart
Both cardamom and sweet basil are often included in curry powder and they’re known as vasodilators. In other words, they can lower blood pressure, which means reducing the chance of developing cardiovascular conditions, including atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.
7. Battling bacteria
Coriander is well-known for its antibacterial qualities. Experts have recommended using coriander oil in the fight against foodborne diseases and hospital infections, so regular curries could help protect you against nasty bacteria too.
It seems a regular curry isn’t just delicious, it could help to improve your health in all kinds of ways. Alongside these benefits though, there are a couple of groups who should beware of the balti.
Curry powder is an anti-coagulant so if you’re already taking blood thinners, check with your doctor before indulging, in case there’s a danger of excessive bleeding. It can also irritate the gallbladder too, so may not be good for people with gallbladder conditions.