Ancient Spice Gets New Reputation

turmeric in a pottery container

Despite being used in cooking for decades, recent product launches have featured turmeric for its ability to fight inflammation. And because many long-term diseases are associated with inflammation, turmeric has been linked to cancer-prevention, Alzheimer’s, lupus, Crohn’s, and other inflammatory diseases.

Turmeric’s popularity spans continents

Since 2011, turmeric has become a very popular ingredient in the health food market. Mintel Market Research named this “super spice” a superfood to watch in 2016. From 2011 to 2016, of all global turmeric and curcumin supplements launched between May 2011 and April 2016, 30% of them were in North America. But, Europe and Asia are also experiencing a turmeric supplement boom and have launched equally as many products as North America. So, we are seeing turmeric’s popularity expand across three continents!

According to Stephanie Mattucci, a food scientist with Mintel, “Research on turmeric’s active compound, curcuminoids, has primarily focused on the compound’s anti-inflammatory benefits. Chronic inflammation has been associated with a wide range of major diseases, including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Some of the potential benefits of turmeric include protection against these diseases, due to the compound’s anti-inflammatory properties.” (Mintel)

The health benefits of turmeric

The health benefits of turmeric are from a molecule in the plant called curcumin. Curcumin (and its bioactive compound curcuminoids) is believed to help reduce swelling in your body and thus has been dubbed an “anti-inflammatory molecule.” In clinical research, curcumin has demonstrated antioxidant qualities. According to the UCLA Alzheimer Translation centercurcumin has a “polyphenolic molecular structure.”

The turmeric root (image credit)

These polyphenol properties are what is believed to help fight inflammation in your body. (We have also discussed the role of polyphenols in our article “The Red Wine Diet.”) A polyphenol is a specific type of antioxidant that can be found in foods like red wine, dark chocolate, and turmeric. However, as we reviewed in “The Lowdown on Antioxidants,” while there is promising research into the ability for antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, it has not been conclusively proven through human trials.

What does the research say about the health benefits of turmeric?

With regards to its anti-inflammatory properties, most of the claims made for turmeric supplements have not been conclusively proven and thus it is not possible to make a verified claim regarding these supplements. However, there is a lot of promising research that has been performed and that is being used to design new trials, especially since turmeric is not toxic.

InflammationA noteworthy 2005 study determined that the curcumin compound demonstrated multiple beneficial properties, most notably its ability to act as an ‘anti-inflammatory agent’ and ‘oxygen radical scavenger.’

In science, it is generally understood that reactive oxygen radicals can cause inflammation. Because of its potential to hunt and collect these oxygen radicals, curcumin is believed to fight inflammation and act as an anti-inflammatory agent. The study asserted that curcumin “may exert its anti-inflammatory activity by inhibition of a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation.” So, because curcumin is able to keep prevent damage-causing oxygen radicals it protects your body from having an inflammatory response.

Some of the many products that contain curcumin

This hypothesis was further discussed in a 2007 review that addressed the anti-inflammatory properties of the curcumin compound. Additionally, more current research has focused on the relationship between curcumin and specific inflammatory molecules. For example, a 2017 study determined curcumin was an effective inhibitor of Interleukin-6, which is considered a “pro-inflammatory molecule.” Like Interleukin-6, many of these pro-inflammatory molecules have inhibited by curcumin in lab studies.

Alzheimer’s: A 2008 research analysis investigated curcumin’s ability to help treat Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disease (AD). In addition to the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin— which could help keep the symptoms of AD at bay—lab research has also indicated that curcumin may have the ability to protect your nerve-endings. The papers entitled, “The Effect of Curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease: An Overview” determined that curcumin “will lead to a promising treatment to Alzheimer’s disease.”

When Alzheimer’s advances, one of the biggest developments of the disease is the ‘chronic’ inflammation of nerve cells in your body. If curcumin can effectively prevent an inflammatory response, it may help to prevent or treat AD in the future. A 2001 study also investigated the relationship between curcumin and Alzheimer’s prevention. The study, which was performed on rats determined that curcumin “may find clinical application for AD prevention.”

Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; according to scientists, these properties are believed to help ease Alzheimer’s symptoms caused by oxidation and inflammation. (Mishra, 2008)

Cholesterol: According to WebMD, there has been some promising research into turmeric’s ability to help regulate cholesterol. Research including human participants indicated that taking a turmeric supplement (containing curcumin) 2x a day over a three-month period reduced total cholesterol and specifically LDL cholesterol— the bad kind!

Overall, there is a significant amount of current and verified research that indicates curcumin is a strong antioxidant that may help inhibit an inflammatory response inside your body.

How much turmeric should you be taking?

Several human trials have been conducted to determine the potential toxicity of turmeric supplements and powders and it has been deemed safe for consumption even at high doses.

There have been several trials that tested more reasonable daily doses (1,000-2,000mg), however, in one particularly compelling study 25 human participants were given 8,000 milligrams of curcumin a day. To put that into perspective, in order to achieve this dosage you would have to eat about 40 teaspoons of turmeric a day. The study found no toxicity from curcumin in the participants. The trial was conducted over a three-month period and curcumin was deemed safe for consumption. Regardless of whether taking turmeric is going to help your inflammation (remember every body is different), if taken in reasonable amounts it is not going to make you sick.

In 1 teaspoon of turmeric, there are roughly 200 milligrams of curcumin. In a recent interview with the website Well and Good, Dr. Robin Berzin noted, “curcuminoids only comprise a small part of turmeric. If you want anti-inflammatory effects you need to get 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcuminoids per day.” By that standard, to reap the benefits of turmeric you would need to incorporate at least 3 teaspoons, or 1 tablespoon, into your regimen.

The D2D team tried the golden milk latte with coconut milk, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon, and a little honey.

However, it is also important to note it is possible for some people to experience difficulty reaping the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric if it is being consumed on its own. For this reason, it is actually recommended that you take turmeric along with black pepper as it helps your body utilize the curcumin more effectively. This is because black pepper contains a compound called piperine that prevents your liver from breaking down the turmeric and thus enables a significant portion of the spice to remain in your body. This may help your body better utilize the curcumin compound. It has been written that black pepper helps absorption of the turmeric, but technically speaking that is not the case. Black pepper will help boost turmeric levels, however, eating healthy oils (like coconut oil) and foods containing a good fat will help your body with turmeric absorption.

Turmeric shows promising health benefits, however, it has not been conclusively proven with double-blind studies that taking turmeric supplements will fight inflammation. Additionally, many of the popular turmeric products include high levels of sugar and might not be that good for you! If you do choose to add turmeric to your routine, it is recommended that you take the supplement along with oils or fat-containing foods to promote absorption and drink 4-6oz of water.

Greek Yogurt: Wasting a-Whey

yogurt with berries

After snoozing the alarm several times, the last thing we like to think about in the morning is cooking breakfast. Because of its creamy taste and texture, dense protein and low sugar content, Greek yogurt is a perfect grab-and-go option. Greek yogurt has almost 2x as much protein as regular yogurt— hence its popularity. Market Research shows that over 50% of consumers that purchase yogurt are buying greek yogurt. And like the statistic, the Dirt-to-Dinner team found we were purchasing more Greek yogurt than traditional yogurt products.

How is Greek yogurt different from traditional yogurt?

It is the straining process that sets Greek yogurt apart from traditional yogurt products. The nutrients from the milk are consolidated into the protein-dense product.


Unfortunate waste in the process of making Greek yogurt

The process of making Greek yogurt, however, creates more waste. For every gallon of milk that is used to make Greek yogurt, two-thirds of that gallon is discarded after straining.  The remaining watery substance is too acidic (with a pH of 4.6) and too salty to use productively anywhere else in the food supply chain. This strained residue is called acid whey and is a mixture of lactose, galactose, calcium phosphate, and lactic acid.

While we love Greek yogurt, the Dirt-to-Dinner team was concerned about the sustainability of this food’s production. The under-utilized byproduct that is created by making Greek yogurt is something that doesn’t sit well with us. In fact, on a recent visit to the Agricultural School at Cornell University, we learned about the negative impact this acid whey can have on the environment.

Where is the acid whey going?

Water has a pH of 7. Putting acid whey with a pH of 4.6 into the environment is not beneficial for either the soil or the water. The soil would turn into a perfect environment for weeds and conifers— not crops. The run-off into the waterways can kill fish. Overall it would negatively affect the environment.

Most acid whey is sent to the municipal waste system where huge holding tanks process liquids in an anaerobic environment. Acid whey is able to break down the waste because the protein and sugars help the fermentation process. However, there is little economic value in this AND there is significant water waste to consider.

In addition to the acid whey by-product that is created, there is also the issue of water wasted.

While we support the need to find an application for acid whey, what really caused the Dirt-to-Dinner team to pause and consider whether Greek yogurt was worth the extra protein boost was when we considered the water that is wasted.

According to Tristan Zuber, Dairy Processing Specialist at Cornell, “For every four pounds of Greek yogurt manufactured, about three pounds of acid whey is produced. When you think of the various factors that contribute to creating a gallon of Greek yogurt, you can extrapolate that two-thirds of that are not fully utilized for human or industrial use…

…A dairy cow drinks about 40 gallons of water a day to make about 8 gallons of milk. So for the yogurt that is made from one gallon of milk, the dairy cow must drink five gallons of water. And because not all of this milk is being consumed, inevitably the water the cow drinks to make a gallon of milk is not being fully utilized. So each time you eat a 5.3 oz of Greek yogurt you are wasting 26 ounces of water— about three glasses.”

This is not including all the water, fertilizer, and other inputs used to grow the crops to make the animal feed for the cow.

Time for innovation…

When food is processed into a sellable product, there is usually some type of by-product that can be used in some other type of capacity. For instance, soybean oil residue can be repurposed with asphalt. Or, a by-product of corn processing is used to make ethanol. Unfortunately, in the case of Greek yogurt, an effective application for the acid whey byproduct has not been discovered.

In 2016, 800,000 metric tons of Greek yogurt was produced in the U.S. and the acid whey by-product from that production could fill up approximately 640 Olympic-sized swimming pools! There is an opportunity here…

The cheese industry had a similar problem with the sweet whey that was produced while making cheese. However, sweet whey is less acidic and has a bit more protein so it can be sold as protein supplements. Acid whey is more of an issue, but patents have been filed to try and extract the proteins and lactose into a usable food or animal feed. Right now, when extracted it turns into a lumpy, hard material.  Arla Foods has found a solution to mix acid whey with Nutrilac solution to make drinks, cheese, dressings, and other dairy products. One of their drinks was named ‘Best Beverage Ingredient” at the 2013 Beverage Innovation Awards.

Sustainability is a big issue for Greek yogurt. Try adding extra protein to your regular yogurt instead. 

  • Add Almonds (18) for 6 grams of protein
  • Add Chia Seeds (2 tablespoons) for 4 grams of protein
  • Add Hemp Seeds (3 tablespoons) for 12 grams of protein
  • Add Cashews (14) for 4 grams of protein

Waste Not, Want Not

discarded food in a landfill



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Imagine this…you have a vegetable garden about the size of a football field where you grow fruits and veggies for your family. Now, once you’ve harvested the entire football field, take everything produced from the goal post to the 35-yard line and throw it all away!

Yep, put that beautiful bounty straight in the trash. According to the USDA, food waste in the U.S. is estimated at between 30-40%.

Food loss and waste has certainly become a hot topic around the world. We’ve made significant progress in raising public awareness while also implementing improvements across the food chain to decrease overall food loss. But, the problem still remains: how can we reduce the amount of food going to waste while the world grows larger and hungrier every day?  

We see the subject of food waste more and more: on television, in newspapers and magazines, and in the places we shop for and consume food.  It’s of growing importance to everyone along the supply chain: food producers, handlers, transporters, processors, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and restaurants, food banks and food pantries, and, especially, a growing number of concerned consumers.

Where is the greatest opportunity for improvement?  Where can we have the most immediate positive impact in addressing food loss and waste?

Most observers point to simple human behavior.

In our previous post, “Such A Waste,” D2D discussed the annual loss and waste along the entire food supply chain. Much of the public attention to food loss and waste sensibly focuses on the way food is packaged, sold, or otherwise used.

But statistics show that the greatest portion of food loss and waste in the United States and other developed economies can be traced to what we as consumers do every day.

The decisions you make about the food you purchase and prepare for your family, how you store it in your kitchen, and how you deal with the leftovers from food preparation and meals can make a significant impact on the amount of overall food waste.

And let’s go back to the imaginary vegetable garden for a second. Don’t forget about the resources inevitably wasted with food waste. Think of the pesticides, fertilizer, and water to keep those crops alive in the field— that’s money and natural resources flushed down the drain!

source: Business Insider

So how much water is wasted when you throw away produce that may have gotten lost in the back of the refrigerator? When you throw away an orange, you are throwing away a portion of the 13.8 gallons of water it took to grow that orange.

Yes, it is true that the majority of that water is eventually returned to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration, however, it is important to acknowledge the number of resources that go into something as simple as one orange— and how quickly those resources can be wasted! And if we think about this waste on a global scale, the amount of wasted resources gets even bigger.

Here is where YOU can come into the picture. Back to the football field— take all the food from the goal post to the 12-yard line – that is about how much food is wasted at home. In fact, just about every household wastes almost $1,000 in food each year!

Strategies to help reduce food waste