There are many claims to the benefits of turmeric and its main antioxidant, curcumin. From brewing teas with this spice to use it in cooking, westerners are consuming more and more of it in hopes of improving their well-being. However, nothing is perfect in this world and even if it can be beneficial, you also need to take into account the turmeric side effects.
What are the turmeric side effects
Turmeric side effects are rare. Although you can find many worrying claims about this spice, the reality is that the required amounts to produce negative effects is too high to be easily consumed just by drinking teas or using it as a spice.
Nausea and upset stomach
If you’re not used to taking turmeric in any form you might feel nausea and have diarrhea or an upset stomach the first times you try it.
These side effects should be temporary as the body readjusts to the new food. If they persist, stop the intake.
Albeit small, there is the possibility that some people might be allergic to any of the components of turmeric. The most common symptoms include rashes, outbreaks and shortness of breath.
People who are allergic to ginger have a higher chance of being allergic to turmeric too.
Risk of kidney stones
Turmeric contains oxalate, which, when consumed in high doses, increases the risk of kidney stones.
Moderation is advised when consuming this spice.
The danger of unknown components
The most frequent cause of turmeric side effects, second to the high quantities, is the presence of unknown substances in this spice.
Not all commercial powders are pure. Some brands mix in starch and flour to improve the body of the spice but fail to mention so on the label. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerances are those more at risk in this case.
Many brands also add in colorants to make the bright yellow color pop even more.
In Europe and the United States, the legislation is more restrictive and the products are controlled more often. However, be suspicious of big price gaps.
Curcumin, the main component of turmeric, may prevent blood clots from forming, working as a blood thinner, according to a 2012 study.
Individuals with coagulation disorders or taking blood thinners should seek advice with a doctor before including turmeric in their diets.
How much should you take per day?
It’s hard to tell because there many factors at play. The purity of the turmeric, the way it is prepared and how it affects its bioavailability are the main reasons. The lack of studies using regular turmeric instead of extracts or concentrated formulas also contributes to this uncertainty.
However, the European Food Safety Authority recommends a maximum daily intake of 3 mg/kg body weight of curcumin. This antioxidant accounts for 3% of the content of turmeric, on average.
Substitutes for turmeric
In terms of nutrition values, there aren’t any good substitutes for turmeric. So, if you’re trying to avoid the turmeric side effects and still benefit from its properties, it will be hard to find an alternative.
However, if you find yourself without turmeric while cooking, there are other spices that can take its place with little difference.
Saffron is the closest substitute, both in flavor and in color. Curry powder comes close in second since it’s a mix of several spices, among them turmeric. Annato is not a flavor substitute but it brings the same shade of yellow color to the dishes.
Ginger is also often used as a replacement for turmeric, but only when the latter is used for its health benefits. It doesn’t add color to the dishes nor does it bring the same distinctive taste as the yellow spice.
The risk of adulteration
Given that you would need to have an excessive intake of turmeric for it to start producing side effects, the main danger that comes from consuming this spice is the unknown substances.
The danger is very real and if you’re still skeptical about it you can always recall the news of a woman’s death after drinking turmeric tea in the video below. What caused her demise was not the spice itself, but a type of castor oil unsuitable for human consumption that was mixed with the curcumin.
The best way to avoid this danger is to always buy from sources you know well and look for the USDA certification that it is organic. Although it’s not 100% foolproof, you can also test the powder when in doubt.
Just take a glass of warm water and add a teaspoon of turmeric to the surface without stirring. Let it sit for about 20 minutes and check again. In a purer version, the sediments will accumulate in the bottom. In adulterated versions, however, it is more likely to dissolve in the water, leaving it cloudy.