• Turmeric: The Super Spice with Amazing Benefits

    Most of the foods that are beneficial to us are easily available and accessible. And that indeed is a great blessing from Allah subuhanawuta’la! In today’s article, I’m going to discuss one of the super spices— that is, turmeric. This spice is excellent for our health and well-being and I’ll tell you why!

    Enter: Turmeric!

    Turmeric is one of the most widely used spices in South-east Asian cuisine. If you’ve ever had an Indian dish, then you have certainly had at least some traces of turmeric!

    Turmeric has been used in many cultures for 1000s of years. This spice is not only used to cook but also for its healing properties. It’s still widely used in Ayurvedic medicine; on the other hand, traditional medicine is just opening its doors to explore this amazing spice. Scientists are interested in turmeric particularly due to its powerful primary active substance known as curcumin, which is also responsible for turmeric’s vibrant yellow colour.

    The benefits of turmeric and all its powerful compounds such as curcumin are simply too many to list. When I was writing this article, I was originally going to title it “10 Amazing Benefits of Turmeric”, but that would have been a disservice to turmeric because the last time I checked the research articles, I found 10’043 peer-reviewed published article that proves the benefits of turmeric and, specifically, curcumin.

    These studies suggest that turmeric is the most powerful spice on the planet in combating and potentially reversing, many modern diseases known to human.

    Here are a few crucial benefits of this amazing super spice:

    Turmeric Fights Inflammation

    While short-term inflammation in our body has very important benefits including fighting foreign invaders and repairing damages in our body, chronic (long-term) inflammation is very harmful to our body.

    The causes of many modern diseases such as cancer, heart diseases etc. are attributed to the chronic inflammation in our body. That’s why fighting this chronic inflammation is crucial not only in curing these diseases but also in preventing them.

    Turmeric, particularly its active substance curcumin, is extremely well known for its ability to control inflammation in our body. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas shows that curcumin is among the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world. The study also cited that aspirin and ibuprofen are the least effective in fighting inflammation.

    So, turmeric certainly trumps these medications when it comes to anti-inflammation. Compared to these medications, this spice also has almost no side effects.

    Turmeric Is a Powerful Antioxidant

    Just like inflammation, free radicals are also necessary to our well-being. However, excessive amounts of free radicals are detrimental to our health. The oxidative damage caused by free radicals is thought to be one of the mechanisms behind cancer, autoimmune diseases, heart diseases and ageing.

    Antioxidants that are also found in vegetables and fruits protect us from the damages of free radicals. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function.

    Curcumin is known to neutralises those free radicals. Nevertheless, the biggest advantage of curcumin is that it boosts the activity of our body’s own antioxidant enzymes. This, in turn, helps our body to create its own antioxidants!

    Other Health Benefits of Turmeric

    Turmeric as an antioxidant and inflammation-fighting powerhouse provides loads of health benefits. Some research studies point towards the following health benefits:

    • Curcumin in turmeric plays a protective role in cardiovascular diseases. These studies suggest that it may help ward off heart attacks
    • Many studies on animals have shown that curcumin can reduce the growth of cancerous cells. So, based on these studies, curcumin may prevent and, perhaps, treat cancer. However, as for now, the studies are preliminary to make any definitive conclusion
    • Preliminary studies also show that curcumin could help rheumatoid arthritis patients. This substance was shown to be even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug
    • Curcumin has the ability to boost our brain. Research shows that curcumin can increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in our brains. BDNF plays an important role in keeping our brain healthy. It is known to propel the growth of “good for you” new neurones. It also fertilises brain cells to keep them functioning and growing. So, an increased level of BDNF means that your brain is protected from many brain diseases. An increase also means a delay in the decrease in brain function associated with ageing. The more BDNF in your brain, the better it works! (By the way, regular exercise is an incredibly powerful way to increase these BDNF in your brain)

    The truth is, turmeric and, in particular, its active compound curcumin provides 100s of health benefits from delaying diabetes to digestive disorders! And it’s impossible to list them all here.

    What You Need to Know

    In order to benefit from the benefits of turmeric, you will need a certain amount of turmeric per day. But since scientific studies are quite messy at times, it’s not easy to find an amount that can help us to improve most of our health challenges.

    However, if you are looking for a way to optimise your health, along with the usual recommendations of proper nutrition and exercise, then adding a teaspoon or two a day of this super spice will certainly help you towards your goal.

    According to the University of Maryland, 1.5-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder is absolutely fine to consume on a daily basis. After extensive research, I would also say this is a good amount to stick to.

    In general, turmeric is very safe and rarely has side effects. Side effects can occur only when extremely high turmeric doses are taken for very long periods of time.

    How to Include Turmeric In Your Daily Routine

    In order to increase the absorption of curcumin, add a pinch of black pepper whenever you use turmeric. Funnily, grandmas all around the world used to do this without even knowing the scientific wisdom behind it 🙂

    Here are few ways how I use turmeric daily:

    • I add a teaspoon of turmeric to my morning omelette. Turmeric reduces the oxidation of oil while heating, thereby making the process of cooking with oil a bit healthier!
    • I use it in curries
    • At times, I add a little turmeric to cook rice or lentils.
    • I make turmeric tea, either with turmeric powder or turmeric root.
      • Here’s how to make turmeric tea using the root: Add ¼ teaspoon of pepper to 1 teaspoon of freshly grated turmeric root. Pour boiling water and let it steep with the lid on for 5 minutes. You can serve it with honey (important point: I don’t use honey)
      • Here’s how to make turmeric tea using powder: Add ¼ teaspoon of pepper to 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder to boiling water. Let it simmer it for 5-10 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

    Enjoy this super spice while improving your health, bi’idnillah!

  • Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin D

    Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world; more than a billion people are deficient. Current research suggests that vitamin D deficiency causes everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes. This post provides guidelines that will help you understand 1) how much of this vitamin you need and 2) the sources of this vitamin. The overall goal is to help you live a vibrant and, healthy life.

    Vitamin D also referred to as “the sunshine vitamin,” is the only essential vitamin that can be obtained via the sun. Although some food sources such as egg yolk, fatty fish, and beef liver contain vitamin D, the most effective source of this vitamin is through the exposure to sunlight. Simply said: getting adequate vitamin D from natural food sources is virtually impossible.

    Why Do We Need Vitamin D?

    Vitamin D is essential for our growth and development. In fact, it regulates the expression of over 1,000 genes in our body. Apart from that important function, lack of vitamin D also prevents calcium absorption. Calcium is an essential mineral that is responsible for the development of strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps to signal between brain cells.

    That said, vitamin D deficiency can result in serious, life-threatening diseases. These are, perhaps, the most notable ones:

    • Obesity
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • Alzheimer
    • Increased cancer risk
    • Loss of muscle strength
    • Autoimmune diseases
    • Birth defects
    • Increased DNA damage
    • Increased depression

    This list is definitely not exhaustive.

    As you can see, Vitamin D is indeed a super essential vitamin for a healthy life. Maybe that’s why Allah (SWT) provides this vitamin for free. All you need is to spend some time in the sun!

    However, the majority of people, including me, spend way too little time outside to obtain these benefits. We hop from climate-controlled houses to climate-controlled cars to climate-controlled offices. This leaves us without the time we need to enjoy nature by basking in the sun.

    How to Get Vitamin D

    Well, as I’ve mentioned, one of the easiest ways to get vitamin D is through sunlight since vitamin D is synthesized in the skin when exposed to the sun’s radiation. However, the amount of vitamin D you receive from the sun depends on many things:

    • Location: For instance, if you live in northern latitudes (latitudes above 37 degrees north) in the winter, there’s very little sunshine. This means that your skin can’t make the vitamin D your body needs
    • Complexion: Darker-skinned people absorb less sunlight through their skin, so you need more time in the sun if your skin’s darker
    • Sunscreen: Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will decrease the amount of vitamin D made in the body by about 99%
    • Age: As we age, our body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight is reduced by a whopping 75%
    • Body fat percentage: Vitamin D gets trapped in body fat of heavier folks. So only around 50% of Vitamin D gets delivered to your blood.

    This is also a concern for Muslims as our clothing may make it more difficult to obtain this vitamin since most of our bodies are covered.

    The infographic below is a comparison of two figures. It explains how much vitamin D from the sun a modestly dressed person obtains vs. someone with less clothing:

     

    Given the fact, that most Muslims/Muslimaat are modestly dressed, I would suggest going for a daily 30-minute walk in the mid-day sun. This will help your body obtain the vitamin D it needs.

    But, this isn’t always practical for most people. For example, I live in the northern hemisphere, and I hardly see any sun during the winter.

    And for the folks in the Middle East, it isn’t easy to be in the sun during the summer. Just as a side note: despite the abundance of the sunshine in the Middle East all year round, the region registers some of the highest levels of vitamin D deficiency.

    And, of course, it’s also true that too much of ultraviolet rays from the sun isn’t healthy for us either.

    So, what’s the solution?

    Supplement with Vitamin D

    Before I delve deeper into this topic, I need to mention this: when it comes to dietary supplements, there are two big camps. One group believes that supplements are absolutely necessary for a healthy life. On the other hand, others believe that supplements have little or no value, and are promoted by rich pharmaceutical companies just to make money.

    As always, the truth lies in the middle. Having read quite a bit of scientific literature, I can say that vitamin D is one of the safest supplements in the world. Supplementation of 1,000 – 2,000 IU/daily vitamin D is considered safe and sufficient to meet the needs of most people, bi’idnillah.

    If you are already deficient in vitamin D, you may even need higher doses.

    Nevertheless, before supplementing, please consult your physician and evaluate your vitamin D blood level.

    Extensive research also suggests that the optimum level of vitamin D is between 40 to 60 ng/ml (100 – 150 nmol/l). Individuals with this level have fewer risk factors that cause other diseases compared to the rest of the population.

    Key Take Home Message

    The Prophetic Sunnah is to follow the middle path in everything. That’s the motto I follow in my life too. Based on this principle, here’s my suggestion:

    Whenever it’s practical and possible for you to be under the sun, then get your vitamin D from the sunlight. When this isn’t possible, take a vitamin D dietary supplement. In the summer, I get my vitamin D from the sun and in the winter, I use supplements.

    If you would like to know more about vitamin D, I highly recommend this resource: https://www.vitamindcouncil.org