Spotlight on Spice: Turmeric

About a week ago I wrapped up one of this semester’s classes toward my associate’s in Nutrition: Research in Complementary and Alternative Nutrition Therapies. Not gonna lie, it was not an awesome class and unfortunately I did not learn as much as I had hoped about this up-and-coming field. (Lots of emphasis on the Scientific Method, which I believe was covered sufficiently in my 8th grade science class.) Still, one piece of real learning took place in writing the final for the course, a short research paper on a commonly used dietary supplement. There are of course thousands of these food-like substances to choose from–just stroll down the supplement aisle at Whole Foods–but I decided to write my paper on turmeric, having heard rumors of its anti-inflammatory properties. Since I have several friends and family members who suffer from inflammatory autoimmune diseases, I have been curious to sort fact from fiction regarding this particular spice. The research process was an enlightening one, so I thought I would share a bit of what I learned here on the blog. Turmeric is, after all, a food–and a delicious one at that!

For a little background: turmeric is a rhizomatic herbaceous relative of ginger and has been used for centuries in a variety of medicinal capacities. Native to East Asia, the turmeric plant is typically ground to a rust-colored powder known for lending its warm, slightly bitter taste to many Indian dishes. Its healing use dates back nearly 4,000 years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Marco Polo first described the spice in 1280, but mainstream Western interest in its healing powers has arisen only relatively recently, correlating with the increase in popularity of herbal supplementation.

One interesting fact about turmeric is that it contains a compound called curcumin, which can be extracted and is sold as its own separate dietary supplement. Curcumin is the “active ingredient” in turmeric, giving the spice its many purported medicinal functions. However, since bioavailability of curcumin is
generally low and can be aided by black pepper, it is believed to be most
beneficial to ingest turmeric as a spice in food also containing black pepper, or in a supplement packaged with black pepper. Fortunately for those of us who like Indian cooking, most Indian dishes that use turmeric (which is a LOT) also call for black pepper. Makes you think the Indians are on to something, what with that 4,000 year history…

The healing effects, both genuine and purported, of turmeric are numerous and diverse. Maladies treated with turmeric throughout history and at present include rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, digestive conditions, diabetes, wound healing, chicken pox, jaundice, inflammation, menstrual problems, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. This list is by no means exhaustive. If you can name a medical problem, you can probably find someone out there who believes turmeric can help it. So what does the evidence show? Is this sunny spice a cure-all or another over-hyped placebo?

The research—and there is quite a lot of it—surrounding medicinal uses of turmeric is somewhat conflicting. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that “there is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition” because of the lack of clinical trials and testing on human subjects. This skeptical outlook may be overly cautious, though, since numerous peer-reviewed studies have appeared in recent years showing evidence of effective treatments using turmeric. For

  • A study published just this month reveals that curcumin complements the action of DHA on the brain, enhancing its synthesis and leading to anxiety prevention.
  • Another study determined turmeric supplementation to be an effective therapy for maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis.
  • Yet another recent study found that type 2 diabetes patients who received turmeric supplements in addition to their oral medication experienced marked decreases in fasting blood sugar compared to a control group.
  • Turmeric has been shown to work as well as NSAID pain medications for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. Over two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds within the spice work to block the COX-2 enzyme, which promotes pain, swelling, and inflammation.
  • Over 50 studies have addressed turmeric’s effects on Alzheimer’s disease, indicating that it contains agents that can block the substance that produces plaque on the brain. Quite likely, this explains why elderly villagers in India who consume turmeric in sizable quantities have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s in the world.

Without a doubt, this list does not cover all the research into the benefits of including turmeric in your diet, but even if the uses listed above were its only advantages, I’d still say it’s a golden powerhouse of a spice. I’m happy to find ways to incorporate it more frequently into my cooking. Look for a turmeric-spiced red lentils recipe coming in my next post! And if you’re interested in recommendations for using turmeric as a supplement, ask your doctor–or check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s recommendations here. (Though I should probably say, so no one sues me, this post is not intended to be medical advice.) I won’t be surprised if, as research continues, turmeric becomes accepted into the usage canon of mainstream medical practice. What a wonderful example of food’s potential power in our bodies for health and healing!

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Fat

There are various ways to look at the word “fat.” Most of us think of the word with pejorative overtones, something we don’t want applied to us. The adjectives aren’t pretty and evoke feelings of playground humiliation: chubby, flabby, plump, chunky, pudgy. Then of course you could think of “fat” like that fat check you got when you finally sold your Van Halen live-in-concert VHS collection on Craigslist. And don’t even get me started on “phat” (mostly because, even as a child of the ’90s, I still don’t think I get it.) But there’s another set of terms I want to talk about today. Terms like lipid, adipose, triglyceride, sterol, fatty acid. These describe the other kind of fat, the macronutrient every human being requires to sustain life. There are so many fascinating aspects to dietary fat and the way our bodies use it, and quite possibly a lot you didn’t know.

As I’ve progressed in my coursework toward becoming a Dietetic Technician, I’ve come to understand so much of what always seemed confusing about fat nomenclature. Since I’ve learned how to navigate the different kinds of fat (like that mental image?) I thought I’d share some of the information I’ve found interesting and helpful.

1. Let’s start with an cool trivia point: what’s the fattest organ in your body? Your brain! About 60% of your brain’s matter is fat. So if someone calls you a “fathead,” you can be proud to know you’re perfectly normal. (And they’re a fathead, too. Obviously.)

2. Fat provides 9 calories per gram (whereas carbs and protein provide 4). This is true across the board for any fat. That’s why, even though nutrition labels list number of calories from fat in a food, you can always calculate it yourself by multiplying the grams of fat by 9.

3. What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats? You probably know they must be related because they have that word “saturated” in common. To understand the difference between these types of fat, you have to understand what “saturated” means. Fat is made up of carbon chains. In saturated fat, all of the available carbons in the chain are bonded with hydrogen…kind of like how I always felt at junior high dances when all the cute boys immediately paired up with the popular girls. All the carbons are taken, paired off, saturated. In unsaturated fats, however, there’s a break in the music, a chance for a different kind of bond. Instead of all the carbons being taken up by hydrogen, something called a double bond occurs, which, instead of bonding a carbon to hydrogen, bonds carbon to another carbon, leaving it not entirely saturated…in other words, unsaturated. And the only difference between a monounsaturated fat and a polyunsaturated fat is that a mono has only one of these breaks, whereas a poly has two or more.

4. Now that you know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat, it probably makes sense why saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature. Everything is paired off and packed in, making it denser. On the other hand, unsaturated fats (like oils) are generally liquid at room temperature for the opposite reason.

5. What about trans fats? What are they and why are they so scary? Somewhere along the line, scientists realized that they could mess with the chemical structure of unsaturated fats (i.e. oils) by plopping in some extra hydrogen where it didn’t really belong to create what are called trans fats. The process of unnaturally adding hydrogen is known as hydrogenation. So when you see the word “hydrogenated” on an ingredient list, you know the food contains some amount of trans fat, even if the label says 0 grams trans fat. (The FDA allows foods with .5 grams or less per serving to round down to zero.) Research has yet to show exactly why trans fats have a negative effect on health, but they have definitively been linked to coronary heart disease and several other conditions you don’t want to get.

6. One last kind of fat you hear a lot about is Omega 3s. The reason these unsaturated fats have this name is simply due to the spot where they have their carbon-to-carbon bond: on the third carbon from the end. Bet you can guess where Omega-6 and Omega-9 have theirs now, too.

Okay, that was kind of a lot of chemistry. I should probably stop now. But I have so many more things I want to tell you about fat! I’ll be hoarding up my fat facts for another post soon, focusing on fat’s effects in your body. And if you’re still hungry for macronutrient info, you can head over to my carbohydrate facts page!

6 Baking Substitutions That Will Make Your Life Easier

Now, which of you will we replace?

Speaking as a home baker, substitutions in recipes are my very, very good friend, and if you bake, too, I’ll wager you feel the same way. Whether born of an “oh, crap” moment of realization you’re out of an ingredient, or just the desire to bake something a little fancier without having to sign your first-born child away at a specialty foods store, you can always do with the extra kitchen acumen of knowing what can replace what. With a little ingredient do-si-do, you might be surprised what greatness can spring from your mixing bowl. With that in mind, here’s a list of some of my favorite quick and easy ingredient substitutions for baking.

1. Cake flour: When I first graduated from making box-mix cakes to fully homemade cakes, I knew I had to avoid recipes with one ingredient: cake flour. I had seen those $7 “Softasilk” boxes on my grocery store shelf (you know, the one with the box design that makes it look like no one has purchased it since 1978?)

Am I wrong? Does this not look straight out of the ’70s?

and had made the conscious decision not to spend that kind of money on approximately four cups of flour. Then along came the Internet to teach me that making cake flour is ridiculously simple and the Softasilk people have a total racket going on. Here’s how:

For one cup of cake flour, measure one cup all-purpose flour, then remove two Tablespoons. Replace the two Tablespoons with two Tablespoons corn starch. Mix well.

2. Superfine sugar: Like cake flour, I can’t tell you how many recipes I avoided making because they contained superfine sugar. I didn’t know what it was, but I was pretty sure it was going to be expensive, too. It may, in fact, be expensive–I still don’t know; I’ve never purchased it. Because come to find out, all it takes is regular sugar and a food processor:

Place the desired amount of superfine sugar in your food processor with a couple of extra tablespoons to account for reduction in volume; process 1-2 minutes until it feels–you guessed it–super fine, like sand.

3. Half-and-Half: Did you ever wonder what half-and-half is half and half of? It’s half milk and half cream. Therefore, it’s extremely simple to replace by subbing:

1:1 measures of heavy cream and milk (I’d recommend 2%), i.e. 1/2 c. cream + 1/2 c. milk = 1 c. half-and-half.

4. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is a great ingredient for adding richness to breads, pancakes, and desserts. The only problem is figuring out what to do with the rest of that large, perishable carton of buttermilk after the weekend has passed and the pancakes are gone. You have a few options for substituting:

To make 1 c. buttermilk, measure 1 c. milk, then remove 1 Tablespoon. Replace with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar. Let stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes until curdled.


To make 1 c. of a buttermilk substitute, mix 3/4 c. plain yogurt or sour cream with 1/4 c. milk.

5. Butter/Vegetable Oil: I’d be a fool to say anything can really take the place of butter, but I do frequently want to make my baked goods a bit healthier (though I’m not about to tell you to replace butter with mashed avocado, as I’ve seen on several blogs. Let’s be real here, people.). Even in a rich cake, I’ve found you can get away with substituting up to half of the butter and/or oil content with unsweetened applesauce. I recently did this in a dark chocolate raspberry layer cake and even I would never have guessed it from the taste. Therefore, if you’re actually out of butter, you can:

Mix 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce with 1/2 c. vegetable oil for 1 c. butter.


To decrease fat content, replace 1/2 of the butter with unsweetened applesauce.

6. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate/Cocoa Powder: I had to roll my eyes the time I was looking for a cocoa powder substitute and found a site that recommended subbing 1 Tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder for regular cocoa powder. Like, yeah, I think I would have figured that one out. If you actually are out of one or the other, though, here’s a conversion that works great:

For 1 ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate, use 3 Tbsp. cocoa powder plus 1 Tbsp. softened butter or vegetable oil.

Lastly, one bit of interesting trivia about why the famous baking powder brand pictured above is called Clabber Girl. To “clabber” means to sour, as in soured milk. In the olden days, soured milk was made by leaving milk out at room temperature, to be used as a leavener in baked goods–until 1854, when baking powder was invented. So I guess the Clabber Girl is sparing you the work of actually clabbering, which would take days of waiting for the milk to get sour enough. Thanks, Clabber Girl! Keep on clabbering! Clabber clabber clabber! (Can you tell I really like the word “clabber”?)

At any rate, it’s my sincere hope that this list may keep you from spending extra money on ingredients you don’t need, or running out to the store in your pajamas at 10 PM for some cake flour. Happy baking!

Homemade Tomato Sauce Tutorial

Back in February, I mentioned how many tomatoes were growing packed into our garden bed like so many Japanese bullet train passengers. As a near-native desert dweller, I’m just impressed when anything edible grows out of the ground, but tomatoes are especially great to have handy, as they’re usable in so many dishes. For months they served us well in salads, tarts, pizzas, and sandwiches, but the day finally came when my husband said we needed to harvest the whole bed. (I wouldn’t know why. He’s the gardener. Probably it had something to do with the face-melting heat outside.) So out he went and returned with a heaping colander of ‘maters of all different shapes, sizes, and hues.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from gardening–or, more accurately, being the beneficiary of my husband’s gardening–it’s that the work comes both before and after the harvest. Tomatoes picked singly off the vine are a delightful convenience. Three hundred tomatoes sitting on your counter feel like a ticking time bomb of spoilage. Still, the work both before and after your produce is well worth it–not necessarily because it’s cheaper or easier than buying from the store, but because it’s a reconnection to the Earth, a reminder that all food comes at a cost of labor and love. And because food made from fresh fruits and vegetables is delicious!

With dozens of (mostly tiny) tomatoes now in my kitchen, silently begging the question “What are you going to do with us?” I knew I had to come up with something. Having never made my own from-scratch tomato pasta sauce, that seemed like an attractive option–made all the more attractive by the fact that I already had all the ingredients necessary! And I must say, it turned out INCREDIBLE. The flavor was so much richer and deeper than anything I’ve ever had out of a store-bought jar, probably due to the red wine, the fresh herbs, and of course, the garden-fresh tomatoes. My husband ate it on tortilla chips so he could have it as a snack.

So if you, too, have a glut of tomatoes from your garden or just want to try a better-than-store-bought taste experience, here’s a how-to for making your very own sauce for spaghetti, tortellini, meatballs, or any other creative choices (like tortilla chips).

Homemade Tomato Sauce
(Adapted from


5 lbs. fresh tomatoes (10 large, 40 plum, or 100ish cherry tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. chopped fresh herbs (a mix of rosemary, basil, and thyme is ideal)
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 c. red wine
1 bay leaf
2 stalks celery
2 Tbsp. tomato paste


1. Boil and peel tomatoes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water.  If using large or plum tomatoes, use a sharp knife to score the top or bottom of each with a small “X” to make peeling easier. Place tomatoes into boiling water until skins start to peel. Depending on your tomatoes’ ripeness, this may take as little as 1 minute or as much as 3-4 minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the prepared bowl of ice water.

The skins will begin to loosen and look like little Pacmans:

Let tomatoes rest until cool enough to peel. Once they are cool to the touch, peel and set aside. (The skins should slip off easily.)

Let’s pause for a moment to honor the many tomatoes who gave their skins for this sauce.

2. Puree peeled tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

3. Make the rest of the sauce:
Rinse the pot you used to boil the tomatoes. Heat oil and butter over medium heat in this pot and cook onion, carrots, and garlic until onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add pureed tomatoes, fresh herbs, Italian seasoning, and wine. Place bay leaf and whole celery sticks into the pot.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Stir in tomato paste and simmer another 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and celery sticks. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

“Top 40” Exercise Playlist

So, obviously, this is a blog about food. From its title, that’s probably pretty clear. But sometimes it’s nice to jaunt off on a little side trail that has something to do with another area of interest frequently paired with diet–like, ohhh, let’s say exercise. To maintain good health, I try to exercise regularly, usually by doing yoga, running, or dancing around my living room like a Britney Spears backup dancer slash insane asylum escapee. Each of these activities is enjoyable in and of themselves, but I would be LOST were it not for the music that accompanies them. In fact, one of the main reasons I look forward to exercise is that, as a music lover, it’s my chance to physically jam out all the feelings music evokes. (Which is why I highly recommend getting a treadmill in your garage so you can bring out some Beyonce dance arms while you run. Much less embarrassing to do in your garage than at the gym…not that I would know… Also in your garage you can run in mismatched Halloween socks and your rattiest tank top from high school. Again, not that I would know…)

I’m always on the hunt for great music to work out to–the stuff that gets me singing along loud and busting my best moves. (Like “The Badger.” Available upon request.) The search for body-rocking, soul-jiving workout music must not be uncommon, either, as I frequently see Facebook friends post asking for the same thing. Since replying in their comment thread with a 40-song playlist would probably come off as a bit excessive, I’ll just post it here. Below are:

–24 songs to majorly rock out to (hardest phase of your workout)
–9 songs for medium speed (like a comfortable jog)
–6 songs that are low-key enough to warm up with but still definitely get you moving.

As far as I know, these are all available on Spotify. I hope they get you grooving like they do for me! Happy exercising!

Serious Jam Playlist (Intense Workout)

1. Hey Ya! by OutKast.
Probably the best workout song of all time.

2. Don’t Stop by Foster the People.
Listen to The People! Don’t stop!

3. Can’t Stop Running by Todd Rundgren.
No better song to keep you running.

4. Girl by Beck.
Beck sounds like he uses a Random Lyrics Generator, but hey, the music’s fun!

5. Shake Me Like a Monkey by Dave Matthews Band.
Killer song for cardio.

6. Djobi, Djoba by the Gipsy Kings.
Cho-kee-cho-bee, cho-kee-cho-ba!

7. Hummingbird Heartbeat by Katy Perry.
If I were stranded on a desert island with only one artist to work out to, I’d choose Katy Perry every time.

8. Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry.
Not that that would ever happen.

9. Birthday by Katy Perry.
But if it did, totally Katy Perry.

10. Video Killed the Radio Star by The Presidents of the United States of America.
Anyone else associate this song with the soundtrack to The Wedding Singer?

11. Classic by MKTO.
Not to be confused with Vlasic by PIKL.

12. Home Run by Geoff Moore and the Distance.
Digging deep on this one, a CCM song from 1995. Cheesy but a lot of fun.

13. What I Like About You by The Romantics.
Uhhhh-huh! Hey!

14. Love Letter to Japan by The Bird and the Bee.
A lively introduction to The Bird and the Bee, if you don’t know their stuff.

15. Canadian Idiot by Weird Al.
You’d be surprised how many of Weird Al’s songs are compulsively danceable.

16. Hit Me by Dirty Loops.
This Swedish band is a-ma-zing. Look them up.

17. Here It Goes Again by OK Go.
Remember their famous treadmill video? It’s a sign that you should get on the treadmill to this song.

18. Crazy in Love by Beyonce and Jay Z.
If these two can’t make you dance, you are made of stone.

19. Good by Better Than Ezra.
Classic ’90s jam.

20. I Love It by Icona Pop.
There’s a clean version available on Spotify, FYI. Where she’s a “90’s chic,” not a “90’s you-know-what.”

21. You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates.
A great feel-good song that has held up over time.

22. Tonight, Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae.
I don’t know who the heck these guys are, but “there’s a party on the rooftop, top of the world.”

23. Out in the Twilight by Tally Hall.
Tally Hall has got to be the most talented, least appreciated band I know of.

24. Call It What You Want by Foster the People.
Another Foster the People one to round out the list.

Medium Jam:

26. My Name is Jonas by Weezer.
Weezer is a must for any workout playlist. Too bad none of their songs are longer than two minutes.

27. Girls Chase Boys by Ingrid Michaelson.
Get to see her in concert later this month–super excited!

28. What Is Life by George Harrison.
A beast of a moustache was not the only thing The Quiet Beatle could pull off. The man could also jam.

29. Every Heartbeat by Amy Grant.
This is still a really fun song, provided you can get over the 1991 drum sound.

30. I Want You Back by the Jackson 5.
For some reason, this section of the playlist has a lot of ’70s stuff…

31. I Know What I Know by Paul Simon.
See above. Also, as an aside, I once had this song in my head for ten days straight.

32. Feelin’ All Right by Joe Cocker.
Okay, end of the ’70s streak! (Though it was probably the best decade for music in the 20th century, just sayin’.)

33. Rock and Roll by Eric Hutchinson.
A boppy, poppy little tune.

34. Ready to Run by the Dixie Chicks
Especially good to run to, for obvious reasons.

35. Party in the CIA by Weird Al.
Remember what I said about Weird Al?

Low-Key Jam:

36. Weight of the World by Chantal Kreviazuk.
Love this song for its free-and-happy feel.

37. Five O’Clock World by The Vogues.
Also known as the theme song for The Drew Carey Show.

38. Inside and Out by Feist.
Probably listened to this song 70+ times since getting this album for Christmas.

39. The House That Jack Built by Aretha Franklin.
Had to include a little Queen of Soul.

40. Eyes on the Prize by Sara Groves.
A song about keepin’ on keepin’ on.

41. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Pomplamoose.
Super fun cover of Wham!’s 1984 hit.

Whoops, how did we get to 41? Guess I threw in a freebie. Anyway, for next time, back to your regularly scheduled program: FOOD!