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Tumeric vs. Curcumin

OK – you’ve probably heard of turmeric. It’s been touted all over the “health waves” recently to be helpful for all sorts of diseases.

Got pain?  Have some turmeric.

What about cancer?  Have some turmeric.

Diabetes?  Have some turmeric.

And the list goes on…

You probably also know it’s the golden coloured powder in curry spices. You may even enjoy eating curry (I do!). BUT, what if you don’t like it? (Oh, the horror!) 🙂


Turmeric: It’s NOT Just for Curry Anymore…100+ ways to eat turmeric!


You may wonder:

Does it work?

Should I supplement?

Should I eat it?

And most important of all:

“If I should eat it and DON’T like curry, how the heck can I even consider it?”

Great questions!

What is turmeric and what does it do?

Turmeric is a spice, and it’s not a “spicy-hot” strong-flavored spice either. The strength (not the flavor) is similar to ginger. Turmeric is a rhizome (1) called curcuma longa that is dried and ground to make turmeric powder. It’s an herb that has been traditionally used for medical purposes in several Asian countries(2). The main and most studied ‘active ingredient’ in turmeric (3) is called curcumin, which makes up less than 7% of the dried weight of the spice.

Curcumin supplements have been shown in many, many scientific studies to have anti-inflammatory (2,4), anti-oxidant (2), anti-cancer (2,5), and pain-relieving effects. It is also being studied to protect your brain and heart (2), as well as to prevent and reduce the side-effects of diabetes (2,6).

It has been studied for dozens and dozens of other health uses – check out the table in this link.

It is fat-soluble and not well absorbed from your gut(2), and it seems to be quite safe for most people, even at higher doses (see “Foods vs. Supplements” below).  If you want to actually absorb the curcumin into your bloodstream, you should add a bit of black pepper (2,7), otherwise most of it will go right through you, which can still be helpful for your gut (8).

Foods vs. Supplements; Turmeric vs. Curcumin

Food is NOT a supplement (9).

As mentioned earlier, the amount of curcumin in turmeric is under 7%.  The actual quantity of the curcumin in the supplement should be stated on the label.  Of course, this is not the case when you eat the actual ‘root’ or the dried/powdered turmeric from the spice section of your grocery store.

In Canada, where there are fairly strict Natural Health Product Regulations, curcumin supplements have been approved for use as an antioxidant, as well as to help relieve joint inflammation (11).

There are a few cautions to consider before taking curcumin as a supplement (10).  They are if you:

  • Are pregnant (10, 11);
  • Are taking anti-platelet medications or blood thinners (11);
  • Have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction (10, 11); or
  • Have stomach ulcers or excess stomach acid (11)

Eating turmeric itself will NOT be as potent as taking the approved dose of 300 mg supplement of curcumin three times a day. According to some scientific reviews, eating turmeric may help to prevent some diseases (12), and there has been some efficacy shown (13). But most of the effects mentioned above have been shown with curcumin supplements and not dietary turmeric.

Summary of the NUTRITION Interactions of Turmeric (the food) vs. Curcumin (the supplement)

  • Curcumin, the most widely studied ‘active ingredient’ of turmeric has many scientifically proven health benefits relating to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
  • Curcumin supplements have been shown to help with pain, cancer and diabetes, amongst other conditions. 
  • They have Health Canada approval to be sold as an anti-oxidant and to relieve joint inflammation. 
  • Caution is advised when considering curcumin supplements if you are pregnant, taking blood-thinner medications, have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction, or if you have stomach ulcers or excess stomach acid.
  • Turmeric (the food, not the supplement) is not as potent as curcumin since the curcumin is no more than 7% of the spice. 
  • Turmeric (the spice) may play a role in disease prevention and food deliciousness.