You probably are familiar with turmeric, called the “golden spice” because of its bright yellow-orange color.

You probably are familiar with turmeric, called the “golden spice” because of its bright yellow-orange color. It is a major ingredient in curry powder and can be found in yellow mustards, pickles and other foods. It is often touted as a super food, claiming to help reduce pain, inflammation and cholesterol levels, along with many other health concerns.

Turmeric, a tall plant that grows in Asia and Central America, is related to ginger. Turmeric that you find in the spice aisle of your local grocery store is made by grinding the underground stems, or rhizomes, of the plant. One tablespoon of turmeric has just 29 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of carbohydrates.

Yet, it supplies 26 percent of our recommended daily allowance for manganese, 16 percent for iron, 5 percent for potassium and 3 percent for vitamin C.

Turmeric is composed of about 100 compounds; curcumin is the most active, accounting for just 3 percent to 5 percent of turmeric’s weight. Curcumin has long been used in Indian and Chinese medicine as a treatment for pain, inflammation and many other health conditions.

Western medicine has begun to study the health benefits associated with turmeric and curcumin. Some of the benefits include the following.

Anti-inflammatory properties. In studies conducted by the Arthritis Foundation, turmeric was found to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis when a dosage of 400-600 mg three times a day was given.

Pain relief. According to Medical News Today, a study has shown that an 800 mg capsule of turmeric worked as well as ibuprofen for relieving pain associated with arthritis in the knees.

Liver function. The high amount of antioxidants in turmeric may possibly prevent the liver from damage by toxins.

Digestion. Turmeric may help reduce gut inflammation and gut permeability.

Cholesterol levels. One study found that 700 mg of turmeric taken three times a day for three months resulted in lower total cholesterol levels, lower LDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides in overweight subjects.

Remember, these studies all used a much higher dosage than you would get by just adding ground turmeric to your foods. Supplements are available in capsules, extracts and powders, but you should use caution because there are some potential side effects, including upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea. Large doses can act as a blood thinner and should be avoided by individuals taking anticoagulation medications such as Coumadin. Pregnant women also should avoid turmeric supplements because large doses may stimulate contractions.

There may be benefits to this golden spice, but for most people you should forgo the supplements and just incorporate turmeric into some of your daily foods. Turmeric adds a bitter or musty flavor with a hint of ginger and pepper. Adding a pinch of black pepper along with the turmeric will increase the absorption of the curcumin significantly.

Following are some ways to add this colorful spice to your foods. Add turmeric to spice mixtures in cooking or in BBQ rubs.

Add a pinch or two to your homemade salad dressing. Stir some into meat or vegetable marinades. Add to rice dishes, soups, stews or even egg dishes. Stir a teaspoon into milk or tea. Add some of the spice to cookie or muffin batter. Be aware that turmeric can stain fingers, countertops or dishes a bright yellow.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.