Health Check: eat food, not (blockbuster) nutrients like Turmeric

Health Check: eat food, not (blockbuster) nutrients like Turmeric

This article, by Chris Forbes-Ewan, Senior Nutritionist at Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation, commences with a critique of Turmeric's claim as a blockbuster nutrient, but then continues, explaining the concept of nutritionism, a term coined by Australian sociologist Gyorgi Scrinis to describe an undue emphasis on individual nutrients rather than on the diet as a whole.

" There’s good evidence that curcumin — the primary active component of turmeric — has many potentially beneficial biological properties, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-proliferative and anti-microbial activities.

It shows promise in the treatment of a wide range of diseases, including Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease and cancer (including CLL - Neil). But the authors of this paper also note that much of the evidence for its efficacy comes from laboratory studies that usually didn’t involve humans, so the evidence is actually for potential therapeutic effectiveness.

Curcumin clearly shows promise as a drug-like agent to treat disease (that is, it’s extracted from turmeric, concentrated and then taken either through the mouth or by injection). But this doesn’t necessarily mean that turmeric – the food that contains curcumin – is health-promoting.

We still need to work out whether eating the stuff is the right way to make it have a therapeutic effect, and look into the possibility that it may have some untoward side effects. For example, there’s some evidence that it may promote cancer under some circumstances."

In the section on nutritionism, "Scrinis also points out that excessive concern over the health effects of specific foods or food components can lead to adoption of potentially harmful fad diets."

The nutritionism section then continues on, looking at what drives fads such as taking supplementary vitamins, fats vs carbohydrates, sugar/fructose and concludes with a brief mention concerning the development of foods modified to provide specific health benefits.

Full article:


2 Replies

  • Nice to read a balanced overview...

  • It certainly is a balanced overview and one of the comments following it sums it up for me;

    'I don't think nutritionists are to blame at all - it's our societal tendency to take isolated facts from science, and then either misapply them or apply them to ridiculous extremes.'

    It seems so true of many things and because of profit and misleading marketing, people seize on wonder nutrients and fad products to cure ills. Balance seems to be the answer in nutrition without too much reliance on sensationalised and unproven therapeutic claims.


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