Turmeric for Kids: Safety, Uses, and Potential Benefits

If you’re a health news junkie, you’ve likely heard the buzz about turmeric, the bright yellow spice used in mustard and curry powder that has become the latest darling of the culinary world. From online recipes and restaurants to grocery store and drugstore shelves, turmeric-infused foods and beverages are popping up in all sorts of places and drawing lots of attention for their supposed health benefits.

Turmeric is no novelty to Indian and South Asian families who cook with it all the time and have long appreciated its medicinal qualities. Ground and dried from the turmeric root - an herb and cousin to ginger - the spice has been used by Eastern cultures for more than 4,000 years to fight a slew of ailments from infections to respiratory, digestive, and skin problems, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Turmeric has been the subject of thousands of studies over the past decade and is generally considered safe, particularly when used as an ingredient in food. Containing both antioxidants and other essential vitamins, the spice is great for making meals more flavorful, colorful, and nutritious. And spicing up your family’s diet with turmeric may offer some possible health perks, too, especially for kids whose immune systems and bodies are still developing.

Of the hundreds of potentially beneficial compounds in turmeric, including vitamin C, fiber, iron and potassium, the one that packs the biggest punch is curcumin, an antioxidant that gives turmeric its golden hue and helps to provide free radical scavenging antioxidants that support detoxification and the healthy development of new cells.

Research shows that curcumin and the other properties in turmeric may help to provide support for active children in several ways:

  1. Skin Health - Turmeric has been used for centuries on common skin problems. Ancient medicine men, known as Ayurvedic healers, would grind turmeric root into a paste and apply it to a burnt piece of cloth before bandaging body parts. Curcumin has been studied after being applied to cuts and burn, with research suggesting that curcumin may help to support the new growth of skin tissue. Additionally, turmeric has also traditionally been applied to sprains and other injuries with the goal of helping to provide temporary relief from symptoms associated with general swelling and irritation; however, research is not conclusive.
  2. Respiratory Health - Turmeric contains magnesium and potassium, which may help the body to maintain normal levels of hydration and respiratory comfort during seasonal challenges. Curcumin may also provide temporary relief from occasional congestion or other discomfort in the nasal passages. Modern studies have also shown that essential oil in turmeric may help ease the formation of phlegm in airways. Indian researchers found that curcumin helped to support the function of lungs, including the structure of the tissue responsible for contractions. A study in Italy showed that curcumin helped to support a healthy immune response to harmless organisms in the lungs.
  3. Tummy troubles - Incorporating turmeric into foods, such as rice and bean dishes, has long been believed to support digestion. Chinese doctors used turmeric to promote abdominal comfort, and some modern research suggests this may be a useful tool for parents. Researchers have discovered that turmeric supports a healthy gallbladder and normal contractions that produce that bile that supports a healthy digestive tract, the normal production of gas, and bowel regularity. Mixing turmeric with other spices, such as coriander, red chili, black pepper or cumin, may provide additional support for abdominal comfort, studies show. Some Eastern cultures suggest that mixing a glass of warm milk and half a teaspoon of turmeric is the ideal way to get kids to consume turmeric and support a healthy gut.
  4. Immune System - Turmeric may provide support for the immune system in several different ways. The antioxidant curcumin is suggested to be the source of its potential benefits. Not only does the antioxidant support healthy cells that encounter free radicals and toxin, but it may also help to maintain white cell levels responsible for disrupting the normal function of microbes. Curcumin also helps promote healthy immune responses, including the redirection of molecules that may mistakenly cause white blood cells to attack healthy tissues and organs, and regulating how these cells function to help maintain immune system health. Clinical trials have also shown that curcumin may help to maintain blood sugar levels already within the normal range, which is important for helping to support balance in the body.

Adding Turmeric Into Your Child’s Diet

Turmeric has been surfacing a lot lately in kid-friendly products like gummy bears and fruit-flavored chewables, but it’s best to introduce it to your child through food. Products may contain additives and preservatives as well as higher doses of turmeric, which can cause side effects such as an upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea. Turmeric supplements are generally safe for adults, but they have not been studied in children under the age of 15, so talk to your pediatrician before giving your child any turmeric-based product.

Turmeric can affect blood sugar levels and blood clotting, so steer away from it if your child has trouble producing insulin or is facing an upcoming surgery. The herb can also change how medication is metabolized, so avoid it if your child takes blood thinners, antiplatelet drugs, or antacids. It’s possible to be allergic to turmeric, so if your child has allergies, you may want to rub a small amount on his or her skin before cooking with it to see if a rash develops.

You can find turmeric - both the raw root and the ground spice - in most grocery stores. You can even get it from the spice blend garam masala! Turmeric adds a savory, peppery taste, and earthy aroma to chicken, fish, rice, bean, and vegetable dishes as well as soups, curries, chutneys, stir-frys, salad dressing, and even smoothies.

When cooking with turmeric, mix it with a dash of black pepper or splash of olive or coconut oil to ensure your family gets the most from its nutrients. Its strongest antioxidant, curcumin, is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream, but adding a bit of fat or pepperline - the key ingredient in black pepper - can help the body harness more of its goodness. A teaspoon or two is usually enough for one dish, but you may want to start with less since the flavor can be intense at first. And fair warning to parents and kids alike: Turmeric stains, so try to keep from spilling it!

Ground turmeric is good for up to a year when stored in a cool, dry, dark cabinet, and buying an organic brand of the spice is best to ensure it’s free from contaminants such as pesticides. The fresh root, which you can find in the supermarket produce section near ginger, offers the most nutrients and can keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. All you need is a piece the size of your pinky fingernail to cook with it.

Kid-friendly Ways to Use Turmeric

One of the most popular ways to expose children to turmeric in India is through golden milk - a mix of turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, and coconut oil dissolved in milk sweetened with honey and topped with freshly grated ginger.

You can also add a pinch of turmeric to dry pancake mix for golden pancakes or fold it into mac and cheese, peanut butter, hummus, eggs, oatmeal, or yogurt to add a healthy twist to favorite kid staples. This blend of ingredients is also great for supporting digestion and a healthy metabolism.

When the temps get high, you can even whip up golden milk popsicles, mixing turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger with coconut milk and honey to freeze into molds for a refreshing treat!

Turmeric paste can also do double duty when mosquitoes attack or bumps and bruises strike. Mixing turmeric with a little milk, oil, aloe vera or lime can be a good antidote for itchy bug bites or swollen joints. And turmeric even makes a great non-toxic alternative for dying Easter eggs and making homemade finger paint!