Culinary herbs and spices we use everyday as flavor enhancers – oregano, rosemary, turmeric, and numerous others- are rich in cancer -fighting phytochemicals. These natural substances found in plant foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are cancer protective. Researchers are beginning to identify numerous cancer-fighting phytochemicals in herbs and spices that stimulate the immune system, block free radical damage to the DNA of cells, and inhibit a variety of hormones and enzymes associated with cancer development.
What’s the difference between herbs and spices?
Herbs are the fresh or dried leaves of plants, while spices are the ground seeds, bark or stems of the plant. Here are the cancer protective health benefits of herbs and spices:
• Providing flavor and zest needed to cut the fat, salt and sugar in recipes, herbs and spices are fat-free, low-calorie alternatives to help you watch your waistline.
• Plant-derived herbs and spices contain phytochemicals including carnasol, phenol, curcumin, gingerols, terpenoids, etc. which act as antioxidants and anti-cancer agents.
• Turmeric (one of the main spices in curry powder) and rosemary are natural COX-2 (cyclooxygenase-2) inhibitors; popular drugs including Celebrex and Vioox are COX-2 inhibitors. Research shows suppressing COX-2 enzymes protects against cancer.
• In a recent study, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that oregano had among the highest antioxidant activity of herbs studied. Oregano is rich in rosmarinic acid, which is a strong antioxidant. Other herbs that appear to be high in antioxidants (ranked in order) are dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint.
• Ginger contains more than 40 antioxidant compounds, according to Japanese researchers. In lab studies, Korean scientists have found compounds in ginger that block stages of cancer development.
Kitchen hints for using herbs and spices
• To make meals healthier, flavor favorite foods using a generous amount of herbs and spices.
• Choose fresh herbs and spices that are higher in antioxidants compared to their processed counterparts. For example, fresh garlic has more antioxidant activity than dry garlic powder.
• If you would rather drink your herbs, rosemary can be used as a tea as well as a flavoring for iced tea. To make a tea, use 1 teaspoon dried leaves per cup of hot water; steep for 15 minutes.
• While most herbs and spices can be purchased at your local market, hard-to-find spice blends and ethnic spice blends can be purchased on the internet at www.spiceadvice.com and www.penzeys.com.
• John Milner, PhD, now at the National Cancer Institute, did research showing that chopping/smashing fresh garlic 10 minutes prior to cooking enhances the preservation of the anti-cancer activity.
While researchers are busy figuring out the optimal doses of herbs and spices for cancer prevention, it’s recommended to cook with herbs and spices daily as part of a healthy cancer-fighting diet, along with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
For More Information
Check out the herb and spice links on our website at www.foodandhealth.com. Click on Food Links and then Herbs & Spices. Find information from using herbs and spices to growing these items yourself.
By Sandy Sotnick, MS,RD.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. But after learning that the quality of a croissant directly varies with how much butter it has, Judy sought to challenge herself by coming up with recipes that were as healthy as they were tasty.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.