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 tips 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.
• 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.
DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is for informational purposes and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any illness. Consult a physician before taking any action.
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