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Spice It Up

Just like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, spices contain hundreds of phytochemicals that we know to be cancer protective (phyto = plant).

Cultures where many colorful and strong flavored spices are used on a regular basis are known to have a much lower incidence of cancer in their population. Let’s look at India, for example, a country with a very low cancer rate. Their repertoire of spices includes cumin, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, and coriander to name a few. Many of these spices are bright reds and yellows or deep browns, some with potent flavors and some are milder.  The same properties that give these spices their vibrant colors and lively flavor are what give them their cancer-fighting properties.

If you’ve been to any classes offered in my Nutrition and Cancer series, you’ve heard me say “eat your colors”, meaning include a variety of brightly colored fruits, vegetables and whole grains in you diet daily. That includes colorful spices, too. They are plant-based foods that bring not only antioxidants, but also bring lots of flavor to the table.


Spices of Power

  1. Turmeric – has become a very popular supplement lately so why not try it in recipes instead of taking a supplement. Its mild flavor allows you to add it to most anything including vegetable and rice dishes. Will using or taking turmeric cure cancer? There is no research that states that, but the antioxidant properties it contains warrants adding it to your plant-based food arsenal. Be sure to use pepper with it to increase your body’s ability to absorb it.
  2. Cayenne is a great way to add some heat to a dish and, believe it or not, the capsaicin in cayenne can help heal mouth sores associated with chemotherapy and radiation. For more information, go here or, for a recipe, click here.
  3. Cinnamon is a very warming spice that has been found to help regulate blood sugar. Try adding a pinch to your coffee maker tomorrow, not only will it bump up the antioxidants in your morning brew, but it will add wonder flavor. Cinnamon and nutmeg can add depth of flavor to meat or tomato dishes.
  4. Ginger, another warming spice, is known for its ability to relieve nausea. It can be infused into water to make a ginger ‘tea’ or added to foods.  Try this recipe for a soothing Ginger Tea.

Do some experimenting with colorful spices in your cooking. You don’t have to make a traditional Indian meal to enjoy the taste and benefits of these spices, you can add them to foods you already like. Adding spices is an easy way to fight chronic diseases like cancer. For some suggestions on adding Indian spices to your diet, there are lots of videos available on the Internet as well and books available. Namaste.


Franella Obi

Franella Obi, RD, LDN, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist at the Greenville Health System (GHS) Cancer Institute's Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship in Greenville, SC.

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