Whole, unprocessed vegan food is both healthy and flavorful. The health benefits of leafy greens, fresh fruit, whole grains, and legumes are undeniable. Luckily for us, many of the herbs and spices we use to create bold and intricate flavors in our meals are incredibly beneficial as well. These five herbs and spices tout powerful cancer-fighting compounds.
1. Garlic. While technically a vegetable, I use garlic as a flavoring agent nearly ubiquitously when I cook. It is aromatic and pungent and adds a depth of flavor to stir fries, sauces, dips, and even fresh juice. Its versatility benefits us, as its cancer-fighting ability correlates with consumption. The more you eat, the more you benefit! The allyl sulfides in garlic, the very compounds that impart its pungent odor, activates factors in our cells that control cancer-fighting processes. These factors can trigger cellular response to cancer-causing trauma, and it can force apoptosis, the process in which a cell will induce its own death if damage is insurmountable.
In addition to cancer-fighting properties, garlic is known for cardiovascular benefits, it is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and promotes iron metabolism. Throw an extra garlic clove in your stir fry, blend some into your pasta sauce, or roast it and eat it on top of salad. And if your hands start to take on the allyl sulfide odor, try scrubbing them with a stainless steel spoon under cold running water.
2. Turmeric. Related to orange and ginger, turmeric is widely used in Indian cuisine to impart a warm, peppery, slightly bitter flavor and mustard its bright yellow color. Curcumin, the pigment that gives turmeric its distinctive color, is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals that would otherwise create cancer-causing damage in our DNA. The pigment also has anti-inflammatory benefits that function to slow the growth of tumor cells.
Turmeric can also lower cholesterol, improve liver function, and provide relief for arthritis and digestive symptoms. Add turmeric to tofu scrambles to enhance savory flavor and to give a yellow hue, or cook up a mouth-watering curry, balancing turmeric with other Indian spices like garam masala, amchoor, and cumin.
3. Ginger. Known mostly for its use in Asian cultures as a cure for digestive upset, this spicy, aromatic root is also known for its ability to prevent cancer. Gingerols, the compounds in ginger that give it the spicy flavor, not only provide anti-inflammatory benefits but may also slow the growth of and promote death of cancer cells.
These benefits, in addition to digestive and immunity benefits, are all the more reason to eat more ginger. Grate some into your stir fry with that garlic, or chop it up and steep it with hot tea. Give your baked goods some zest and spice by adding grated ginger to the batters, and throw a chunk into a smoothie for more complex flavor. But be careful, a little goes a long way!
4. Dill. We usually equate dill to pickles, but the herb brings a light and tangy flavor to salad dressings, creamy dishes, and spicy foods. Monoterpenes found in dill activate an enzyme called glutathione-S-transferase which attacks free radicals from environmental carcinogens including many different types of smoke. Don’t take that as an excuse to start smoking, though!
Dill is also loaded with manganese, iron, and magnesium and has antibacterial properties. Blend it up into a creamy tofu sauce to spread on salad or falafel, or sprinkle it on popcorn with some hot sauce for a new and beneficial way to enjoy a classic snack.
5. Parsley. While usually overlooked as simply a garnish, parsley is actually a potent cancer-preventer. Apigenine, an oil found in parsley, has been shown to inhibit cancer growth by preventing the extension of blood vessels that supply fuel to a growing tumor.
Parsley is also a source of antioxidants, is heart-healthy, and could help treat rheumatoid arthritis. Make a walnut, parsley, and nutritional yeast pesto to top pasta for a nutritious addition to dinner, use it to lighten up heavy soups and sauces, or make a fresh quinoa-based tabbouleh.
Not only is vegan food full of fresh flavors, it’s great for you too! Serve yourself up a delicious, compassionate, cancer-fighting meal today.
Image credit: Jon Game/Flickr