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Diet and nutrition: spices for cancer prevention

VCU Health and Massey registered dietitian Allie Farley provides nutrition tips and information on the connection between diet and cancer. Visit Allie's Diet and Nutrition blog to read more. If there is there a topic that you would like to see covered, send your requests to alliene.farley@vcuhealth.org

Research shows that phytochemicals found in the spices turmeric, ginger, allspice, garlic and cinnamon might play a role in cancer prevention. Use these spices when cooking to enhance your healthy meals. Keep in mind that spices can transform an entire dish with the power of a pinch or a teaspoon. 

  • Turmeric: One of the most studied spices for anti-cancer activity, turmeric gets its yellow color from the compound curcumin. In vitro (test tube) studies show that curcumin may have chemopreventative effects. There is limited preliminary evidence that it may have some clinical utility in certain patients with prostate cancer, gastrointestinal cancers or head and neck cancers, although it can interact with many chemotherapy drugs and may increase the risk of bleeding due to its antiplatelet properties. This spice is mild-flavored and typically found in Indian curry blends. It also goes well with eggs, vegetables and rice dishes.
  • Ginger: Ginger root contains many active compounds, including gingerol. When heated or dried, gingerols are transformed into other compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger is fragrant, delicious in soup, tea, stir-fries and baked goods.
  • Allspice: Allspice comes from the dried berries of a South American tree. Despite the name, it’s not a combination of spices. Allspice is packed with flavonoid, phenolic acid and phytochemicals. Studies suggest concentrated amounts of allspice may help suppress cancer growth. Allspice tastes like a blend of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg – which is how it got its name.
  • Garlic: Research has linked eating high amounts of garlic with reduced risk of colorectal cancer, possibly due to its sulfur-containing compounds. Before cooking, chop or crush fresh garlic and let it to sit for 5-10 minutes to allow allicin to form. A little garlic punches up the flavor of beans, vegetables, meats, stews and sauces.
  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon comes from the dried bark of trees. You can find it as curled bark sticks or in powdered form. Lab studies have focused on its active compound cinnamaldehyde for its anticancer properties. Most often used in baking, this versatile spice works well in both sweet and savory dishes. Try using the cinnamon sticks to infuse flavor in stews or beverages. The powdered form adds flavor – and fragrance – to many types of dishes.

Recipes for each of these spices can be found at AICR.org.

For more information on spices and herbs, please visit Memorial Sloan Ketting Cancer Center's About Herbs resource.

Massey does not endorse all integrative and complementary practices. We only recommend those that are known to be safe and have the potential to improve health when used alongside, and never in place of, professional medical care. All cancer patients are advised to consult with their physician before starting any integrative practice, as some may interfere with medical care.

Written by: Massey Communications Office

Posted on: February 25, 2019

Category: Diet and Nutrition