This series on foods that help fight cancer is a repeat, but three women I know have been diagnosed with cancer in the past month, so now seems like a good time for a refresher. Do I think adding a little more garlic and beans to my diet will protect me from all harm? No, of course not. But these foods have been shown to improve health and that sounds good to me. I like my tatas; I want to keep them healthy.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45. That felt like a distant milestone until I turned 40. Add to my family history the recent breast cancer diagnosis of a friend – who is my age and stage of life – and it’s a bit of a wake up call. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. I wanted to know if there was anything I could do now to prevent cancer later (or kill it now, now is good too).
First, I took stock of everything I knew about food and cancer prevention; it was summed up with the phrase “Eat berries”. Berries have lots of antioxidants that clean out the free radicals, right? Whatever those are and however that works.
I checked out four different health websites for recommended anti-cancer foods and when I compared the list, five foods stood out: garlic, dried beans, cruciferous vegetables, tea, and curcumin. Since this is a blog post, not a book, I’ll just tell you about my favorite one today. Anyone want to guess? Anyone want to smell my breath and then guess?
Besides making everything it touches delicious, garlic has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. It was also used as a weapon of war; they’d just breathe on the enemy and the enemy would run. (It’s the taste of garlic we love, but not the aftertaste.)
So why is garlic a cancer fighting food?
Garlic contains sulfur. (Insert volcano reference here.) I know that sounds bad, but the sulfur combines with other stuff in the garlic to form compounds, and these sulfur compounds really clean house. Garlic’s biggest connection to cancer is its ability to slow or prevent the growth of tumors. For example, one compound makes all cells more vulnerable to the stresses of cell division; tumor cells divide more quickly than normal cells, so they have more stressors and die, whereas normal cells can handle it and live. (See why I called it a weapon?)
Garlic also has antibacterial and antifungal properties; while it fights infection, the rest of your immune system is free to work on other problems, like cancer. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties as well and inflammation is like PMS on a cellular level; it makes every little problem in your body worse.
How does this apply to the kitchen? Two ways:
- When you peel, chop, mince, or crush garlic, let it sit for a few minutes before you cook it. Those beautiful sulfur compounds need time to form. If you squeeze your garlic press over a hot pan like I’ve done until now, you get the flavor, but not the compounds.
- Eat garlic raw whenever possible. I knew a woman once who sliced cloves into pill sized pieces and swallowed them whole. She said she hardly ever got colds. If you aren’t ready for that level of halitosic commitment, try raw garlic in pesto, guacamole, gazpacho, or mixed with butter and spread on toast.
Pesto has to be my favorite. You can find the recipe here: Fresh Pesto.
I also found a recipe for a raw garlic based tea. How did it taste? Not horrible. I know that’s not a rave review for flavor, but it’s raw garlic tea: “not horrible” is as good as it gets, and I’m a garlic lover. Garlic Tea. I’ve drunk it twice and will do so again: my body wanted more, so it must be doing something good.
I am very happy to say that my mom has been cancer free for 18 years now. She loves garlic too. No, I’m not saying that garlic cured her. I’m just saying that this happy ending smells like garlic!
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” Numbers 11:4-6
Tatas courtesy of freeinterentpictures.com.