Can Curry Prevent Cancer?

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 1:53pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, 30 to 40 percent of all cancers are directly linked to diet and lifestyle. Because the incidence of the top 4 cancers in the United States—colon, breast, prostate, and lung—is 10 times lower in India, researchers have begun studying curry, one of the staples of traditional Indian cooking, for a possible connection. What they have found is that curcumin, a component of this Indian spice, contains powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.

Curcumin Is an Ancient Medicine

A member of the ginger family, curcumin has been used for centuries in India and other Asian countries as a preservative, food coloring, spice, and medicine. Only recently have Western researchers recognized it for its healing potential. Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin is thought to be useful in combating Alzheimer's disease. Recent research confirms its potential use in cancer prevention and treatment. This pungent yellow spice has been shown to kill melanoma skin cancer cells, prevent the early stages of colon cancer, and prevent breast cancer from spreading.

Is Curry a Miracle Cancer Cure?

Normal body cells are constantly dying while new cells are produced in their place. Cancer cells produce proteins that prevent this normal cycle, allowing them to grow rapidly and spread. According to researchers, curcumin suppresses the production of these proteins, forcing cancer cells to self-destruct. The larger the dose of curcumin delivered, the more cancer cells die.

But is the cure for cancer really as close as our spice rack? While the research is compelling, scientists say that it is still in its early stages. A 2002 study published in Cancer Research concluded that curcumin could work against some breast cancer treatments. Therefore, further studies on animals and humans are required to determine if curcumin could be useful in cancer treatment.

Consumers should also be wary about curcumin supplements. Very high doses of curcumin, those obtainable by supplementation rather than foods, can be harmful to the liver. However, amounts typically consumed in foods are considered beneficial to long-term health.

Add Curry to Your Diet

You don't have to be a gourmet Indian chef to use curry powder in your daily menu. There are many curry powder blends available in local grocery stores, ranging from hot and fiery to mild and fragrant. Here are a few simple ways to include this healthful spice in your diet:

  • Sprinkle curry powder on warm peaches or pears
  • Add curry powder to chicken salad
  • Blend garbanzo beans and curry powder for a tasty sandwich spread
  • Add a pinch of curry powder to egg and cheese dishes
  • Sprinkle curry powder in soups and sauces.

Recipe for Curried Chicken Salad

With a mild curry flavor that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy, this refreshing salad is a hit at every party.

3 cups chopped, cooked, chicken breast (about 1 lb.)
1 cup halved seedless red grapes
1 cup diced, peeled apple
4 tablespoons crushed pineapple
2 tablespoons raisins (or craisins)
6 tablespoons low-fat mayo
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Combine chicken, grapes, apple, pineapple, and raisins. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine mayo, honey, curry powder, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix all ingredients together, sprinkle with almonds and serve.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size 1¼ cups)
Calories 303; Fat 7.2g; Protein 33.8g; Fiber 1.9g