Healthy Living During And After Cancer: Ask The Expert

Healthy Living During And After Cancer: Ask The Expert

During our recent webinar, “Survivor Strong: Healthy Living During And After Cancer,” we received a variety of questions. Rachel Beller, MS, RD, CEO, Beller Nutritional, is pleased to answer your questions and regarding nutrition below. If you have additional questions, please contact us at 866.474.2774.

1. Does turmeric interfere with the benefits of an aromatase inhibitor?

The jury is still out on this one when it comes to turmeric supplements and very high concentrations of its primary compound, Curcumin. There is some evidence that shows that Curcumin may actually have anti-estrogenic properties, which would theoretically work in tandem with the effects of aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen. However, there is limited evidence that high doses of Curcumin may have mildly mimic the hormone estrogen. Bottom line? Those with hormone sensitive breast cancer may want to avoid supplements and high doses of Curcumin. However, there’s absolutely no evidence saying that turmeric root or spice negatively or positively affects aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen. In fact, most studies have demonstrated its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. So keep spicing it up! All the oncologists I have spoken to allow their patients to use fresh turmeric root and spices in their food. It’s best to use the natural, wholesome root and spice. Combine turmeric with other breast cancer-fighting spices such as black pepper, parsley, and even cacao!

2. Are using dried spices just as effective as using fresh spices?

Fresh versus dried – I get this question all the time. In terms of cooking, you’ll get stronger, dominant flavor compounds in dried herbs and more delicate aromas with fresh herbs. But if we’re talking about nutritional value, dried herbs take the crown! Dried herbs can have 200-700% the antioxidant capacity (measured by ORAC value) of fresh versions, largely because they deliver a concentrated form of the herb’s active phytochemicals. A 2010 study that used the FRAP assay to calculate antioxidant content also found that dried herb samples had much greater antioxidant activity compared with fresh—this was tested for oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, chives, dill, parsley, and more.

The proof is in the numbers – check out the antioxidant value of dried herbs versus fresh:

  • Dried basil has 144x more antioxidant content than fresh
  • Dried rosemary has 16.5 more antioxidant content/activity than fresh
  • Dried thyme has 37x more antioxidant content/activity than fresh

Also, keep in mind that dried herbs don’t last forever. The flavor (and antioxidant value) can fade over time. To ensure you’re getting the most nutrition per pinch, replace your dried spices after one year, and store spice jars in an airtight, cool, dry space.

3. Do store bought spices have any effect (i.e. turmeric and cumin)?

Scientists have recommended up to 3 grams of dried turmeric powder daily (equivalent to 1- 1 ½ teaspoons) for optimal health benefits. If spicing isn’t part of daily meals, it may seem easier to take a supplement of turmeric’s main compound, curcumin. After all, a supplement seems like a reliable source to deliver curcumin into your body.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. As with all supplements, you run the risk of adulteration (aka contaminants of non-curcumin compounds). The FDA does not regulate the supplement industry so there’s no way to guarantee that you’re getting pure turmeric or curcumin extract. And even if your supplement is 95% pure curcumin, consumer research has shown that many products may contain synthetic curcumin, or slight variations of curcumin that may not exactly replicate the natural form found in turmeric.

Beyond this, I’m not a fan of isolating the compound curcumin apart from whole-food turmeric. Turmeric is more than just curcumin—this spice contains over 100 chemical compounds! While only limited studies have compared the specific health benefits of turmeric with Curcumin, some suggest that the whole food turmeric may work better in fighting cancer—including colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and leukemia. While curcumin is undoubtedly a major compound of turmeric, some of turmeric’s other compounds may contribute to its anti-cancer powers. Research has shown that even curcumin-free turmeric exhibits anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties!

I prefer using the whole-foods version of fresh turmeric root or a high quality organic turmeric powder. I’m liberal with my use—I use in my AM riser beverage and sprinkle spice blends that include turmeric over breakfast, in smoothies, lunch, and dinner! Use some of my tricks of the trade to optimize its absorption:

  • Add a dash of black pepper
  • Mix with pure cacao
  • Use with healthy fats
  • Sprinkle over fish
  • Heat it up (sprinkle in warm drinks and soups)

6. If I am not one who generally does a lot of at home cooking, but want to incorporate more spices, what would you say is the easiest way of integrating spices into my diet?

You don’t need to cook to use spices. I shake, sprinkle or add ½ tsp of a mix that contains Ceylon cinnamon, ginger and granulated orange peel to my breakfast routine (oats, quinoa smoothies and cut fruit). I also sprinkle on snacks.

I sprinkle my vegitude blend I created on cooked vegetables or any food I bring home along with a dash of sea salt for a flavor and antioxidant pinch.

I also sprinkle sumac on zesty salads with lemon juice and cold pressed olive oil.