from the AICR Newsletter: Winter 2011, Issue 110

Warm Up Your Winter with Spices


It’s better to use actual spices in your meals than to take supplements of isolated spice antioxidants. All plant foods – including spices – contain many natural compounds that work together to protect your health.

If you’re feeling chilly this Winter, reach for warming spices. Ginger, cloves and turmeric complement winter’s root vegetables, dark, leafy greens and hearty whole grains, adding a double punch of flavor and cancer-fighting compounds.

The exotic spice trade once commanded great fortunes. Traders from Europe to Morocco and along the Silk Road came back with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and other rare spices. Luckily for us, it only takes a trip to the grocery store to find a wide spectrum of healthy spices. Like all plant foods, spices contain natural phytochemicals. Ancient cultures used many spices as remedies, and now scientists have confirmed that substances in spices protect our health. It’s true that the amount of spices in one serving of a dish is small. However, if you use spices frequently in a healthy diet, their benefits may provide added cancer protection over time.


Ginger contains various disease-fighting antioxidants. Preliminary laboratory studies suggest the antioxidant gingerol may help destroy cancer cells and block cancer-related inflammation. Fresh ginger comes as a gnarled and knobby root. Use a paring knife to scrape off the thin, outer skin before mincing to use in stir-fries, soups or curries. Dried, ground ginger maintains a slight spicy pungency great for adding zing to baked goods, soups or vegetable dishes.


Another potent spice is turmeric, the root of a tropical plant related to ginger. Turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Preliminary studies suggest curcumin may also protect against colorectal cancer. Turmeric gives American-style mustard its intense yellow color. Look for this mild, pungent spice in curry blends or use on its own to season meat dishes, chilies, soups or even air-popped popcorn.


Researchers analyzed 425 herbs and spices and discovered that cloves have the highest antioxidant value. Antioxidants protect cells from being damaged by molecules in the body called free radicals that increase with age and exposure to pollutants. Cloves’ healthful compounds and scintillating spiciness are reason enough to add them to both sweet and savory dishes this Winter. Add a pinch of ground cloves to hot cider or find a clovelaced spice blend like pumpkin pie spice or Chinese five-spice powder.

These recipes blend spices beautifully with their other cancer-fighting ingredients in dishes that are well suited to the chilly winter months.

Baked Honey-Spice Chicken

This main dish is aromatic with warm, earthy spices. Tasty accompaniments are string beans or steamed broccoli and mashed sweet potatoes or brown rice.

  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 4 (6 oz.) skinless chicken breast halves, preferably with bone

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking dish just slightly larger than chicken breasts with canola oil spray. In small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, juice, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, turmeric, salt, pepper and honey until honey dissolves. Place chicken in prepared baking dish, rib-side down. Spoon spice mixture over chicken, coating completely.

Bake chicken for 10 minutes. Remove chicken from oven. Tipping pan, use spoon to baste chicken with liquid for 1 minute. Repeat baking for 10 minutes then baste two more times. Continue baking until white inside at thickest part or 165 degrees on meat thermometer. Total baking time will be about 1 hour; boneless chicken will take about 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let chicken rest for 10 minutes. Place chicken on deep serving plate. Spoon liquid from pan over chicken and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 200 calories, 1.5 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 14 g carbohydrate,
31 g protein, 0 g dietary fiber, 380 mg sodium.

Pumpkin-Spice Muffins

These healthy muffins make a wonderful holiday gift. Just place them on a colorful napkin in a basket and tie a ribbon around it.

  • Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup fat-free or low-fat buttermilk (or mix 1/3 cup nonfat milk with 1 tsp. lemon juice)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray cups of two 12-cup muffin pans with canola oil spray. In large bowl, place all dry ingredients and whisk well to combine.

In medium bowl, whisk pumpkin, applesauce, oil, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla until well combined. Add dry ingredients and stir until combined. Mix in nuts. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Bake about 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center of muffin.

Makes about 15 muffins (1 serving each).

Per serving: 172 calories, 7 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 24 g. carbohydrate,
3 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 123 mg. sodium.

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