Allium vegetables comprise approximately 500 species, the most common including onions, leeks, garlic, chives, and shallots. They have been valued throughout history for their flavor as well as their medicinal properties. Rich in health-promoting flavanols and organosulfur compounds, alliums have increasingly attracted the interest of the medical community for their potential to play a part in preventing cancer.
The following facts compiled by the Dubin Breast Center’s Clinical Nutrition Coordinator Alexandra Rothwell, RD, show the many ways in which the consumption of these foods is part of a healthy, plant-based diet.
- Onions are a significant source of quercetin, which is a flavonoid containing anti-oxidizing and anti-inflammatory properties that may help to guard against cancer and heart disease.
- Polyphenols are a type of phytochemical or plant-based nutrient that provide health benefits. The polyphenol content of onions is higher than that of other allium vegetables (including tomatoes, carrots, and red bell peppers), making onions an excellent vegetable to consume on a regular basis.
- A number of studies have found that garlic can help to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- The health benefits of garlic can be enhanced by letting it sit after crushing or chopping it before introducing acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) or heat.
- In laboratory studies, compounds that are present in garlic have exhibited the ability to slow the growth rate of tumors in bladder, prostate, stomach, and colon tissue.
- A large study in France found that breast cancer risk was lowered in women who consumed higher amounts of fiber, onions, and garlic.
Recipe: Leek and Cauliflower Soup
This recipe was adapted from Green Kitchen Stories. It is completely plant-based, and blends both the allium and cruciferous vegetable families, integrating a number of cancer protective phytochemicals.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 pinch of chili powder
1 medium sized cauliflower head
4 cups water
Juice of ½ lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt and pepper
Almonds, chopped roughly
1. Cut the head and stalk of the cauliflower into smaller florets and rinse well. Set aside.
2. Prepare the leeks by cutting off and discarding the tough upper green part of the stalks. Cut the remaining stalks in half length-wise and rinse well under running water to release any sand. Coarsely chop.
3. Place olive oil in a Dutch oven medium heat. Stir in the onion, garlic and chili and cook until the onions become translucent and softened, stirring occasionally.
4. Add cauliflower and leek to the pot, and sauté for a couple of minutes.
5. Add water, and bring to a boil, then, lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables soften, about 20 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, heat a skillet and toast the almonds until lightly brown.
7. Strain about half of the water from the soup into a bowl, and set aside. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the remaining soup. Stir in the lemon juice, thyme, salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, add some of the remaining water. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour into bowls and serve with fresh thyme, lemon zest and toasted almonds.
Alexandra Rothwell, RD, CSO, CDN, is a registered dietitian and specialist in oncology nutrition. She has worked within the Tisch Cancer Institute for the past 3 years, now focusing on breast cancer nutrition for the Dubin Breast Center. Alexandra provides individual counseling in the areas of wellness, weight management and symptom/side effect management, in addition to creating patient education programs in this realm.