The S Factor
Anytime I overindulge a bit in the food department and stray from my typical healthy eating habits (hi bachelorette, reunion, and wedding all within 9 days), I revert to the S factor: really Simple eating, comprised primarily of soups, salads, and smoothies, with a little low-sugar vegetable juice thrown in for good measure. This simple approach helps fight any puffiness, fogginess, and sluggishness that results from over-indulgence (read: too much sugar) and removes a lot of the questions surrounding ‘what Should I eat?’
Basically, I follow the guidelines of my own 3-Day Cleanse Guide (which you can get for free here!) and spice it up with some new recipes when time allows. I did a lot of butternut squash soup last week, but because of time factors, it was from a carton. While delicious and organic, this is not my absolute ideal solution as even the organic brands add cane sugar (7g per serving). Why!? I do not know. Well, I do: Americans (and, increasingly, the rest of the world) are addicted AF to sugar!
Literally sugar is everywhere: in ketchup, salad dressings, cereal, packaged oatmeal, yogurt. It’s even in peanut butter, tomato sauce, and baked beans. But this is SO unnecessary – many foods have a natural sweetness if you just allow yourself to taste it! And do our taste buds really need everything to be so super sweet? Save the sugar for the occasional treat, please. Eating fresh, natural food prepared with simple, whole ingredients is seriously life-changing. I promise.
Soup for days and days
So I dressed up my butternut squash soup with microgreens and cashews, and sprinkled on some turmeric, cumin, fresh cracked pepper and sea salt, and added a generous portion of nutritional yeast. It was delicious. And with the added greens, healthy fat and protein, and anti-inflammatory power of turmeric, I felt a bit better about the added sugars. Eventually I’ll get around to posting some of my butternut squash soup recipes, added-sugar-free of course.
I also did a simple green salad with plenty of avocado a few times. And when I went out Saturday night to send off my friend on her way back to London, I stuck with a very veg-heavy plate of fresh falafel and hummus and a side of brussel sprouts. All of it was so fresh and delicious, and the vegetables were simply raw, steamed, or roasted.
And even though summer has finally arrived with a bang and a sizzle, I’ve been craving more soup. Fresh, clean, green, sugar-free soup. So that’s what I made (thank goodness for air conditioning! ;). I had some celery, leeks, and onions in the fridge, so I started there, and added broccoli and parsley as well as a few simple spices, light on the salt.
What resulted was a thick, chunky pureed soup that tasted deliciously clean (I opted to leave it a bit chunky). So I had a big hearty bowl of soup on the hottest day of the year so far. But it was perfect!
All the goodness inside
The funny thing about vegetable broth is it often turns my vegetable soups a sort of yellowish color. So, sadly, it doesn’t look quite as vibrantly green as its name suggests, but it’s still full of all the goodness. And it’s some powerful goodness…
Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins are jam-packed with nutrients, and contain special compounds that researchers have identified as having powerful anti-cancer properties. For starters, they’re an excellent source of fiber, and they contain a multitude of nutrients including a few different carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), vitamins C, E, and K, folate, and minerals.
Leeks and its onion and garlic cousins are also chock full of health benefits. They’re high in folate and flavanoids, which are important when it comes to heart disease prevention. They’re also great for gut health, lowering cholesterol, boosting metabolism, and fighting infection. Parsley is full of antioxidants and is great for eye and liver health.
Celery is also loaded with health benefits. It contains lots of vitamins and minerals, which helps replace lost electrolytes, it balances pH levels, helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevents constipation, improves kidney function, and treats nervous disorders, to name a few.
Most important and exciting in my view are the powerful cancer-fighting properties contained in each of these vegetables…
The cancer fighting crew
Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins
For starters, cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, sulfur-containing chemicals that account for the bitter flavor of this veggie family. When broken down they form various biologically active compounds, including sulforaphane (an isothicyanate) and indole-3-carbinole (an indole). While their names are complicated, the findings of anti-cancer research conducted on them are pretty clear: these little compounds have potent anti-cancer effects. In a nutshell, they activate the cancer fighters in the body and switch off the mechanisms that fuel tumor growth. Here’s a list from cancer.gov of the various ways they work to fight cancer:
- they protect cells from DNA damage
- they inactivate carcinogens
- they are antivirals and antibacterials
- they have anti-inflammatory properties
- they induce apoptosis (cell death)
- they inhibit angiogenesis (tumor blood vessel formation) and tumor cell migraton (a key feature of metastasis)
While most of these findings come from the lab and the results of studies in humans are ‘mixed,’ it’s important to bear in mind that human studies are limited in what they can and cannot manipulate. There are many factors for which they can’t control, therefore many potentially confounding variables in any given study.
The fact is there, are many factors that contribute to cancer, and many substances and behaviors that help prevent it. Based on the findings, I think it is difficult to argue against the fact that broccoli and its cousins are a key component of a healthy, anti-cancer diet. To me, the evidence is clear: consume your cruciferous!
Parsley, in addition to its wide-ranging health benefits, also contains a powerful anti-cancer compound called apigenin, which has been shown to stop tumor growth and lower the growth rate of dangerous cells. It also neutralizes carcinogens, making it a chemoprotective food that helps protect healthy tissues from the negative effects of parsley. Its properties are more powerful when consumed raw, so I add it at the end and put some extra sprigs on top.
Celery also contains apigenin as well as luteolin, both flavonoids that fight cancer cells. Apigenin basically cause cancer cells to self-destruct. Win. Luteolin blocks the signal pathways that allow for cancer cell replication. So basically they kills cancer cells and stop them from replicating. Beyond that, they’re both powerful anti-inflammatories. Please pass the celery sticks.
The Allium family
Leeks, onions, and garlic all belong to the Allium family, and they contain similar cancer fighting properties. They all contain inulin, which may protect DNA against damage that causes mutations, as well as diallyl trisulfide (DATS), which has been shown to stop tumor growth and prevent blood vessels from forming within tumors (which ensure the feeding and growth of tumor cells). They also contain allicin, which produces sulfenic acid. This substance is the fastest actor in stopping the spread of free radicals in the body, and low free radicals is associated with low cancer risk.
Last but certainly not least, they contain kaempferol, an antioxidant. To quote one review: “Numerous preclinical studies have shown that kaempferol… [has] a wide range of pharmacological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic and antiallergic activities.” Phew! That’s quite a resume.
So there we have it: a cornucopia of cancer-fighters. Who knew these simple vegetables had such powerful health benefits!? Well, Nature. When it comes to food and health, nature wins, always.
Clean Green Soup: Vegan Cancer-Fighting Machine
What goes in*:
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 leeks, chopped, dark green leaves trimmed off
- 1 head broccoli, stalks cut off
- 1 bunch celery, chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped raw parsley (may sub 1 tbsp dried)
- 1-2 cloves of garlic (or substitute 1/2 tsp garlic powder per clove)
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves (or 1 tbsp fresh)
- avocado or olive oil
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp chopped raw parsley (may sub 1 tbsp dried), plus more for garnish
- optional: cumin (about 1tsp)
- optional: rice protein powder*
*Aim to use organic as much as possible, especially if you’re looking to give you system a little refresh. If you feel like you need a little protein, add some unflavored rice protein powder. I personally don’t like the taste of it in smoothies, but find that it works well in soups. It adds a creamy factor to the soup.
How to make the soup:
- Chop all of your vegetables. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onion, leeks, broccoli, celery, garlic, and thyme.
- Sautée for 10 minutes, then add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the broccoli is thoroughly tender.
- Remove from the heat, add the parsley, and in batches puree to your desired consistency in your food processor or blender (if using a glass blender, be careful to leave the filling lid slightly ajar so as not to crack the glass from the pressure of the heat.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a few sprigs of fresh chopped parsley.