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Cilantro protects against cancer-causing compounds in grilled meat

Cilantro protects against cancer-causing compounds in grilled meat

Cilantro, botanically known as Coriandrum sativa and sometimes called Chinese parsley, is treasured in Hispanic and Asian cuisine for its attractive green leaves and fresh, spicy flavor. Dried cilantro seeds (or coriander) are also a popular addition to recipes. But, apparently, the taste is not for everyone.

While some people perceive the taste of cilantro as bright, citrusy, and refreshing, others complain of a strong "soapy" flavor. (Intriguingly, experts say that the way we perceive cilantro may actually be hard-wired and depend on a genetic variation.)

But no matter how the taste strikes you, there's no denying that cilantro - a member of the super-healthy carrot/parsley family (Apiaceae) - offers impressive benefits. So let's check out a few of cilantro's surprising gifts to the body.

Prevent the formation of carcinogens in grilled meat

You might want to think about inviting cilantro to your next cookout. Scientists report that red meat grilled at high temperatures can develop carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs). Experts say that these nutritional "nasties" are ten times more carcinogenic than other toxic substances - such as nitrosamines and aflatoxins - and are one of the leading factors in the development of colon, breast, and pancreatic cancer.

Not only that but HAAs trigger oxidative stress and increase the risk of heart disease and obesity. In a recent study published in Experimental Biology, the researchers noted that polyphenols in cilantro and coriander could inhibit HAA formation - by as much as 90 percent! Other protective nutrients included turmeric, green tea, ginger, and rosemary. In fact, even using beer in barbecue recipes appeared to cut down on HAAs. (The benefits don't seem to be alcohol-related. While black and pilsner beers had the highest inhibitory powers when used in marinades, alcohol-free beer also suppressed HAAs).

The takeaway? Using cilantro or coriander seeds in a pre-barbecue marinade could add piquant flavor and help protect against toxic HAAs - a definite win/win.

Protect against age-related eye diseases

A close cousin to carrots, cilantro contains many of the same vision-preserving plant pigments, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These beneficial compounds can be found in orange/yellow foods such as pumpkin, squash, egg yolks, and corn. (Although one would expect cilantro to appear yellow from its cargo of valuable carotenoids, the color is disguised by the plant's green chlorophyll).

These antioxidants help protect the macula – the light-sensing layer of cells in the eye's retina – against damage from ultraviolet and "blue" light. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, population studies show that people who eat diets high in lutein and zeaxanthin have a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration - currently the leading cause of blindness in Americans over 65. Cilantro can help you boost your intake of these vision-protecting compounds.

Cilantro may help relieve pain and inflammation

Cilantro is rich in linalool, an antioxidant currently investigated for its effect on chronic pain. Although it is not a narcotic, animal studies have shown that cilantro seems to work through the opioid pathway in the body to reduce pain. In addition, cilantro is believed to have mild sedative, anxiety-reducing, and muscle relaxant effects, potentially promoting a more "mellow" outlook that may help reduce the perception of pain.

Some clinical research supports the pain-relieving properties of cilantro. An early study published in Toxicology and Industrial Health reported that cilantro extract had a beneficial impact on rheumatoid arthritis. In a separate placebo-controlled study, participants who took a coriander extract experienced reduced severity, duration, and frequency of migraines compared to a control group. However, more studies are needed.

For easing minor, routine aches and pains, nibbling a sprig or two of cilantro might be worth a try!

Bypass the salt shaker, sprinkle on the cilantro!

In addition to its time-honored use as an "MVP" in salsa, guacamole, and gazpacho, you can utilize cilantro to enliven poultry and fish recipes, spice up hummus and dips, or add "zing" to sandwiches, wraps, and omelets. (Pro tip: Cilantro pairs well with mint and arugula in a tasty mixed green salad). Coriander seeds, which have a warmer, more robust taste, are well suited to beef recipes and meaty broths.

When using fresh cilantro in a recipe, add it near the end of the cooking process to avoid loss of taste and texture. Strip the leaves from the stems and cut them gently into small pieces with sharp scissors (hacking away with a dull knife may mean that more of the flavor and juice ends up on the cutting board). ­­­­

While cilantro and coriander are considered safe when eaten in amounts normally found in food, enjoy them in moderation and avoid eating large amounts.

By the way, cilantro is also believed to help cleanse the body from heavy metals, regulate blood sugar, promote restful sleep and support heart health. So this protective spice makes a fantastic addition to your healthy diet.

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