Piping hot sambar is often suggested as a home remedy for various ailments by family elders and now we have a research by the Manipal University to validate the same. Sambar, that most popular of south Indian curries, has been proved to prevent colon cancer and medical experts say that it is the mixture of spices in the sambar powder that contributes to its effectiveness.
Sambar powder has anti-tumorigenic properties, that is, it counteracts the formation of tumours. Sambar powder consists of coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, turmeric rhizomes, black pepper, curry leaves, cumin seeds and asafoetida. Dr S.V.S.S. Prasad, an oncologist, says that if properly made, sambar is a very nutritious dish. “The properties of the spices used helps bowel movement thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer. Sambar is not a spicy dish and therefore doesn’t affect the lining of the intestine and actually prevents development of dimethylhydrazine, which is a factor of colon cancer.”
Cancer Research Institute (CRI) of the Tata Memorial Institute, Mumbai, has conducted studies on the chemo-preventive action of agents from Indian foods such as turmeric. A senior researcher from the preventive oncology department says, “Instead of taking sambar as a whole, if we split it into components, we see the many benefits of all the ingredients that go into it. All the components facilitate good digestion which is crucial to prevent colon cancer.”
Instances of colon cancer are higher in north India. Medical experts claim that this is because of the prevalent diet, which consists of more wheat and that leads to constipation. The diet followed in South India, of rice and curry, supposedly helps in bowel movement. Dr T.P.S. Bhan-dari, an oncologist, says, “Seventy per cent of colon cancer cases are in north India. Tur-meric, which is an active ingredient in sambar powder, has anti-cancerous properties. It prevents the formation of free radicals which can be carcinogenic. South Indian curries and especially sambar, is cooked using primarily spices. In North India, we see more grilled food which has tar and free radicals due to the manner of its preparation.”
Sambar is prescribed by gastroenterologists not only for the spices but also for the vegetables added to it. Dr Vimalakar Reddy, gastroenterologist says, “Indian food is always rich in fibre. Sambar, especially, uses many vegetables like carrot, bitter gourd, ladies finger, drum stick, tomatoes and others, which have their own individual healthy properties, as do lentils that are also used in the preparation. The mix of spices and other ingredients leads to more fat absorption that increases motility and therefore can prevent colon cancer.” A diet high in fat and low in fibre often leads to colon cancer.
Ayesha Fatima, a nutritionist, says, “Although the study is very preliminary, the health aspects of sambar cannot be ignored which is why it is such a popular dish. Black turmeric and fenugreek that is added in sambar is said to reduce the risk of colon cancer. It prevents the effect on inflammatory mediators and prevents negative stress on colonic tissues.”