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Health Benefits for Chai Drinkers
What is Chai Tea?
“Chai” actually means “tea” in Hindi, so calling “chai” “chai tea” is actually rather redundant. However, marketers in the western world thought that “chai tea” would help them sell the “new” product to the western market. Chai is actually centuries old, with its origins in India. Generally, it is a milky, spiced tea made with black tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, pepper, and various other spices. It is usually sweetened – most commonly with sugar, but some drinkers prefer honey. There is not a universal recipe for chai, as different drinkers like it different ways, so the spice list can change depending on who’s making it.
It is most likely this list of ingredients not often found in western beverages that makes chai seem “exotic” to westerners. But in India, chai is as common as tea is in Britain and coffee is in the United States. In fact, it’s so common that in many Indian households, the first thing a host offers a guest is a cup of chai.
Potential Health Benefits of Chai
Some tea companies tout the health benefits of drinking their chai product – but buyer beware. While chai is certainly better for the body than a drink such as coffee, because not all chai is made with the same ingredients, it’s not really possible to state that chai is universally beneficial. And it’s also more likely to benefit the drinker when the drinker has brewed his/her own chai, rather than buying boxed chai or chai in tea bag form. Why? Simply because the spices and herbs being used are much fresher. Here is a list of some of the benefits of the different ingredients in most chai recipes:
1) Cinnamon: In a recent study by the US Agricultural Research Service, cinnamon has been shown to benefit diabetics because the cells are less likely to let insulin in. In lab rats with Type 2 diabetes, cinnamon helped lower blood pressure and prevented cell damage. Cinnamon’s oils also help to stop the growth of certain bacteria and yeasts.
2) Ginger: In the Far East, ginger has been used for over two millennia to treat upset stomach, diarrhea, arthritis, and heart disease. Recent research by western scientists also suggests that ginger may help lower the risk of colon cancer.
3) Cardamom: Like ginger, cardamom is often used to soothe digestion problems. But it is also used to treat respiratory problems such as asthma or people suffering from other kinds of respiratory spasms. Further, in Saudi Arabia, animal studies have shown cardamom to have anti-inflammatory properties, reducing muscle spasms.
4) Cloves: Used in Ayurvedic medicine as an analgesic, cloves are most often used to soothe toothaches and remedy halitosis. It also has antiseptic qualities, and can be used to kill intestinal parasites, fungi, and bacteria. These latter qualities have also led cloves to be used for treating diarrhea and similar digestive ailments.
5) Pepper: Most chai recipes do not usually contain enough black pepper for it to be of significant benefit to its drinkers. However, black pepper does reduce intestinal gas and works as an antioxidant.
Just remember: The best way to ensure that your regular cup of chai provides you with the health benefits you’re looking for is to brew it yourself. Then you can select the herbs and spices that benefit your specific health condition.
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