The humble betel leaf also brings relief to those suffering from chest and lung congestion, and asthma. Paan. Now there are those who swear by it, and live for it. This social media post by a friend of mine is a case in point: “Dad, chacha and bhua make day trip to Lucknow and come back with 40 paans packed from a specific state bank paanwalla.” #shaukeen #gourmet

And then there are those who have never had a paan, for multiple reasons — some can’t handle the mouthful properly, many find it messy, most just haven’t developed a taste for it. I see that more and more in the younger generation.

This column is directed mainly towards the non paan eaters — with a hope that some of them get converted. Of course, those who eat these pesky packets loaded with immense goodness already should also know why they must continue to eat them.

Just to be clear, I am talking about paan that does not have tobacco, choona (mineral slaked lime or calcium hydroxide) and betel nut (supari) in it, as these three don’t make for a health prescription. In fact, they are known to be cancerous besides causing other health risks.

But minus the three, and when you chew that paan with kattha (catechu), spices, mint, sweetened coconut, dates, gulkand, cherries and variety of saunf (fennels) after a meal, data suggests it is great for us, our health.

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Why is that?

“Betel leaf contains various biologically active compounds, which are responsible for its antioxidant, chemo preventive activities,” writes S Sripradha in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research.

And you thought it’s just a leaf! Chewing puts the salivary glands into high gear and stimulates the release of saliva, thus aiding digestion. Photo: Reuters

Yes, betel leaves themselves are not just devoid of carcinogenic effects; on the contrary, they possess cancer-preventive properties. Sripradha also writes that betel leaves have been described as an aphrodisiac since ancient times.

Maybe that’s why it was a common practice to offer masala paan to newlyweds.

Betel leaves are loaded with nutrients: vitamin C, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3) and carotene (vitamin A), besides some calcium and iodine. In fact, the leaves also contain significant amounts of all essential amino acids except lysine, histidine and arginine, which occur in traces. And as close to 85-90 per cent of betel leaf is water, it has high moisture content and low calorie count.

Besides these nutrients, betel leaves contain essential oils and chemical components such as betel oil and chavicol, betelphenol, eugenol, terpene and campene. It is these chemical components that bestow the humble paan with medicinal properties.

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They are are great for our oral health. Betel leaf helps refresh breath, protects against germs, bacteria and other pathogens in the mouth. When you chew a paan, it cleanses the mouth, prevents tooth decay, and helps strengthen the gums.

The spices in it (cardamom, fennel, saffron, cloves, aniseed, turmeric, mustard or sweeteners, mostly added according to local preferences) also work at destroying bad breath-causing bacteria in the mouth. But of course chewing paan continuously may also leave your teeth permanently discoloured, so proper cleansing of the teeth soon after eating this mouth freshner is very important.

Chewing puts the salivary glands into high gear and stimulates the release of saliva, thus aiding digestion. It has proven carminative and gastroprotective properties, and is said to ease constipation, too.

Mince a betel leaf with water, store it overnight and drink the essence on an empty stomach the next day after straining the mixture: this is known to help solve constipation issues. According to Ayurveda, it also helps reduce “Medha dhatu (body fat)” and increases the body’s metabolic rate.

These leaves display anti-diabetic properties, too. Studies have shown that extracts of betel leaves help control blood sugar levels. Chromium present in the betel leaves have a role to play in stabilizing the blood sugar.

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What I also wonder is why in these pollution-ridden times — when we are more likely to catch cough and cold — we are ignoring this simple, easily accessible remedy. I haven’t tried paan myself, but there are enough who vouch that betel leaves can help cure constant cough, ease phlegm and reduce the inflammation brought on by respiratory distress.

They also bring relief to people suffering from chest and lung congestion, and asthma.

Finally, one benefit will leave you exhilarated. Literally. In the ancient times, betel leaves were prized for their stimulant activity in the central nervous system. It was believed that chewing betel leaves produces a sense of well-being, happiness and heightened alertness.

It seems they were right, as betel leaves contain aromatic phenolic compounds that stimulate the release of catecholamines. Research clearly shows a strong link between low level of catecholamines in the body and increased risk of depression. Chewing betel leaves might just be an easy and economical way to keep depression at bay. Now that’s happy news to chew on, don’t you think! #KhabarLive