Who isn’t looking for a healthy beverage to sip that isn’t high in sugar? You might also yearn for a tea or coffee stand-in that won’t give you the jitters, like caffeinated coffee or tea. Enter rooibos, a tisane native to South Africa and made from the leaves of the shrub known as Aspalathus linearis. The leaves are harvested in early autumn and are then dried naturally in the sun. Even though Rooibos is a South African name, the plant is native to many other countries including China, Japan, Madagascar, Russia, and Tanzania. In South Africa, Rooibos tea is the national drink.
Rooibos is a type of red tea, actually a tisane, since it doesn’t come from the same plant as green and black tea. Being naturally caffeine-free, it’s a good option if caffeinated tea makes you anxious or gives you insomnia. It also gives you an alternative when you’re tired of drinking black tea, green tea, and coffee.
You can enjoy a cup of rooibos tea hot or cold, making it the perfect beverage for all seasons. Some experts believe rooibos has a number of health benefits, including assisting with digestion, although there are few studies looking at these benefits in humans.
The Antioxidant Content of Rooibos Tea
The major health benefit of rooibos tea lies in its rich antioxidant content. Being a source of unique polyphenols, including aspalathin, rooibos helps protect against the free radical damage that contributes to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and potentially cancer, although more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
In studies, aspalathin inhibits the formation of ROS (reactive oxygen species) through chemical scavenging. Therefore, it helps protect cells against damage from oxygen exposure. Since cells use oxygen and have constant exposure, it’s hard for cells to escape oxidative damage. Plus, studies suggest that free radical damage contributes to aging.
Along with antioxidant properties, compounds such as aspalathin in Rooibos tea may reduce inflammation, a contributor to many common health problems, including cardiovascular disease. There’s also preliminary data suggesting that compounds in Rooibos tea could slow brain aging, possibly because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Reducing inflammation is a big focus these days, as people look for ways to stay healthy and slow the aging process.
A 2009 study in rats found that compounds in rooibos tea lower inflammation and reduce DNA damage. Hopefully, it does the same in humans, but we need more research into its effects in humans.
Possible Benefits for Diabetics
Rooibos tea could help with blood sugar control too. The same antioxidant compound, aspalathin in Rooibos tea lowers blood glucose in animal studies. However, there are few human studies available at this point. To get the anti-diabetic benefits, choose green rooibos tea since the fermentation process may reduce the quantity of aspalathin.
Are There Risks to Drinking Rooibos Tea?
According to WebMD.com, drinking reasonable amounts of Rooibos tea is safe, although downing 10 cups or more per day could increase the risk of liver toxicity. As with most things in life, moderation is the name of the game.
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, compounds in Rooibos tea may mimic some of the effects of estrogen on tissues. Therefore, it may not be safe for people who have tumors that grow in the presence of estrogen, like some types of breast cancer.
How to Enjoy Rooibos Tea
You can buy Rooibos tea at most grocery stores these days. If you can’t find it at a standard grocery store, most natural food markets and health food stores stock it. Choose from tea bags or buy loose-leaf Rooibos tea leaves. The latter will give you a higher-quality cup of tea.
You can also buy bottled rooibos tea, but studies show that bottled tea often contains lower levels of antioxidants and other compounds that offer potential health benefits. No matter what kind of tea you drink, preparing your own at home will maximize the health benefits.
How to Make Rooibos Tea:
To make Rooibos tea from the leaves, bring two cups of water to a boil and remove it from the stove for a minute or two to cool it a bit. Add one heaping teaspoon of dried Rooibos to the water and cover the cup for 2 minutes. Then, strain the tea using a strainer to separate out the Rooibos from your freshly made brew. Then enjoy! It has a mild, naturally sweet flavor that many people delight in as an alternative to caffeinated teas.
The Bottom Line
Rooibos is one of the most popular teas worldwide. It is also a naturally caffeine-free drink that may have health benefits. When you’re ready to take a break from caffeine but still enjoy sipping a cup of hot tea, rooibos is an excellent choice. Unlike caffeinated tea, you can even sip a cup before bedtime without fear of tossing and turning as you struggle to sleep from being too caffeinated. Some people even squeeze a squirt of lemon juice into a cup of rooibos tea for extra vitamin C. Sip it hot or cold but give it a try.
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