***Sometime in early 2009, I discovered a wonderful beverage – chai tea.***
Well, some might be thinking something like, “What took you so long?” I admit that although I have consumed a tremendous amount of iced tea over my life at mealtime and that I have always liked a really good cup of freshly brewed hot tea – Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast for example – I was more of a coffee person. At the worst of my coffee indulgence, I probably was having between 7 and 10 cups per day. Now this was at work where you just don’t notice how much you consume and hey – if it’s there, why not? All that caffeine keeps you alert and maybe the day goes a little faster.
I first tried chai tea at the Starbucks outlet at the hospital where I worked. I ordered it essentially “plain” – just hot tea. It was pretty good and pretty soon, I was making an occasional afternoon stop at the Starbucks for a cup of soothing hot chai tea. It substituted for my afternoon coffee which led to less coffee in my diet. Now, I didn’t do this every day, but I did do it two or three times per week. It was very calming during a time that I was working full time while battling cancer and its side effects.
The lead “barista” at the hospital Starbucks is of Asian heritage. She not only has skills making wonderful coffees and teas but can do expert origami as well. I often marveled at the examples she would place by the cash register.
***After a little while, she talked me into a Hot Chai Tea Latte with a “splash” of caramel. Boy was I hooked!***
I didn’t realize at the time that in addition to its good taste and calming benefits, it was loaded with calories – about 250 calories in fact – and probably helped lead to a weight gain that would later be exasperated by steroids and other medications.
Today, I still drink hot chai tea several times per week at home. And, when at the hospital, I can’t resist stopping by and getting a Chai Tea Latte, although now I get it with skim milk and sugar free caramel – fewer calories and much better for me!
***So, what exactly is chai tea? It is a powerful blend of tea, herbs and spices, which have been cherished for centuries in India and other Eastern countries to preserve health and increase peace of mind (the calmness that it seemed to bring to me in my afternoon visits at work).***
But, chai tea is filled with a lot of health benefits. In addition to peace of mind, chai tea can improve digestion, enhance the immune system, and fight inflammation. It also has antioxidant properties and has been suggested to have antibacterial and anti-cancer effects.
***Chai tea is made using different recipes that mostly depend on the region where it is being consumed, but there are a number of standard ingredients. Among them are black tea, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, clove and black pepper.***
Each of these ingredients brings unique and powerful health benefits to the overall blend. Together, they can act synergistically to increase each other’s benefits.
The first chai tea ingredient we will discuss is black tea. Lately, we have been hearing all the benefits of green tea, which comes from a different part of the plant than black tea. But we should not underestimate the benefits that we might derive from including black tea in our diet.
***Black tea is used for improving mental alertness as well as learning, memory and information processing skills.***
It has also been used to treat headache, to lower blood pressure, to help prevent heart disease, to treat Parkinson’s disease, and to reduce the risk of various cancers. It also has gastrointestinal benefits that help stomach problems, vomiting, and diarrhea and it is a proven diuretic that will increase urine flow and thus help with “water weight”.
Some people even use black tea to prevent tooth decay and kidney stones. And, in combination with other ingredients, it can be used, similarly to other teas, to help in a total nutrition plan aimed at weight loss.
The next ingredient is ginger. It has been an important root used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years.
***Ginger aids digestion, improves circulation, boosts the immune system and reduces inflammation, which can be especially helpful for people suffering from arthritis or other rheumatologic disorders. It offers antioxidant support, and some research has shown that ginger can help fight cancer cells.***
Ginger is an herb. The rhizome (underground stem or root) is what is used as a spice and also as a medicine. It can be used fresh, dried and powdered, or as a juice or oil.
Ginger has been commonly used to treat various types of “stomach disorders”, such as motion sickness, morning sickness, colic, upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea. It has also been shown to be effective in treating the nausea and loss of appetite caused by cancer treatment and general anesthesia following surgery. I have found it to be helpful in fighting nausea and is perhaps another big reason I find chai tea to be so helpful in my own diet.
Next is the herb cardamom. It is the seeds that are used to make medicine. I think, as a medicinal herb, cardamom can and should be used in many recipes as a part of a total nutrition plan.
***Found in just about every Tibetan medicine formula, cardamom aids digestion and supports the immune system. In addition, it helps detoxify the body, improve circulation and may also fight respiratory allergies.***
I think that I have an affinity for any Tibetan product after accidentally having the opportunity to meet the Dahlia Lama in Minnesota while seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
By aiding digestion, cardamom can help to relieve symptoms of heartburn, intestinal spasms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gas, constipation, and loss of appetite. In fighting respiratory allergies, it can be used to help treat symptoms of the common cold, coughs, bronchitis, and sore mouth or throat.
***Keeping with the theme that we seem to have started, the next ingredient, cinnamon, has wonderful digestive properties and, in addition, there are reports that it may also help balance blood sugar.***
In addition, research, albeit inconclusive, has shown that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant effects.
Cinnamon is best known as a spice, sprinkled on toast and on top of those morning lattes that have become an addiction for many Americans. But extracts from the bark of the cinnamon tree have also been used as medicine throughout the world for a very long time. And, it gives an important “kick” to that cup of chai tea that I enjoy so much.
The next ingredient is fennel. It is a perennial, pleasant-smelling herb with yellow flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean, but is now found throughout the world. Dried fennel seeds are often used in cooking as an anise-flavored spice. But don’t confuse fennel with anise; though they look and taste similar, they are not the same. Fennel’s dried ripe seeds and oil are used to make medicine.
***Fennel is a great source of antioxidants and also provides Vitamin C, potassium and fiber. All of these are important parts of a total nutrition plan.***
In a few studies, fennel has also demonstrated some anti-cancer effects. It can also be used for various digestive problems including heartburn, gas, bloating, loss of appetite and colic as well as for upper respiratory tract infections and coughs. While not anise, I have found fennel to provide for me some of the pleasant effects of eating real licorice candies or cookies.
So, in addition to adding to the flavor of chai tea, fennel as an ingredient in other recipes will also bring important health benefits as a part of a total nutrition plan for the chronically ill patient.
Next comes clove which is an herb. People use the oils, dried flower buds, leaves, and stems to make medicine.
***Like many of the other ingredients above, clove helps digestion, but it also has analgesic (pain relieving) properties and may help alleviate ulcer pain. In addition, clove has antibacterial action.***
Clove is used for upset stomach and as an expectorant. Expectorants make it easier to cough up phlegm. Clove oil is used to ease the symptoms of diarrhea and also to help control bad breath. Both clove and clove oil can be used to help treat intestinal gas, nausea, and vomiting.
Clove can be applied directly to the gums for toothache, for pain control during dental work, and for a complication of tooth extraction called “dry socket.” It can also be applied to the skin as a counter-irritant for pain and for mouth and throat inflammation.
So, as an ingredient in chai tea, clove brings a lot of properties that are beneficial in fighting some of the effects that we suffer from chronic disease.
Many are familiar with how red pepper (cayenne) has been shown to increase metabolism. New research shows that black pepper may also affect our metabolism. One study demonstrated black pepper’s direct influence on fat storage, suggesting that it may be useful to prevent fat accumulation.
***Black pepper – along with other spices, such as ginger (which conveniently is another ingredient in chai tea) – acts as a “thermogenic”. That means it increases the metabolic rate, just like red pepper has been shown to do.***
Eating black pepper also increases your mineral and nutrient intake and might reduce your risk of disease. Using black pepper in cooking helps you consume more manganese. A teaspoon of black peppercorns contains 370 micrograms of manganese, which is 21 percent of the daily intake for women and 16 percent for men. Black pepper’s manganese content activates enzymes in your cells that are needed in order to metabolize nutrients, including proteins and fats. Manganese in the diet also supports healthy bone development and helps you make collagen that is required for wound healing.
The piperine in black pepper affects the proliferation of cells, and some research suggests that it might fight the proliferation of rectal cancer cells. Another recent study reports that piperine may hinder new blood vessel growth within tumors, thus stunting their growth.
So, given the fact that the ingredients in chai tea contain all of these benefits, chai’s popularity should be no mystery. I suppose the real question is why people in the West took so long to discover what Eastern practitioners have known for centuries – that chai tea calms the mind, improves digestion and provides numerous additional healthy advantages.
***This ancient beverage is treasured by people around the world for its delicious flavor and important health benefits. It is one of my favorite beverages and it is something that I truly think has helped make a difference in my battles with stage IV melanoma, paraneoplastic syndrome and the variety of other chronic and acute diseases that have coexisted with my cancer.***
Therefore, I heartily recommend hot chai tea as a part of a total nutrition plan designed to help fight the effects of chronic disease and the debilitating pain that it can bring. It may be a little thing, but little things do add up to produce big results.