COMING FROM a south Indian household, I grew up watching every ceremony conclude with the elders chewing on the humble betel leaves. Depending on the occasion, vettalai or paan leaf is slathered with slaked lime and areca nut along with a cocktail of other stuff to make it headier, juicier.
This practice is also extended to new mothers in most south Indian households. The leaves are believed to aid in digestion and milk production and the slaked lime (chunaambu) in the absorption of calcium by the mother.
Essentially, slaked lime is calcium hydroxide. It is obtained by mixing quick lime (calcium oxide) with water. Its consumption on a daily basis is just one another way of including calcium in one’s diet. However, very little of slaked lime should be applied on a betel leaf as excess of it causes a burning sensation in the mouth. Since it is a form of calcium, it is linked to increasing milk production.
Assimilating calcium from green leafy vegetables and dairy products is a much more effective way of meeting your body’s requirements of the mineral. Besides, it is more important to have a balanced diet and an encouraging environment to be able to nurse successfully.
On the other hand, betel leaves have traditionally been used for a number of purposes—from increasing appetite and oral hygiene to aiding digestion. Since the leaves are rich in tannins, which gives the tart, velvety flavour and texture to the leaves while chewing, they help constrict blood or contract tissues. Betel leaf chewing, therefore, helps heal oral ulcers, wounds and inflammation. The leaf also contains some amount of iron and calcium. So, it is not a bad idea to include them in your diet.
A paan a day might not keep the doctor away, but it sure keeps bad breath at bay.
Next issue: The 40-day diet