The types of teas people sip on an everyday basis vary, depending on where someone lives. Here in the U.S., black tea is the most commonly brewed. In Japan, green tea is most popular. And in South Africa, Cape Town-based registered dietitian Emily Innes, RD, says rooibos is one of the most popular tea varieties. “Rooibos tea is an absolute standard beverage in every single household in South Africa,” she says.
- Emily Innes, RD, Emily Innes, RD, is a registered dietitian based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Innes says that anytime you go to someone's house in South Africa, you'll be offered a cup of tea. "Rooibos tea is always offered," she says. Rooibos is an herb with needle-like leaves that grows abundantly in this region, so it makes sense that it's so popular there. Rooibos shrubs thrive in sandy soil and the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa, in particular, is one particularly famous place where it grows. In terms of the taste, rooibos tea has smoky, grassy, and slightly floral notes. It's a tea that's full of complexities.
This particular type of tea is full of health benefits, too. Here, Innes highlights what they are as well as giving some expert brewing tips.
Rooibos tea benefits
1. It's caffeine-free
Rooibos tea is an herbal tea and is completely free of caffeine. Inness says that one benefit to this is that it can be sipped any time of day without getting in the way of your sleep later. "Many people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to limit their caffeine intake choose rooibos for this reason," she says.
2. Rooibos tea is full of antioxidants
Like other teas, rooibos tea is full of antioxidants, which are directly linked to benefitting brain health and warding off chronic inflammation. "The role of antioxidants is to ‘mop up’ damaging free radicals in the body," Innes says. "Free radicals can cause oxidative stress and damage to the body’s cells. It is therefore beneficial to reduce the amount of free radicals in the system. As rooibos tea is high in antioxidants, it is great at reducing free radical damage, and there-by improving health."
3. Regularly drinking rooibos tea could help prevent type two diabetes
Some scientific studies suggest that regularly consuming rooibos tea could protect against developing type 2 diabetes. However, these studies have primarily been done in rats (not humans) and need to be considered with that in mind. The reason why some researchers believe there is a connection is because rooibos tea is high in polyphenols, an active compound linked to fighting chronic inflammation.
"There was also a study suggesting that a substance in rooibos tea called aspalathin has a beneficial effect in maintaining even blood sugar levels in those who already have type 2 diabetes," Innes says. "It does this by stimulating glucose uptake in the muscle tissues, and by stimulating the secretion of insulin from beta-cells in the pancreas." While this research is promising, more evidence is still needed to confirm the connection.
4. It calms stomach muscle spasms
If you're recovering from a bout of diarrhea (or are feeling a bit unsettled and attempting to prevent this stomach woe), Inness says it can be helpful to sip rooibos tea as a way to settle the stomach. This makes rooibos tea a good staple to have on hand to use in place of antacids.
5. It could help support the immune system
Rooibos tea is linked to having a positive effect on the immune response, a relationship that could help prevent allergies as well as more serious health issues, such as cancer. While the connection is promising, it has only been established in labs and in animals, so more human studies need to be done to confirm a solid connection.
6. It's good for your heart
Regularly consuming rooibos tea could help prevent cardiovascular disease. Can you guess why? Yep, it's those polyphenols at work once again. Research shows that polyphenols can help manage blood pressure levels and promote good circulation. "Rooibos may promote heart health through inhibiting a specific enzyme (ACE) which is involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension," Innes adds.
Tips for buying and making rooibos tea
If you can't find rooibos tea at your local grocery store, you can buy it online from My Red Tea ($15), Cederberg ($20), and Davidson's ($15). When shopping for rooibos tea, check to see the region where it's being sourced from, found on the tea's packaging or the brand's website. True rooibos tea is sourced from South Africa.
Innes says preparation of rooibos tea largely comes down to personal preference. "People will either drink it ‘black,’ meaning without milk, just with boiling water added. Or, they will enjoy it with milk," she says. Innes says some people add sugar to their rooibos tea, but as a registered dietitian, she says the most nutrient-rich way to make it is to have it without sugar.
"Some restaurants have started serving ‘red cappuccinos,’" says Innes. "This is rooibos tea that has been brewed and concentrated—almost like a shot of espresso, but made out of rooibos tea leaves—and then mixed with frothed milk." She says that red cappuccinos are often enjoyed at a restaurant or cafe, in place of drinking coffee.
The best way to figure out how you most like your rooibos tea is to experiment. As long as your keeping it sugar-free, Innes says finding a way to integrate it into your life will be beneficial in myriad ways. You'll truly be nourishing your whole body with every sip.
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