7 Health benefits of Rooibos

Many South Africans commonly enjoy Rooibos as a hot beverage but are unaware of its health benefits. Angelique Ruzicka finds out how Rooibos, which grows in the Western Cape in South Africa, can boost your health if you consume it on a regular basis.

You’d be forgiven for referring to Rooibos as a tea as it is commonly drunk in South Africa by mixing its leaves with boiling water, sugar or sweetener and milk. However, it’s not a tea. According to the South African Rooibos Council it is in fact a herb and when Rooibos’ leaves are brewed it’s actually a herbal infusion.

While it’s a typical staple found in most South African homes, Rooibos does in fact also provide those that consume it with a number of health benefits. To reap the maximum health benefits that Rooibos can provide, Professor Jeanine Marnewick at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology claims that you should drink at least six cups of Rooibos per day. However, it’s not necessary to drink them all at once. The six cups of Rooibos should be spaced throughout the day to deliver optimum health benefits.

Here are some major reasons as to why you should include this super food in your diet:

1. Rooibos tea’s antioxidants protects against heart disease
Local and international studies repeatedly reinforce the fact that Rooibos helps in the fight against heart disease. The latest study, conducted by Spanish researchers, shows that drinking Rooibos can prevent the development of heart disease by inhibiting the liver from storing excessive fat under the skin and around major organs. These researchers also determined that Rooibos not only reduces the number and size of fat cells, but also completely prevents the development of fatty liver disease – a condition where fat accumulates in the cells of the liver.

2. It helps prevent skin cancer
Rooibos is not only used to make ‘tea’ but is also increasingly found in beauty products. So, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, consider using a skin cream that contains Rooibos extracts as it prevents the development of skin cancer and delays the onset of malignant tumours. “Lower concentrations of rooibos extracts may be able to prevent the development of skin cancer by stopping the multiplication of cancerous cells and removing these cells by prompting them to commit ‘suicide’,” says Dr Tandeka Magcwebeba, who conducted the study as part of her doctorate in Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University.

3. Rooibos counters diabetes
The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that by 2030, 439 million people will suffer from diabetes but Rooibos could provide some help to those suffering from this disease. According to findings published in the July 2013 edition of Phytomedicine, Rooibos can counteract insulin resistance in mouse muscle cells. A team of South African researchers found that green Rooibos extract in particular increased glucose uptake in these cells, which were made insulin-resistant through treatment with a saturated free fatty acid (palmitate). But Rooibos is not a cure for type 2 diabetes. “Here we are referring only to improving insulin sensitivity and the beneficial effects that Rooibos extracts have on regulating glucose levels,” says the South African Medical Research Council Dr Christo Muller. He cautions that, currently, the scientific evidence only suggests that Rooibos might have anti-diabetic potential.

4. May deter fat cell development
A new in vitro study in mouse cells by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) suggests that Rooibos could inhibit the development of fat cells. Unfortunately, this herb is not a cure for obesity. “No medication or dietary supplement can replace exercise and a healthy, energy-controlled diet as a treatment for obesity. Our findings merely suggest that Rooibos could help people maintain a healthy weight,” says Dr Muller.

5. Rooibos can fight aging
Researchers from the Slovak Republic demonstrated the anti-ageing effect of rooibos in Japanese quails. The birds were given Rooibos to drink and had ground rooibos added to their food. The hens on the rooibos diet laid more eggs and kept laying eggs as they were getting older, compared to the control group.

6. Rooibos can help your baby
According to the SA Rooibos Council, Rooibos can help babies if they suffer from colic, insomnia, food allergies, stomach cramps or eczema. You can mix Rooibos tea with expressed breast milk or formula. The SA Rooibos Council offers this advice when preparing Rooibos for your baby: Add Rooibos tea bags to water (strength at your discretion), bring to the boil to extract maximum goodness; cool off and pour into sterilised baby bottle(s). For extra strength, tea bags may be added to bottles and left to brew. Sweeten with honey or brown sugar. Feed on demand.

7. Rooibos tea can help you lose weight
Finally, if you’re looking to lose weight this summer look no further than your kitchen cupboard for that Rooibos tea bag. By swapping just one cup of coffee for Rooibos tea every day, you could lose as much as a kilo every month. If you load your coffee with sugary syrups, honey, whipped cream or milk and sugar this adds anything from 35 to 250+ calories per cup. The average South African knocks back about four cups of coffee a day. If you drink this amount (or more), drinking Rooibos instead could lead to a whopping 7 – 14kg shed in a year.

“Rooibos tea contains no fat or carbohydrates and its weight-loss properties further extend to inhibiting fat-storage hormones within the body. Rooibos’s unique Bioflavonoid, Aspalathin, helps to reduce stress hormones that trigger hunger and fat storage, typically associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes,” says Ernest du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council.

“Rooibos tea is also caffeine-free and naturally sweet so there’s no need to add extra sugar. Plus it comes in a variety of flavours like berry, cinnamon, mint and citrus. It’s also 100% natural with no additives, no preservatives and no chemicals,” he adds.

For more information about Rooibos and its health properties, visit the website of the SA Rooibos Council.