Beware the Betel Nut

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Betel Nut TreeIt’s a wrap! It’s a mainstay for the South Asian diet for centuries! It’s a vital part of Bangladesh culture! Many people joked that betel nut is Bengali “chewing gum.” Have you heard of it? Have you tried it yet? Called “paan”, this treat is available everywhere throughout Asia. For centuries, betel nut has been the ideal way to end a meal or tea break. A green leaf is filled with betel nut, lime, fennel seeds, cardamom, clove, or other spices; then it is popped into the mouth. As they chew, people enjoy the peppery taste, the warm feeling in their body, the alertness it gives (like drinking a fresh cup of coffee).

Unfortunately, betel nut is not merely a mild stimulant or a non-offensive after-dinner treat. It’s a dangerous carcinogenic snack. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that chewing betel nut causes cancer of mouth, esophagus, stomach, prostate, cervix, and lungs. Mouths develop ulcers, and gums deteriorate. Chewing betel nut during pregnancy adversely results in lower birth weight for the baby, too.

Obviously tradition is not a sufficiently good reason to eat paan. Memorial Christian Hospital’s media production team has developed a humorous, memorable video urging watchers not to chew. Staff members also counsel patients and family members to consider the dangers.

After-dinner mints are certainly a safer option!

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