Thin slices of the areca nut, with a touch of tobacco and calcium hydroxide, masterfully wrapped in glossy betel leaves. Served in multiples and ate in quick successions. Appreciation is expressed through the discharge of a deep, organza juice.
It is, quite clearly, an acquired taste.
A huge phenomenon, most prevalent in South Asia and South East Asia where the consumption of, what the entire package is called, “betel nut” is carried out in homes, social gatherings and parties. Popular amongst women and men alike.
It is in fact a tradition that dates back 4,000 years or so in some of the South East Asian countries where it symbolised love and marriage amongst the Vietnamese, a gesture of respect to guests in Malaysia and had sexual connotations in India!
Desirous because of its relaxant properties the side effects of betel nut is almost always overlooked. One of the most common signs of a betel nut addict is a toothless smile with the remaining teeth blackened and rotted. A close second is the orange/red stained lips and tongue, an ancient equivalent to the modern permanent lipstick.
And what of its more colourful effects like hypertension, asthma exacerbation and of course, oral cancer?
Reasons such as these have had little effect in reducing consumption, especially amongst Bangladeshi women.
But recent studies show its association with something even more devastating. Something no doubt has surreptitiously changed the wardrobes of many a women without them even being aware of it. It’s not kebabs, nor chips. Or even a triple chocolate cupcake!
But the British Journal of Nutrition have stated that excessive intake of betel nut has been shown to significantly increase waist size AND weight. Studies illustrate that weight gain and the expansion of waist size is true even when saturated fats and red meat is completely removed from the diet.
This increases the risks of central obesity which then invites a host of chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure that countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia should not have to deal with as their main concern still stands to be the eradication of some of the most basic infectious diseases.
Thus can betel nut addicts afford such indulgences? Can the ladies afford to go up a dress size?
Their countries begs no.