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Health food of the month - Liquorice

December 2012  

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Diet & Supplements Index

Health Food of the Month: LiquoriceThere seems a lot of confusion about liquorice - even on Google - about what it is and whether it is good for you.

Some pages claim it is a finished sweet or candy which contains aniseed or anise for flavouring; some pages claim it has a number of health benefits and others that it can be harmful .

Starting with what it is, liquorice (or sometimes licorice) is not botanically related to anise at all. The liquorice plant (or glycyrrhiza glabra) is a legume which means it is related to beans and peas. It originally comes from southern Europe and some parts of Asia. The plant has purple or pale whitish blue flowers and it also has a fruit. However, it is the root that is of real interest, because liquorice extract is produced by boiling the roots and then evaporating most of the water to leave liquorice.

It became famous after a factory in Pontefract in Yorkshire mixed liquorice with sugar to make Pontefract cakes. Today you can buy liquorice in many forms, both in its natural state and also mixed with a variety of sweeteners and other additives.

Along with its popular taste, liquorice is also recognized, especially in some parts of the world, for being a very useful source of treatment for various conditions.

In Japan it is used widely to help with viral hepatitis while the Chinese use it to treat tuberculosis. It has been used all over the world to treat people with stomach problems such as peptic ulcers and indigestion. Liquorice is also said to help with sore throats, upper respiratory infections and other sores in the mouth.

Liquorice can be quite powerful, it contains isoflavones (phytoestrogens) and also, possibly its most active incredient, glycyrrhizic acid. Some say this can relieve constipation and allergy symptoms, but a report by the European Commission has indicated that people should not consume any more than 100mg of glycyrrhizic acid a day.

Some studies have shown that higher levels of this acid can increase blood pressure or cause chronic fatigue or headaches.

Generally the advice from medical circles seems to be that liquorice is good for you in moderation, but too much of it is toxic.

Really it is best to read what is in the liquorice before you buy; some may just be sweets flavoured with anise and no real liquorice at all; others may be pure liquorice, in which case you can make a decision about the amount you buy and consume.



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