Food Focus: Kombucha
Mmm...warm day in South Florida and I am sitting outside drinking my favorite brand of Kombucha. I remember the first time I tasted this type of tea. I found it in a small health food in NYC. I was thirsty and wanted something else besides water with my lunch. I looked at the health benefits on the bottle (which I am aware are not always true) and thought I'd give it a try. I was hooked! But like anything else, I knew I needed this in moderation. Which was a good thing because that tiny shop was the only place that had it!
Now this beverage is mainstream. But is it for everyone?
This sugar-tea solution is fermented by bacteria and yeast commonly known as a “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria + Yeast). When foods are fermented, their nutrient levels increase, and they become more easily digestible as they have already been predigested by the bacteria. Any vitamins and nutrients that exist in the food are readily available – some are even created by the bacteria doing the fermenting.
The great thing about fermented foods is that they contain a collection of bacteria. The CFU (colony-forming units) count typically isn’t high, and they die fast, but the variety of bacteria is unparalleled. Fermented foods collect bacteria from the air and whatever’s on the surface of the food to do the fermenting and sometimes to start a culture. Before refrigeration, fermentation was used as a storage technique to help foods last through the winter.
Studies have shown that fermented foods can improve mood and immunity and help down-regulate inflammation. Here’s another benefit: Fermented foods are full of bacteriocins, which are antimicrobial substances produced by the bacteria doing the fermenting. These bacteriocins help stop pathogens from growing.
Most of the “blue zones” – areas studied for their longevity and healthy populations – seem to almost always consume some form of fermented foods in their traditional diet.
Fermented foods directly help balance the pH of the intestines and increase stomach acid. However, fermented foods may be irritating to people with heartburn or GERD. Those with SIBO or Candida should first take some initial steps to restore the gut before adding in fermented foods, including kombucha.
Most people today are adding fermented foods and beverages like kombucha into their diet because of the link they have to gut health. While they are a great addition to probiotics, they are not a substitute. The benefits from fermented foods come from the amazing molecules produced in the fermentation process, not from repopulating your gut with bacteria. If a product contains too much vinegar, or is pasteurized, there are no longer probiotics – and the same byproducts are not produced. Fermented foods are fab, but they can’t deliver therapeutic doses of live bacteria. So unless you have the conditions above, drink away but remember to supplement with a high-quality pre/probiotic supplement. Let me know if you need suggestions.
Aside from just gut health, this magical tea has a ton of other health benefits including:
Immune system stimulation
Arthritis prevention by lowering inflammation
Cancer prevention by improving pH
May promote weight loss
Improves pancreas function
Help with nutrient assimilation
Interesting in trying kombucha? I've found the best way to afford it while keeping the batch as pure as possible is to make my own! Email me for a fantastic, easy worksheet on how.
Sources and Additional Reading:
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, 2018