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    You Ask, I Answer: Kombucha

    kombuchaDo you think kombucha is healthy?

    Some of my friends drink it religiously but I don’t know if [the purported health claims ] are fact or hype.

    — Jenny Pottenger
    (Location withheld)

    The mass-market kombucha trend in the United States started approximately a year and a half ago.

    If this is the first time you’ve heard of it, kombucha is a fermented tea drink that has been a staple of Chinese culture for roughly 1,850 years.

    Proponents attribute a plethora of health benefits to regular consumption of kombucha — from thicker locks of hair to a healthier immune system to acne clearup.

    More unscrupulous folks will even claim kombucha can cure cancer and AIDS (remember: if anyone ever tries to sell you a food or beverage by claiming it cures a terminal illness, run.  In the opposite direction.  And don’t look back).

    Not surprisingly, many of these heinous individuals own websites where they sell their “secrets” to healthy kombucha-making.

    Anyhow, kombucha is made by adding sugar and a specific culture containing several strands of yeast and bacteria to tea (usually black).

    The fermentation process, which takes anywhere from five to ten days, results in a tea beverage rich in B vitamins, amino acids, and probiotics (health-promoting bacteria).

    (FYI: The cultures eat up the sugar originally added in, so the end result is basically a sugar-free tea).

    The only thing I would be very careful of is where you get your kombucha.

    Commercial varieties are perfectly safe.  Individuals who make their own kombucha at home, though, can run the risk of unknowingly growing harmful bacteria if they are not careful.

    Individuals with compromised immune systems need to be take extreme care when making — or drinking someone else’s — home-made kombuchas.  A “bad batch” of homemade kombucha can really do a nasty number on their health.

    My main gripe with kombucha — besides the fact that my tastebuds loathe it — is that its health claims are rarely put into dietary context.

    Its status as a fermented beverage gives kombucha a good share of healthful properties, but they hold little weight if the drink is consumed as part of an otherwise unhealthy diet.

    I certainly don’t scoff at the idea that kombucha is a healthy beverage (it most certainly is!), but I am not impressed by the hype.  In my mind, it is equivalent to other probiotics (i.e.: tempeh, yogurt with live and active cultures, kefir).

    You must always remember that health relates to regular and consistent dietary patterns, not one or two foods with magical properties.

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    2 Comments

    1. Corey said on August 1st, 2009

      And it tastes a little too much like vinegar for my palate.

    2. Edrie said on August 4th, 2009

      I *enjoy* a crisp bottle of kombucha about once a week. (I purchase the Synergy brand from health food stores.) I don’t drink soda, beer or liquor — for me, kombucha is a substitute for that. I actually feel better when I drink one; it somehow relaxes my muscles. Occasionally I’ll fix a glass of sparkling mineral water with a jigger of (real) fruit juice instead, but I enjoy the kombucha more.

      Thanks for the info. I’m glad to read that there’s nothing harmful or risky about it (when purchased from a store).

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