Should you be drinking kombucha?

Soft drink sales are falling, but kombucha sales are rising! Homebrewers have been producing this favored fermented drink for thousands of years, and increasingly we see kombucha on the drink menus at restaurants, on tap in cafes and health food stores, and in supermarkets. So what is it? Is it good for us? Is all kombucha created equal????

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What is kombucha, exactly?

Traditionally, it is a drink produced by fermenting sweet tea, resulting in a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (S.C.O.B.Y.). During the process, sugar is converted from yeast and produces alcohol. The bacteria then convert the alcohol to organic acids, such as acetic acid, and the lightly effervescent, mildly sour, refreshing drink, kombucha, is created. You often find it bottled in flavors like ginger, passionfruit, lemon, and raspberry. Kombucha is touted, not only for its low sugar content but also for its health benefits, such as stimulating the immune system, preventing cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

And with Coca-Cola buying into the kombucha craze, it’s only going to increase in mainstream popularity.

Is it good for me?

With all the hype, it’s understandable to wonder if kombucha is something you should be drinking on a regular basis. There are many reported beneficial effects of kombucha, and some brands even suggest you should drink a bottle each day to reap the benefits.

Kombucha certainly has a lot going on:

  • It contains live cultures of bacteria and yeast, which can act as probiotics, and studies have concluded that these live microorganisms may benefit their host by protecting against diseases, improving digestion, and enhancing immune function.
    The organic acids produced during the fermentation process have been shown to slow the growth of pathogenic bacteria, such as Staph aureus, Salmonella, and E. coli.
  • Because Kombucha is made from tea, it contains polyphenols (naturally occurring plant chemicals) known as catechins, which have antioxidant properties and can protect or act against some cancers, tumors, and unwanted genetic changes.

Kombucha is a potential source for a range of bioactive components, and these components can significantly differ based on the quantity and types of sugar and tea used, the microorganisms presents, and fermenting temperature and time.
Whether these bioactive components make it into the gut in sufficient numbers to have a beneficial impact is up for debate and varies based on an individuals gut flora. According to senior research scientist Dr. Michael Conlon, who specializes in diet and gut health, “The health potential of probiotics more generally can vary depending on the number and type of microbes, what you consume them with, and the composition of your gut microflora. It’s likely the number of microbes in kombucha would be much lower than what you might see in a commercial probiotic product.” He added that “fermentation generates certain types of acid and other bioactive compounds that can be beneficial, but whether they get through to the large bowel so that a benefit can be gained is unknown.”

Research regarding the claimed benefits has mostly been studied on animals. Conlon continues with “there’s a lack of scientific evidence from human clinical trials to support the claims, and more research is needed.” Image result for should you be drinking kombucha

But, what about the sugar?

Throughout the fermentation process, most of the sugar is consumed by the yeast, and any residual left is based on fermenting time. As per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a product can only be labeled “low sugar” if it contains 25% less sugar that it’s original brand or no more than 0.5g to be labeled “sugar-free.” The sugar content per an 8 oz bottle of most unflavored kombucha products is roughly 2-6g. Those that favor more on the sweeter side are still a better choice; when compared to the standard soft drink, Coca-Cola (39g sugar per 12oz), Orange Juice (9g per 3.5oz), Gatorade (6g per 3.5 oz), Lipton Mango Ice Tea (11g per 8.5oz), Glaceau Vitamin Water (32g per 20oz). Sugary drinks provide excess calories, and excess calories may lead to obesity, weight gain, some types of cancer, type-2-diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few. Therefore, the increased availability of lower sugar alternatives, like kombucha, can make a real difference, and for someone with a coke-a-day habit that adds up to a whopping 12,700g.

Does it contain alcohol?

Some alcohol remains in kombucha after the fermentation process, but it’s usually in trace amounts, and because it is sold as a soft drink it needs to comply with state-based alcohol legislation and labeled with its alcohol content (less than 0.5% alcohol by volume in the United States). However, controlling the fermentation to achieve a product with just enough acidity and sweetness, and ensuring the alcohol content meets state-based regulations is a balancing act, one that’s particularly tricky when producing on a large scale. There have been occurrences where the alcohol content went a little wild, and products were recalled. In 2010, the grocery chain, Whole Foods Market, (now owned by Amazon), recalled all kombucha products on its shelves including multimillion-dollar brand leader GT’s Kombucha, when samples tested were found to be more alcoholic than labeled.

When kombucha is not getting recalled, its minimal alcohol content can be a significant drawcard. The non-alcoholic options may be limited in pubs and bars, you may not like soft drinks and get tired of drinking juice and sparkling water, so Kombucha may be a good alternative. Although it is low in alcohol, its tart, lightly acidic flavor profile and palate-cleansing properties make it a drink that readily complements food, much like wine. Who knows, maybe you can reduce your alcohol consumption by pairing kombucha with your favorite foods instead of that glass of wine (but, let me know how that works out if you do make the swap).

Should I drink it?

Kombucha may be touted as ‘an immortal health elixir, a ‘living superfood’ that’s ‘rich in antioxidants and acids, and has the potential for containing beneficial health properties. But there is no guarantee that these features directly translate into actual health benefits or that drinking it will ‘make you feel great.’ A claim that ‘it harmonizes your body, mind and spirit’ is puffery. However, if you like the taste, you’re looking for an exciting alternative to alcohol or sugary soft drinks, or you don’t mind the price tag (roughly $5-10 per 16oz bottle in the supermarket), kombucha may be the drink for you.

Is all kombucha created equal?

Currently, there is no standard definition for kombucha, so products sold can vary widely. Compared to traditional recipes, kombucha sold in supermarkets, etc. have little similarities. Producers have gone into “overdrive” in production because of high demand. To make sure you “get what you pay for,” check drink labels and educate yourself:

  • Ingredients? If you see live cultures floating at the top, that is a good indicator the drink is made from a S.C.O.B.Y. but take caution with ingredients like “kombucha extract.”
  • Reefer? Refrigeration prevents further fermentation, which can affect the taste and produce more alcohol, so if the kombucha you buy does not require refrigeration, it may have been pasteurized. While this can help control the alcohol content and extend shelf life, the drink will likely have fewer active microorganisms as a result. Always refrigerate the fermented beverage before consumption, unless it has been pasteurized. However, although yeast has been filtered and the alcohol content is stabilized, at warmer temperatures, any remaining yeast, and other microbes can still grow and be active, posing a health risk.
  • ETOH content? Research the company to see how often they sample their product’s alcohol contents. Some companies may check the content of each batch or less frequently, such as once a year.
  • Added sweeteners? One of the main ingredients needed to make kombucha is sugar, but this is mostly used up during fermentation. Some products may contain non-nutritive sweeteners erythritol and stevia that make the kombucha taste sweeter without adding calories, which may or may not appeal depending on your stance on added sweeteners.
  • Outrageous health claims? Therapeutic claims are not permitted on foods, and if a company wants to state on the label that its kombucha has a specific health effect, the claim has to be one of those pre-approved under the FDA. The product, also, must meet certain conditions, and if you see a claim that “seems to good to be true,” it probably is.

Is Kombucha safe?

According to U.S. federal laws and regulations, kombucha is considered a traditional food. In other words, it does not require pre-approval, and there are no specific quality controls or manufacturing practices for it (as long as the alcohol content is not above 0.5% or continues to ferment after bottling), other than the general requirement under the FDA that it be safe and suitable. In 1995 the possibility of toxic effects and acidosis when consumed in large quantities became a public concern after two incidents in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); however, both parties had severe pre-existing conditions that made them susceptible to acidosis. The investigations concluded that kombucha is not harmful when consumed in small quantities (roughly 4 ounces daily) unless of course, you have pre-existing conditions. In 2010, some commercial producers were forced to recall unpasteurized versions from grocery store shelves when the alcohol content exceeded 0.5%.

Yes, kombucha poses a higher risk when not prepared correctly but most forms of this fermented food represent a relatively low threat. The popularity and commercialization of the brewed drinks are increasing and with growth and the “popular vote,” comes work in promoting best manufacturing practices.

Nutritional Nugget

How do you like your apples? Sweet, crisp apples can be paired with almost anything! Dip into peanut butter for a quick snack or toss in a salad for that perfectly sweet crunch.

WODal Nugget

Melisma: A group of notes sung to one syllable of text

Inspirational Nugget

God's plan is always the best. Sometimes the process is painful and hard. But don't forget that when God is silent, He is doing something good for you.

 

Pain is an inevitable part of human life, as is pleasure. The difference with pain; however, is – we have to grow up to the fact, mature to the fact, and relax to the fact that there will be pain in our lives, but there should also be a good balance of pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gut bacteria from wild mice boost health in lab mice

Laboratory mice that are given the gut bacteria of wild mice can survive a deadly flu virus infection and fight colorectal cancer dramatically better than laboratory mice with their own gut bacteria; researchers report (October 19, 2017) in the journal Cell.

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The immunological benefits from the wild mice’s gut bacteria may, in part, explain a persistent problem in disease research: Why disease experiments in lab mice, such as vaccine studies, turn out very differently in humans or other animals. “We think that by restoring the natural ‘microbial identity’ of laboratory mice, we will improve the modeling of complex diseases of free-living mammals, which includes humans and their diseases,” said Barbara Rehermann, M.D., senior author of the paper. Rehermann is chief of the Immunology Section, Liver Diseases Branch, of the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). “By being so different, natural microbiota will help us to discover protective mechanisms that are relevant in the natural world and absent in the laboratory,” said Stephan Rosshart, M.D., first author of the paper and NIDDK postdoctoral fellow.

Mammals, humans included, depend on their microbiota, the collection of microorganisms they host in and on their bodies. Evolution shapes each animal’s microbiota, favoring populations of organisms that help the animal survive their environment and diseases they encounter. However, laboratory mice are not random house mice plucked from a field or basement. Laboratory mice are carefully bred, fed, and raised in tightly controlled conditions so that each mouse has predictable traits and genetics. This is an excellent advantage in basic biology research, but creating that predictability means that a controlled environment, and not the survival pressures of the outside world, shaped the microbiotas of laboratory mice.

“We hypothesized that this might explain why laboratory mice, while paramount for understanding basic biological phenomena are limited in their predictive utility for modeling complex diseases of humans and other free-living mammals,” said Rosshart. Therefore, the researchers tried to give laboratory mice back what they have lost: A naturally co-evolved wild mouse gut microbiota. The researchers trapped more than 800 wild mice from eight locations across Maryland and the District of Columbia to find healthy, suitable candidates for a gut microbiota donation. They then tested and compared the gut microbiomes (collective genomes of the gut microbiota) of the wild mice (Mus musculus domesticus) and a standard strain of laboratory mice, called C57BL/6, from multiple sources. The researchers confirmed that C57BL/6 mice had distinct gut microbiomes from wild mice.

Researchers then introduced (engrafted) the microbiota of wild mice to pregnant, germ-free C57BL/6 mice. Germ-free mice are raised in a sterile environment and don’t have microbiomes of their own. For a control group comparison, the researchers also engrafted microbiota from regular C57BL/6 mice into a separate group of pregnant, germ-free mice. Four generations later, the mice still carried either the wild microbiomes or the control laboratory microbiomes passed down from their foremothers.

When exposed to a high dose of influenza virus, 92 percent of the laboratory mice with wild microbiomes survived, whereas only 17 percent of laboratory mice and mice in the control group survived. In other experiments, the laboratory mice with wild microbiomes had better outcomes in the face of induced colorectal tumors, whereas the other mice had a higher number of tumors and more severe disease. The beneficial effects of the wild microbiota were associated with reduced inflammation in both models.

The researchers note that more work and evaluation is needed for definitive results, and they hope to improve and expand upon the method of using natural microbiomes in laboratory mice. “We are planning to create a complete microbiological fingerprint of natural microbiota and its potential trans-kingdom interaction by describing all components of the microbiome — for example, viruses and fungi — in parallel and at various body sites,” Rehermann said.

So, it’s ok not to be a germaphobe and let the little critters run free, every now and then!

Adapted from: Rosshart et al. Wild Mouse Gut Microbiota Promotes Host Fitness and Improves Disease ResistanceCell, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.09.016

Nutrition Nugget

Use A Vegetable Substitute! Love spaghetti? Try spaghetti squash. Sure it’s not pasta but just try it, you may like it! Love mashed potatoes? Try mashed cauliflower (OMG it’s heavenly! You will never go back to potatoes). Mix in some Greek yogurt to give it a thick, creamy texture like regular mashed potatoes. While vegetables most likely won’t be the carbs you know and love, they’re a good way to make your favorite meals healthier!

Inspirational Nugget

Even when things seem hopeless, life has a way of defying the odds, overcoming the obstacles and coming back strong. So never give up, regardless of how hopeless things may seem. There is ALWAYS a way.