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Kombucha Debunked? Or Just Misunderstood?

A study of 77 kombucha products on the market in Australia found no scientific proof that drinking kombucha, a type of fermented tea, helps your gut health, PerthNow reports. Although the tea is sweetened, it’s still considered a healthy alternative to soft drinks, energy drinks and regular iced tea, but when all is said and done, proof that it actually helps you just isn’t there, the researchers said.

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There are two takes on this article that come to the forefront: 1) The true health value of kombucha is being questioned; and 2) Less sugar in a drink is better than a lot of sugar. On the second take, well, yes, sugar-sweetened products are never a good idea. But on the first, the value of kombucha as a healthy addition to your diet is only debatable if you don’t understand how you can safely fit it into your diet.

First, there’s no question that fermented foods are good for you. Fermented foods help improve your gut health by “reseeding” your gut with beneficial bacteria. The fermentation process also boosts the nutritional content of the food, producing amino acids, short-chained fatty acids, beneficial enzymes and certain nutrients, and increase bioavailability of minerals.

That said, kombucha is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Sometimes tricky to make safely at home, kombucha tea is made by adding a colony of bacteria and yeast to a mixture of sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment. The liquid that results contains B vitamins and other chemical compounds.

But, even though it is a probiotics food, it still contains sugar, as the featured article points out. That’s why it’s probably best to only drink kombucha as a special treat on very rare occasions.

However — even more importantly — don’t let this news put you off eating other great, super-healthy, fermented foods with probiotics. Considering current disease statistics, it seems clear that most people have poor gut health and would benefit from eating more fermented foods. While you could certainly use a high-quality probiotic supplement, eating fermented foods is a more effective and far less expensive option.

Some good fermented food options that you can make at home include:

  • Cultured vegetables, including pureed baby foods
  • Chutneys
  • Condiments, such as salsa and mayonnaise
  • Cultured dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, and sour cream
  • Fish, such as mackerel and Swedish gravlax

You can also try lassi, an Indian yogurt drink, natto and tempeh.

However, it is important that you're aware of the BIG difference between healthy fermented foods and commercially processed ones.

Fermentation is an inconsistent process, and is more of an art than a science. Commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardize more consistent yields. These include pasteurization, which effectively destroys the naturally occurring probiotics. Plus, they may also slip in some added sugar.

The important thing to remember is that added sugar can defeat the purposes of reseeding your gut with fermented foods, so go low on the sugar and high on organic, nonprocessed foods that can feed your gut and ultimately your whole body.

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