by Arlene Shovald

Special to The Mail

Kombucha is becoming a popular beverage for a variety of health reasons, but what exactly is it?

Wikipedia describes it as a fermented, slightly alcoholic, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drink commonly intended as a functional beverage for its supposed health benefits. Sometimes it is called kombucha tea to distinguish it from the culture of bacteria and yeast.

It might also be called mushroom tea because, during the fermentation process, bacteria and yeast form a mushroom-like film on the surface of the liquid. That “blob” is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), which can be used to ferment more kombucha.

“A lot of people drink it because of the probiotics,” Savanna Klimesh, health coach and Wellness U trainer at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, said. “There has been a lot of new research about probiotics and gut health and their connection to the brain.”

The brain signals the digestive system to create enzymes to break down food.

“Think of a time when you were nervous,” Klimesh said. “You might have experienced a gastrointestinal upset along with anxious feelings. There is a lot of new research coming out about how the gut and brain communicate through the vagus nerve.

“Since gut health is so important, it needs to be fed properly. Our digestive tract has around 500 species of bacteria which is about 100 trillion ‘bugs’ all together. Since we have all these bacteria we have to keep feeding them.

“Think of these gut bacteria as tourists – they only visit for a short amount of time. We have to keep replenishing them by providing them with different types of food. That’s where probiotics and prebiotics come in.”

Probiotics come from kombucha, dairy products, aged cheeses, plain yogurt (live culture), buttermilk and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and miso. Kombucha is another tasty way to get probiotics. When choosing kombucha, choose one without any added sugar.

Getting a variety of probiotics each day is a way to create good gut flora.

Prebiotics, which feed probiotics, are foods high in fiber like sweet potatoes, jicama, bananas, asparagus, etc.

“The standard American diet lacks the amount of fiber we need each day, so we aren’t getting the prebiotics we need,” Klimesh said. “The biggest thing is variety. If you can get a variety of prebiotics and probiotics each day you can create good gut flora.”

A variety might include something like plain yogurt with fruit for breakfast, kombucha with a salad lunch and sauerkraut with a variety of vegetables for dinner.

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