In a recent article on probiotic foods, kombucha wasn't included in the list. Was this just an oversight or a conscious omission?
Q. "I noticed that you didn't mention kombucha in your latest podcast about replenishing your gut flora. While I know that kombucha is not the magical cure-all that some make it out to be, I have started making my own and quite enjoy drinking a bit each day. And I like to think that I'm doing my gut some good as well. Was kombucha left out of your list of probiotic foods on purpose?"
A. You're right, kombucha absolutely belongs in any list of probiotic foods. It's similar to kefir, in that it is made with a "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast," or SCOBY for short. Both kefir and kombucha contain a variety of beneficial microbes that can enhance our health.
My omission may have been a subconscious response to the hype surrounding kombucha. As I told NPR's Morning Edition recently, some of the claims for kombucha—that it's a fountain of youth, that's a powerful detoxifier, or that it will help cure cancer—are simply not supported by the evidence.
Kombucha is also made with a fair amount of sugar—both to give the yeasts and bacteria a food source and to compensate for its strong, somewhat mushroomy flavor. Although the SCOBY digests some of the sugars, transforming them into lactic acid and carbon dioxide, an 8-ounce (220 ml) serving still contains 12-15 grams of sugar. "Drinking a bit each day," shouldn't be a problem, but if you're keeping an eye on your total sugar intake, you'd want to take that into consideration.
See also: Why Is Sugar Bad?
Finally, be extra careful when making your own kombucha to sanitize your containers. Home-brewed kombucha is easily contaminated with pathgenic yeasts and bacteria and food-poisoning is not uncommon. People with compromised immune systems should not drink homemade kombucha. Commercial products are much safer (but may also be even higher in sugar).
Kombucha image courtesy of Shutterstock.