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Lifestyle Choices for Wellness

Timely discussion on topics of health and wellness to encourage action and improvement in personal wellness.

Kombucha-What It IS and What It ISN'T!

As a dietitian and an athlete, it's no secret that health is something I take an interest in. Not just on a professional level, but on my own free time as well. I am always interested in learning about the emerging trends in the health and nutrition field. This last week I finally tried what is being called " this year's hottest cool beverage." Kombucha (pronounced kom-BOO-cha) is a fizzy, fermented drink with a tangy taste and a strange name.

This strangely named drink is a traditional fermented tea that has become all the rage in the United States as it is increasingly associated with health-promoting effects. It is most popular in circles of health enthusiasts that just last year were guzzling pomegranate and acai berry juices.

Historically drank in China, Russia and Germany, this drink has been described as "a cross between a tea and a fermented alcoholic beverage, with a flavor that is slightly sweet yet acidic." The fruity flavor combined with a yeasty, carbonation twist really makes this drink unique. So why all the hubbub surrounding this beverage? It's the live bacteria and the array of health benefits it claims to offer!

Kombucha is the fermented tea surrounded by claims of health benefits believed to promote detoxification, appetite control andenergy. Other stunning claims include its ability to decrease blood pressure, relieve arthritis, increase the immune response, lower cholesterol, and support digestion, metabolism, liver function and body alkalinity.

There is a considerable amount of mis-information available about Kombucha tea. The microbiology of Kombucha tea is confusing. In addition, the exact species of microorganisms may vary slightly depending on the starting culture.

The tea is made using a bacteria culture (colony of yeast and bacteria/simple fungi), sugar, tea of numerous varieties and different flavoring agents. You can make your own at home-which is another dimension of the kombucha revolution.

Despite it's popularity, none of the health benefits kombucha makers and drinkers embrace have been tested. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the tea only as a dietary supplement. That means manufacturers must provide a disclaimer on labels that the FDA has not evaluated the health claims. Kombucha producers are allowed to make claims without prior approval, as long as their product is safe and the claims are not misleading. But when it comes to proof, there isn't much to support these stellar claims. Unfortunately, there have not been any long term studies to document said health claims. Whatever benefits have been touted have merely been from personal experience, and that can vary from person to person.

So while this refreshingly sweet and sour, lightly sparkling beverage can't be supported by health claims alone, I will say it is quite delicious! Consuming kombucha as part of a balanced healthy diet, is a perfectly acceptable practice. In fact, it can be a healthier alternative to soda! Most popular in health food stores like Whole Food and Fresh Market, but making its way to mainstream Hy-Vee and Kroger stores-try it out and see if this trending thirst quencher is all it's cracked up to be!

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