Going with your gut: The case for kombucha


April 12, 2019

“I need the booch!” Travis Scott exclaims in his hit song Sicko Mode. These are words that we would all do well to live by.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that’s recently become quite popular but has been around for millennia. It’s a brew full of probiotic bacteria—lactic-acid based bacteria that promote good gut health. While kombucha “was originally produced in parts of China” according to Tufts University microbiologist Ben Wolfe, its origin story remains a relative mystery. Over 2,000 years old, kombucha is one of many sources serving up a healthy dose of probiotics. Other options include yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, but kombucha is especially beneficial because of its other benefits; the beverage is also high in powerful antioxidants, and it can help reduce heart disease risk, assist with managing Type 2 diabetes and help protect against cancer. It’s practically a man-made superfood.

But is it just the latest craze? We think not.

There are more than 100 million nerve cells lining our gastrointestinal tracts, called our “gut brain” by Johns Hopkins University gastroenterologist Jay Pastricha. Pastricha says that the nerve cells in our gut can send messages to the nerve cells in our brains, triggering mood shifts, such as anxiety and depression. The probiotics in kombucha can help affect this. In a school where managing mental health is of serious concern—and students continuously criticize available resources—taking a multi-disciplinary approach, such as serving substances with plenty of probiotics to students, could pay off serious dividends.  

While the benefits of kombucha are well studied, one important point remains: You’re probably saying to yourself, “Isn’t kombucha alcoholic?” Well, yes.

Commercial kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol, less than .5 percent, due to the fermentation process. Is this a cause for worry? Most likely not. In an article posted by Nutrimin, an international company supplying vitamins, they carefully explain that “if you eat bananas, then you should have no issue with drinking kombucha.” Indeed, a ripe banana has more alcohol than a commercial batch of kombucha. In regards to alcohol, we would suppose the browning bananas at Usdan are far more worrisome than the commercial kombucha at the C-Store.

Usdan is renowned for its fruit-flavored water, but what if it could become a gut-friendly probiotic destination? We envision an entire spread of pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut and, of course, a generous amount of ginger lemon kombucha on tap for students to consume as much as they need.

That’s why we’re calling for kombucha—a whole variety of fermented foods—to be served daily in our campus’ dining halls. It’s not enough to charge exorbitant prices (6 points?!) for a potentially life-altering substance; clear and direct action directly affecting the majority of the student body is necessary.

Let’s also think about having an adjacent pickling station, where students can learn the basics of preparing a time-tested simple dish that’s also big on probiotics, as well as vitamin K and electrolytes. It’s not enough to provide factory farm-based pickles because students cannot be sure of their chemical origins or organic bonafides—but a pickling station that teaches a healthy life-long hobby and allows students to be sure that their pickles are free of pesticides and carcinogens is a slam dunk to be sure.

Who will start this health movement? In short, you already did. Sodexo is always asking what we, the students, want to see in our dining halls. You can let them know on their website, or you can reach out to the Senate Dining Committee. We have, but the movement needs a cacophony of voices clamoring for more robust digestive tracts.

Our recommendation? Try some kombucha. Start small, make sure it works, and then enjoy the benefits. Honestly, just trust your gut.

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