Superfoods.

We’ve all heard of them.

They’re the foods that come packaged with madcap claims. The turmeric lattes that’ll fight immune disease. The pomegranate juice that will make you live longer. The kale that’ll get you glowing harder than Burns‘ alien.

That’s why, here at PEDESTRIAN.TV, when a food gets slapped with the ubiquitous ‘superfood’ title, we’re quick to dismiss it as fodder for the likes of Paleo Pete.

But some foods really are worth the hype. Sure, they mightn’t give you superhuman strength or bring world peace, but they could do your body some good.

Kombucha may very well be one of them.

We spoke to science journalist and host of the wildly popular ‘Trust Me, I’m A Doctor’ (the new season’s kicking off tonight on SBS), Dr Michael Mosley, and asked him for his thoughts on the fermented bev and whether it lives up to the puff.

PTV: What is kombucha, in layman’s terms?

Dr Mosley: Kombucha is a fermented food. It’s a type of Japanese drink; green tea, in fact.

It’s full of good bacteria and I’m a fan of them because there’s lots of evidence that when you drink things like kombucha you get all of these good bacteria which then go down and seed your gut bacteria. Fermented foods are very popular in Eastern Europe.

People say kombucha is good for the gut. Can you explain how so?

What you have down in your gut is a hundred trillion bacteria and viruses and they form this thing called the microbiome.

The mix of bacteria in your gut produces particular chemicals (e.g. fatty acids), which in turn help to reduce inflammation or help to control your appetite and they influence your mood.

In reducing inflammation, if you have things like gut problems they help to sooth that, so that’s one of the things that kombucha does; it adds to the good bacteria in your gut; kind of like a fertilizer for your insides. It fertilizes and seeds your existing gut bacteria, kind of like seeding your lawn with lots of flowers because these are living bacteria that go down there and help to reinforce the good ones down there.

There are lots of claims about its health effects but I think some of the more convincing stuff is reducing your risk of diarrhoea or rheumatism and possibly diabetes as well as other inflammatory diseases like asthma.

Is there any solid scientific evidence supporting the benefits of kombucha? 

Still ongoing… there have been a few trials on kombucha itself but there’s very good scientific evidence now that the impact that having a healthy microbiome has on your health and mental and physical wellbeing, and kombucha almost certainly adds to that.

There haven’t been that many proper scientific trials looking at the benefits of kombucha itself but as I said, it contributes to a healthy biome and we know that a healthy biome is incredibly important for our general health.

The honest truth is that with a lot of foods and things like that there isn’t enough money behind them because if you’re a pharmaceutical company then obviously you’re going to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into research, but if you’re someone producing kombucha or kim chi then there isn’t the money to do the research to provide the evidence.

So, what we like to do on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor is some genuine research in collaboration with scientists who are interested in the territory and we help them do the science by recruiting volunteers to take part in experiments.

Then the studies get published and encourage other people to do further research so we act almost like a fertilizer for the science.

I think people are starting to realise just how important different foods are for our mental and physical wellbeing. The problem until now has been partly the lack of money to do the research and partly the scientific tools with which you can measure the impact and we’re getting better at both of those things now and that’s incredibly encouraging.

I’m a big fan of yoga and fermented foods. My wife who is a GP grows all sorts of things now and gives those recipes to her patients, particularly those who have gut issues.

Is there a certain amount of kombucha you need to be drinking in order to see these benefits?

One every now and then is good, it depends on how much you enjoy it, but it’s actually quite acidic so you want to watch out for your teeth if you’re drinking a lot of it because the acid won’t do terribly good things for your enamel, so if you’re at all worried about your teeth I’d drink it through a straw.

I think you just enjoy it – that’s the thing about food; you have it, you like it and you know it’s doing you good – but I wouldn’t go overboard on it.

go slow

I drink it on a regular basis and since I’ve started consuming fermented foods, not just kombucha, also sauerkraut and things like that, I used to get very severe hay fever and now I don’t get any hay fever at all so I don’t know if the two are connected but I like to think they are.

I enjoy kombucha as a drink, my wife makes it these days and it’s very satisfying making fermented foods; you have to go and get the original scoby but it’s a bit like doing gardening in your kitchen – it’s quite sudden watching things evolve.

Fizzy kombucha drinks have become quite popular in ‘Straya. 

I drink them because they taste like soft drink but have only a fraction of the calories. 

Are these sparkling kombucha drinks as healthy as drinking more traditional forms?

Generally not because if you make it yourself there will be a much higher concentration of living organisms in it because by the time you buy the stuff that’s been industrialised it’s been treated and pasteurised so you tend to have less living stuff.

It varies depending on where you buy it but, broadly speaking, you’re going to get more bang for your buck if you make it yourself as there’s both living organisms but also metabolisers and things like that that are very good for you.

I would say that if you’re pregnant you probably ought to go easy on the kombucha as you have a compromised immune system so there’s a risk of drinking too much living bacteria. Drinking kombucha is not recommended basically if you’re pregnant or a young child.

So there you have it, folks. Your 3pm kombucha treat isn’t just delicious – it’s probably pretty dang good for you, too.

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