Drink to Health

By Lindsay Courcelle

Advice on navigating health through natural means like alternative and complementary medicine, herbs, diet, and exercise.

By now, it is common knowledge that soda and soft drinks are bad for your health. A 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew has 46 grams of sugar. If you think bottled iced tea is better, think again: Twenty ounces of Lipton Iced Tea has 53 grams of sugar. With either of those options, you will quickly guzzle 10-13 teaspoons of sugar. Can you imagine adding a quarter cup of sugar to a single-serving drink? Not only is this sweetness bad for your teeth, it also strains your liver, increases inflammation and joint pain, and lowers immune function, just to name a few. Anyone with a small child can speak to sugar’s effects on mood — tantrums after ice cream, anyone? — and studies have linked a high sugar intake to a greater risk of depression in adults.

So, if you want something flavorful and carbonated, what can you drink? One option is kombucha, an effervescent drink made by fermenting tea. Kombucha is often flavored with fruits like watermelon or grapefruit, or herbal teas like tulsi. The resulting beverage delights taste buds and gives your gut a burst of beneficial bacteria, similar to taking a probiotic pill or eating cultured yogurt.

Rutland is lucky to have its own local kombucha brewer, Robert Layman. Layman spends his days as a photographer for the Rutland Herald and moonlights as the owner and brewer of The Great Red Spot Kombucha. He sells his kombucha at the Rutland Farmers Market every Saturday, where he offers samples as well, for those who are interested but not ready to take the leap.

The Great Red Spot Kombucha includes flavors like Beet and Ginger, Turmeric, Grapefruit and Hops, Hibiscus, and Watermelon, made from melons Layman grew himself. His flavor choices are influenced by Ayurvedic medicine and herbalism, so you can be assured that the flavor components themselves are functional and beneficial to health. For example, turmeric is anti-inflammatory, and hibiscus is said to lower blood pressure.

As for other health benefits, kombucha is a superb antioxidant. “It can free-radical scavenge better than tea, as the compounds in tea are broken down due to the fermentation process into a more bio-available format for your body’s chemistry,” Layman says. The kombucha brewer has certainly done his research, and states that “glucuronic acid is what most people consider to be the single most detoxifying property of the drink.” Glucuronic acid contains B vitamins and helps to remove toxins from the stomach and the liver. Layman cautions to start with small quantities to avoid a quick release of toxins, and to see how it affects oneself, since it is different for everyone.

Layman is clear that kombucha is not a magical cure-all. Still, if choosing between kombucha or sugary soft drinks, kombucha clearly wins the prize. Layman’s customers tell him they drink it for their arthritis, for acid reflux, and because it just makes them feel good.

Though there is sugar used in kombucha brewing, it is mostly for the culture to eat up, not you. The culture, called a SCOBY — Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast — essentially feeds on the tea and sugar, thus producing the kombucha drink. Federal regulations ensure that kombucha has less than a half percent of alcohol, and Layman brews his kombucha with less sugar than the major national brands to be certain the alcohol content stays below this threshold.

Last Sunday, Layman led a workshop to teach people all about kombucha, sponsored by the Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education (SAGE). He presented about the history, science and health benefits, as well as helping attendees understand how to make it themselves. You can buy kombucha in most supermarkets now, but Layman suggests that buying locally will keep your carbon footprint small. Give this fizzy drink a try, and your mind and body will be sure to thank you.

Lindsay Courcelle

Lindsay Courcelle, CMT is a Myofascial Release therapist, part-time vegetable farmer, and natural health advocate.

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