Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice.
The information included in our Dear Stephanie series is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan.
Is Kombucha or other fermented foods safe during pregnancy? – Ari B.
I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this post, since I get this question almost daily. Like so many questions about foods and supplements during pregnancy, there’s a lack of thorough, pregnancy-specific research. The available research is sparse. We need to use critical thinking, wisdom from traditional cultures and past history of use, advice from health care providers, and our gut instinct to make the best decision.
Humans have been eating fermented foods for thousands of years. While we’re still researching them, we’ve seen evidence of their positive impact on gut health. Because of this, there’s been an overall rise in the popularity of these products. Outside of kombucha, things like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, and fermented pickles are becoming increasingly more popular. You can find them at grocery stores, restaurants, and health food stores nationwide. For more information on the history and use of fermented foods, check out this FAQ on Whole30.com.
I’m going to discuss the potential benefits and potential considerations during pregnancy. And, I’ll tell you what I did during my pregnancies. I hope this helps you decide what is right for you.
Potential Benefits of Kombucha
Kombucha (and other fermented foods) may:
- Improve gut health: Most women notice digestive issues during pregnancy. Kombucha can improve your digestion by providing beneficial acids, enzymes, and probiotics.
- Increase energy: Kombucha contains B-vitamins and small amounts of caffeine and released iron (depending on the type of tea used). This can lead to an appreciated boost of energy.
- Increase the number of probiotics in mom’s (and baby’s!) gut: New evidence suggests that babies are colonized with mom’s bacteria while in utero. Small amounts of bacteria have been found in the amniotic fluid, placenta, and baby’s small intestines. This influences baby’s overall health, metabolism, and immune system! Supporting a healthy gut flora in mom is especially important.
- Lessen sugar/alcohol cravings: You’re already aware that we want to limit our sugar consumption and limit/avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Kombucha can be a great alternative! This tangy, carbonated drink may help calm your sugar dragon. You can also make it fancy by serving it in a wine glass at parties. It does have a very tiny amount of alcohol, but is nowhere near what you’d find in a glass of wine.
- Reduce morning sickness: Skip the ginger ale (a 12 oz. can contains 32 grams of sugar!). Go with a ginger flavored kombucha to ease your tummy troubles.
- Possibly regulate blood sugar levels: Animal studies have shown kombucha’s ability to significantly reduce blood sugar levels. It has been considered a candidate for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.
- Sugar content: Kombucha is sold in a variety of flavors that influence sugar content. Make sure to read your labels when choosing kombucha at the store. One popular brand of mango flavored kombucha contains 20 grams of sugar per bottle! The same brand of ginger flavored kombucha contains 4 grams per bottle.
- Homemade vs. store-bought: If you’re concerned about potential contamination, you may wish to purchase store-bought kombucha. It is carefully monitored, unlike your own homemade Kombucha. I personally recommend store-bought for the pregnant population.
- Alcohol content: Some companies, such as GT’s Classic line of kombucha, have a variety of kombucha with a higher alcohol content (potentially more than 0.5% alcohol). These are typically labeled as “21 and older.” While the amount is minimal, you may wish to skip this kind, if you’re concerned about potential alcohol exposure. The amount of alcohol in your homemade kombucha will depend on how long you ferment it. Longer fermentation times yield a higher alcohol concentration. So again, store-bought might be the way to go during pregnancy.
- Amount consumed: A little goes a long way. You just need a few ounces to get the benefits, so more is not better. This is especially true if you’ve never consumed kombucha. Start small, with just an ounce or two, and work up. I also recommend making sure to drink plenty of water along with kombucha. This will ensure hydration and eliminate any possible reactions.
- Bioindividuality: In a healthy individual, small amounts are unlikely to cause issues. However, if your liver isn’t functioning properly, you have a histamine or yeast intolerance, and/or you’re drinking large amounts, you may be more sensitive to its effects on your body. If you notice adverse reactions while drinking it, please use your best judgment and stop.
Should you drink it? Is Kombucha safe during pregnancy?
I can’t tell you the answer to this question. It really boils down to what you feel comfortable with based on the information discussed above and your current situation. Be sure to raise these issues with your health care provider at your next visit.
What I can tell you is that I felt comfortable drinking 8 fl. oz of kombucha once or twice/week during both of my pregnancies. I have two very healthy boys! I personally wasn’t concerned about drinking kombucha while pregnant. Many of my pregnant clients have benefited from drinking kombucha during their pregnancy. Remember, the choice is yours. What works for one mama does not necessarily work for another.
If you’re interested in learning more, I have a podcast regarding this, Episode #42. We also have a video in our Whole Mamas Pregnancy Program where I discuss kombucha and other controversial foods.
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