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Is kombucha safe to drink during pregnancy?
Officially, no. But if you choose the right kind, the risk is low. There are four potential concerns: alcohol, caffeine, acidity, and contamination.
Alcohol: All kombucha has some amount of alcohol in it. Even "non-alcoholic" kombucha has up to 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, or around a tenth of what’s in an average beer.
Since there’s no level of alcohol that’s known to be safe during pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises giving up alcohol entirely. Check with your doctor on this issue. (If you’re breastfeeding, the small amount of alcohol should not be a concern.)
Note that there are lots of "hard" kombuchas on the market with as much alcohol as beer (anywhere from 1 to 8 percent alcohol), and they can be tricky to spot. The more alcoholic ones are usually in the beer section, but always check the labels carefully. Home-brewed kombucha has up to 3 percent alcohol.
Caffeine: Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea, which has about 25 to 50 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, but the fermentation process tends to reduce that amount quite a bit.
Most doctors advise pregnant women to keep their caffeine from all sources to under 200 mg per day. As long as you don’t have much other caffeine, the amount in kombucha should not be a problem while pregnant or breastfeeding. But check the label since some brands add caffeine for a more "energizing" drink.
Acidity: When it’s done fermenting, kombucha has some acetic acid — that’s what gives it that vinegary smell and taste. It’s about as acidic as soda, which can cause heartburn and tooth decay. (Some brands of kombucha also have added sugars, so check the label.) As long as it doesn’t upset your stomach, fizzy drinks are probably fine now and then — just rinse out your mouth to protect your teeth.
Contamination: Many manufacturers use heat or chemicals to stop the fermentation process while making kombucha. This kills off the bacteria and yeast and keeps them from making too much alcohol or acetic acid. Depending on the brand, the drink might be flash pasteurized (heated to 160 F for 15 seconds) or preserved with potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate. Safety-wise, these sterilized drinks should be okay to drink.
However, many manufacturers make raw (unpasteurized) kombucha which can get contaminated with mold or bad bacteria somewhere in the process. Doctors advise against eating raw foods or undercooked foods while pregnant — things like soft cheeses, sushi, or runny eggs — because of the risk of food poisoning. Even raw veggies, sprouts, and salads can sometimes cause problems. It’s best to avoid raw kombucha while pregnant, especially any raw homemade brews.
Is kombucha good for you?
Kombucha is made from tea, so it should have the same antioxidants and minerals that any tea would have. It also contains varying amounts of probiotics or live “good” bacteria that can help gut health. But you can easily get probiotics from eating foods like kefir or yogurt with live active cultures, or fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.
Kombucha is marketed as a healthy "cure-all" drink, but a recent review was not able to find a single published controlled study of kombucha in people.
With so many considerations, it’s probably best to steer clear of kombucha during pregnancy. But, if you choose to drink kombucha, make sure to avoid the raw, alcoholic versions, and be careful with the high caffeine ones.