Should I Drink Kombucha?

Should I Drink Kombucha? Dietitian Dixya addresses your basic kombucha questions and concerns.

You've probably heard of it or perhaps seen pretty bottles with things floating inside at the grocery store. Do you wonder if these flavored beverages are worth your hard earned dollars? Everyone on instagram are crazy about it, so is kombucha a health drink I need in my life? Will it cure all my life problems? These were some questions I had back when I had no clue what kombucha was. Kombucha is pretty famous in the healthy living community but I come across people all the time who are not familiar with it. Some are confused while others are just drinking it without really understanding what it is (because internet says you should). Whether you drink kombucha or don't know what the heck I am talking about, take a seat friends and read up! I am going to give you quick kombucha 101, answer common kombucha queries, and tell you if you should be drinking kombucha or not?

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What the heck is kombucha? Often called as the “Immortal Health Elixir”, kombucha is basically a fermented beverage made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. It is an ancient drink that originated in Asia many centuries ago. It slowly traveled to other parts of the world but was found mostly at health, hippy type food stores. Over the years, kombucha has become one of the hottest trends in health beverages probably due to health claims such as improved digestive health, weight loss, detoxification, better digestions, cancer prevention, and so on.

Home Brew vs. Store Bought : You can buy kombucha at the store (already bottled and ready to drink) or you can make your own at home by using the mother culture - symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). SCOBY looks like a rubbery mushroom disk which acts as a starting culture for kombucha. You can purchase SCOBY at the store, online, or get it from a friend who makes kombucha. I used to have a starter kombucha kit which came with the basics : jar, SCOBY including liquid starter, PH strips, tea, and sugar. Here is a detail instruction on how to brew kombucha step by step if you are interested. Basically, the SCOBY transforms sugary tea into kombucha - a fizzy, sour, and kind of a weird beverage in about 10-14 days.

Ready to drink kombucha are found in the refrigerated section of grocery and health food stores. You may have seen brands such as GT, Yogi, Celestial Seasonings, Kevita as well as in-house grocery store brands. I have tried different brands but they all have slightly different taste. Kombucha has a very strong, unique taste that people either love it, learn to like it, or absolutely cannot stand it. I had my first ever plain - kombucha at a vegan fair and thought it was pretty disgusting. Seeing the craze, I tried it again at Brewed (they have it on tap) and fell for it. Ever since, I do enjoy certain flavors of kombucha. Most commercially sold kombucha is flavored but if you make it at home, you will have to flavor it yourself. 

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Nutrition Check : Kombucha is known to have probiotics, good gut bacteria (like those in yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut) which has been shown to help with digestive health and better immunity. Per cup, kombucha has about 30 calories, 2 grams of sugar, antioxidants (from the tea),  different B vitamins, and little bit of alcohol due to fermentation. They may contain 0.5% or more alcohol by volume and are required to follow TTB regulations. I was unable to find if there are any regulations (if any at all) on the type or amount of probiotics to be present in kombucha. According to this review, acetobacter and gluconacetobacter are two abundant and common strains found in kombucha but depending on the SCOBY, a broad spectrum of bacteria and yeast can be found in kombucha. It is important to note that each kombucha will have different strains and amount of probiotics due to fermentation process, SCOBY, and other factors.

For example: GT Raw Kombucha has Probiotic Content : Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086: 1 billion organisms, S. Boulardii: 1 billion organisms  and Antioxidants and Organic Acids : EGCG 100mg, Glucuronic Acid 10mg, L(+) Lactic Acid 25mg, Acetic Acid 30 mg

Kevita Master Brew Kombucha contains Bacillus coagulans LactoSpore MTCC 5856, Lactobacillus rhamnosus 400 billion CFU at the time of manufacture.

Brew Dr. Kombucha simply states "Live Cultures billions of organisms per bottle, including beneficial bacteria and yeasts, acetic acid, lactic acid, propionic acid, gluconic acid and glucuronic acid".

What does the research say? Most studies are done in animal experimental model and to date, there has been no evidence published on the biological activities of kombucha in human trials. So instead of jumping on kombucha bandwagon and spending a lot $$$, realize that all those health claims could be just anecdotal, coincidental, or purely psychological. Probiotics continue to be a growing area of interest so maybe in the future we will have a better understanding of kombucha and it's potential benefit for our health and well being.

Wildberry Ginger Kombucha Smoothie - Refreshing, Delicious Smoothie that is ready for you in 5 minutes or less!!

Concerns : Kombucha can be raw or pasteurized but there is a debate whether raw is better than pasteurized as pasteurization destroys live and active probiotics. I was not able to find reliable info on if there are any requirements to be raw vs. pasteurized. Homemade kombucha are usually raw while commercially made ones can be both raw or pasteurized but some brands are moving towards pasteurization to regulate the alcohol content and general safety for their consumers (and avoid trouble with the FDA).

If you brew kombucha at home, please follow safety + sanitation precautions as well as alcohol content of your brew. There has been reports of lead poisoning due to brewing kombucha in lead based containers. Food-grade glass containers are the best but if you plan on using ceramic or porcelain, just know the quality and grade.

Kombucha contains alcohol and is very prone to contamination so clearly it's a NO for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and those with compromised immune system to drink kombucha. If you take medications, it is best to check with your physician or pharmacist for potential food and drug nutrient interaction.

Poison Control have issued these adverse effects associated with kombucha  : at least one death, a case of cardiac arrest, several cases of hepatitis, one of severe muscle weakness and inflammation of the heart muscle, and cutaneous [skin] anthrax.

Bottom Line : The jury is still out there on the potential health benefits of kombucha but it doesn't hurt to drink small amounts of kombucha (4 oz is the recommendation per CDC) to see if you find health benefits. I personally drink kombucha occasionally for a change. I wouldn't recommend you to drink gallon of kombucha to detox or cure illnesses and please be extra careful if brewing at home. If you are interested to get more probiotics for better gut health - you should consider adding yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, or tempeh into your diet.

Tell me if you have ever had kombucha? And why do you drink it?