What is Kombucha and Should I be Drinking It?

In the past year, have you heard someone talk about Kombucha and wonder, what kind of medication, bar or musical festival is that? Kombucha is actually a fermented tea that contains probiotics and is made similar to how beer or wine is made (but with less alcohol content). It has become a huge fad in the foodie world and is now sold in most grocery stores. The question is, does it really have probiotics and is it good for you? I’m hoping to clear up some of the confusion surrounding this drink and catch you up on what we know so far.

How It’s Made

A bacteria called SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is mixed with filtered water, black and/or green tea and juice or sweetener of choice then sits and ferments anywhere from one day to multiple weeks (depending on what brand and/or personal preference). Fermentation is a process that occurs when bacteria feeds on sugar and grows. It creates a byproduct of acid and/or alcohol (hence how alcohol is made), but what makes this different than alcoholic beverages is that the SCOBY is converted into probiotics.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are living bacteria that may aid in gut health in the human body. Research shows that probiotics can help grow and maintain the health of the microbiota in the human body, however, further research needs to be done to solidify this fact. Probiotics may help with digestive issues like IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Acid Reflux and Ulcerative Colitis. Probiotics are also found in kefir, yogurt and kimchi as well as in pill form.

Research

There is limited scientific research on whether kombucha actually has beneficial properties and if it can be harmful to the body. Here are the facts known currently.

Kombucha can cure anything from cancer to AIDS

There is no research that backs this claim. However, if kombucha truly contains probiotics, studies show that probiotics may be great for the immune system and for improving and maintaining a healthy digestive system.

Can kombucha make me ill?

There are two or three case studies based off patients who may have been hospitalized due to ingesting kombucha. Kombucha does have active bacteria in it and can harm you if you leave it out of the refrigerator for too long or try to make it yourself at home. Buying a well known brand from the grocery store is always a good idea, especially if you have low immunity, or serving it to child, adolescent or an older adult. Remember, you are drinking a “live” drink, refrigerate it and throw it out when it expires!

Does Kombucha continue to ferment on the shelf and does that increase the alcohol content?

Some brands of kombucha produce more alcohol overtime and some actually produce more probiotics overtime, it depends on the brand. Technically kombucha is not suppose to have more than 1% of alcohol in the product. Most brands have around .05% of alcohol or less. Kombucha should not cause inebriation, however, there are some people who have said otherwise. For example, GT has a kombucha that you can only buy if you are over the age of 21, however, the amount of alcohol in this kombucha is still around 1% if not under. If you have any questions on the product, browse the company’s website and/or email them. All companies are happy and eager to answer questions about their product.

Should I Drink Kombucha?

In the end it all comes down to personal preference. If you feel kombucha makes digestion smoother, gives you energy or alleviates your acid reflux, continue to drink it. Just make sure that you buy a well known brand from a grocery store and watch the added sugar content. A lot of kombucha companies add sugar after fermentation, so either make sure you buy brands with 2 or 3g of sugar per serving (typically there are two servings of kombucha in a bottle) or have one of the sweeter kombucha’s as a treat once a week. Regardless, kombucha can fit in a well balanced diet and who knows maybe in five or ten years, research will support the probiotic benefits of kombucha.

NOTE: If you are pregnant or have cancer, AIDS or a weakened immune system, ask your doctor if kombucha is safe to consume.

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