Is Kombucha A Superfood Or Overhyped Health Elixir?
There’s a kombucha craze brewing.
Last year, US retail sales of the acidic, tarty, slightly fizzy, fermented tea drink increased over 20% to nearly $730 million. And that’s not including sales at farmer’s markets or DIY home brewers selling the stuff out of garages. [SOURCE]
Why has kombucha, after more than 2000 years of existing in obscurity in the Far East, all of a sudden exploded in popularity on this side of the globe?
One word explains the craze: probiotics.
During the last few years, gut health has become a household phrase. Primetime TV commercials advertise probiotic capsules, gummies and probiotic yogurt (never mind the fact that yogurt naturally contains probiotics).
The fact that gut health has entered the consciousness of nearly every American household is a step in the right direction. Maintaining a healthy microbiome is critical for a healthy immune system and a long laundry list of other health markers.
Kombucha’s main selling point is that as a fermented product, it contains gut-friendly microorganisms that contribute to a healthy microbiome.
But is kombucha really the superfood billed as advertised?
Before exploring, if you’re not familiar with “booch” here’s a brief primer…
What Is Kombucha And How Is It Made?
Booch is traditionally made by fermenting either black or green tea leaves. The fermentation occurs by adding sugar and an alien-looking substance called SCOBY. SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.”
Like apple cider vinegar, SCOBY is also called “mother” because the floating, milky organisms give birth, or, to put in more appropriate biochemical terms, serve as the catalyst in the fermentation process.
Because of the fermentation process, kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol. Low-alcohol kombucha takes about two weeks to ferment until it’s ready to be consumed. An even newer kombucha craze has sprouted (forgive the fermentation pun): high-alcohol kombucha, which is fermented for longer than its low-alcohol counterpart.
Is Kombucha Healthy?
Brands capitalizing on the kombucha craze and the legions of natural health aficionados that have jumped on the bandwagon claim the drink improves digestion and supports gut health, and may even be a panacea for major health concerns.
Kombucha contains B vitamins and some antioxidants that come from the tea. Certainly, drinking a little kombucha is definitely healthier than having a soda or fruit smoothie. However, just because something contains probiotics doesn’t mean it’s a health elixir. And this leads us to the first reason why kombucha just might not be the superfood people believe it to be.
Too Much Sugar In Kombucha
Sticking with a small serving of kombucha may have some health benefits. However, the average kombucha consumer doesn’t sip a wheatgrass-sized shot of the drink; most often, commercial booch bottles are guzzled entirely in one sitting. And here’s why that’s a big problem: the average 16 oz bottle of commercial kombucha contains 20 or more grams of sugar.
Any benefit that you may get from the probiotics is perhaps cancelled out by the large amount of sugar. Drinking one 16 oz. bottle of kombucha contains roughly 50% of the daily maximum number of grams of sugar you should consume in one day. Throw in other foods that are par for the course in the Standard American Diet and it’s easy to see that kombucha contributes to the overconsumption of the sweet stuff rather than playing a part in the prevention of health concerns caused by chronic sugar intake.
And if you think that hard kombucha (“boozy booch”) is healthier than drinking wine, think again. Dry red wines (merlot, tempranillo, cabernet, zinfandel, etc.) contain as little as one gram of sugar. Not per glass, mind you, but per liter. Plus, with red wine, you get the benefit of the antioxidant, resveratrol.
Too Much Yeast In Kombucha
The next reason to be cautious with the booch is because, as this study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology reveals, the dominant strain of yeast in the drink is candida.
Wait. Stop the presses. Isn’t candida the villainous strain of yeast that’s served as the catalyst for another popular health trend: candida cleanses? Isn’t candida bad for you? Well, the truth is that it’s ok to have candida in your gut, and a good chunk of humanity has some detectable amount of candida albicans yeast species freeloading in the GI tract.
But C. Albicans is an opportunistic pathogen, which means that if left unchecked by friendly bacteria, the yeast can dominate the GI tract and cause the fungal infection, candidiasis. Signs of candidiasis include thrush, vaginal yeast infections, sinus infections, brain fog, and skin and nail fungal infections.
Sipping a tiny bit of kombucha will most likely not cause an overgrowth of candidiasis. But if you already have gut dysbiosis, chugging a whole bottle of kombucha may be akin to the proverbial pouring fuel on the fire. Even though kombucha may contain gut-friendly micro critters, if you already have too much candida yeast in your gut, drinking lots of the stuff may worsen your digestion, not improve it as promised.
Overblown Probiotic Promises?
Could it be that the main value-added proposition kombucha brands promise is overblown? Again, kombucha should raise your eyebrows because of its sugar content. Want to get the gut-friendly benefits of fermented products? Go for it. But do so without the added sugars by consuming kimchi (fermented cabbage), sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and natto, as well as plain, no-sugar added yogurt. Raw milk also contains gut-friendly microbes.
But do we really need to consume probiotics in the first place? Besides the fact that several brands of probiotic supplements may be a waste of money, keep this fact in mind: your gut is already home to trillions of bacteria. By taking a probiotic supplement (or by drinking lots of kombucha), you’re inviting too many guests to the party. Instead, concentrate on feeding the guests you already have with their favorite food: fruits and vegetables!
Fruits and veggies contain prebiotic fiber that serve as fertilizer for probiotics. In order for the friendly bacteria in your gut to thrive and multiply, you need more prebiotic fiber, not more probiotic supplements. Feed the bacteria you already have with one of these 5 amazing, delicious, convenient superfood powders:
Super-C-Biotic: High-octane vitamin C powder with Incan berries and acerola cherry in a tangy, slightly tarty delicious drink with 5 billion colony-forming-units of natural gut-supporting microorganisms.
- Coco Love: Vegan hot chocolate powder with raw cacao, which is an excellent source of prebiotics.
Superfood powder: 55 of the world’s most nutrient-dense plant-based fruits, veggies, seaweeds, grasses, adaptogens and more…
Super Fiber+: This ain’t your grandma’s fiber supplement. This 18-ingredient superfood powder blend contains ingredients renowned for their digestive and health-forming benefits.
- Super Matcha: The healthiest tea on the planet, loaded with antioxidants and fiber. Get the benefits of kombucha tea without the added sugar.
Support your gut health by consuming prebiotic fiber everyday. BōKU is the easiest way to do it.