What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a sweet, fizzy drink that can be a good source of probiotics. It’s been consumed for centuries but is making a big-time comeback, becoming an extremely popular beverage in recent years. A number of health claims have boosted its popularity, with kombucha benefits including active probiotic cultures that can promote gut health and have the potential to influence several other bodily functions.
Using probiotics as a jump-off, marketing companies tout amazing benefits of kombucha—from cancer protection to diabetes treatment. But are they overreaching?
SCOBY is the component offering the probiotic value to kombucha. It stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” and is added to green or black tea. As it ferments, the SCOBY breaks down the sugars in the tea to release probiotics, while also giving kombucha its signature fizz. During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast form a mushroom-like film at the liquid’s surface, providing a nickname for kombucha: “mushroom tea.”
In addition to being a decent nutritional source of probiotics, kombucha can also serve as a strong source of antioxidants. This is largely because of the fact that it’s a tea, and any antioxidant power may be elevated when brewed with green tea.
Green tea is recognized as having a high number of potent, health-promoting antioxidant compounds.
Kombucha Nutrition Facts
The basic ingredients for kombucha are yeast, sugar, and black tea, although green tea is used, too. The mixture is set to rest for about a week so fermentation can occur. Over this period, bacteria forms, as does some acetic acid and a small amount of alcohol.
Because varying brands and fermentation processes exist, a standard nutritional profile for kombucha is lacking. That said, kombucha should always feature active bacteria (probiotics), yeast, antioxidants, B vitamins, and a selection of trace minerals.
Unflavored kombucha usually offers about 30 calories per eight-ounce serving, with two to three grams of sugar. Flavored options can see calorie and sugar counts climb, so check the label of your favorite brand to see exactly what’s in it—you may want to make a change if there are eight-plus grams of added sugar.
Kombucha Health Benefits
Kombucha tea—or at least, some of the active ingredients in it—may promote better health. Here are a few of the ways it might be beneficial.
1. A Good Source of Probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria that help promote a healthy microbial population in the gut. They are found in a variety of fermented foods, and can promote a number of health benefits. Almost all of kombucha’s health benefits are due to the presence of probiotics.
Probiotics, in sufficient amounts, may influence health by encouraging improved digestion and nutrient absorption, limited inflammation, better mood, improved immune function, and even reduced risk for certain cancers.
Dosage, however, is essential to the benefits of probiotics and there is still plenty of research to be conducted to determine how effective probiotics are on these various conditions.
2. Kombucha Can Contain Active Antioxidants
Besides probiotics, antioxidants are also responsible for the potential benefits of kombucha. Antioxidants are chemical compounds in foods that help fight back against free radicals. They help to maintain the integrity of your cells by limiting oxidative stress.
Research has indicated that natural sources of antioxidants are more effective than supplements, adding a little extra value to kombucha.
Kombucha, particularly when made with green tea, has been shown to provide benefits to liver health. For example, a study published in Pathophysiology journal found that the tea had a protective effect against chemical-induced cytotoxicity and cell death in hepatocytes. However, like much of the research on kombucha, these benefits were noted in rat studies and may not translate to humans.
Still, studies have shown that green tea consumption can boost metabolism, reduce belly fat, and improve cholesterol and blood sugar, while potentially reducing the risk of prostate, breast, and colon cancer.
It is possible that green tea kombucha may provide these benefits, yet there is no reason to believe they would be observed in kombucha made from black tea.
3. May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Studies in rodents have indicated that kombucha can quickly improve cholesterol levels, and green tea has long been noted for benefits to heart health.
At least one rat study looking at kombucha consumption showed the tea could reduce bad “LDL” cholesterol and boost “good” HDL in as little as 30 days. It was believed to do this by inhibiting the activity of lipase, a digestive enzyme that helps the body break down and absorb fats.
It’s also been noted that green tea drinkers tend to have a much lower risk—up to 31%—of heart disease compared to non-green tea drinkers.
4. Might Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes
The same study using diabetic rats, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, showed drinking kombucha can slow the digestion of carbs, which leads to lower blood sugar.
Once again, green tea kombucha may have added benefits, as human observational studies have found that green tea drinkers are less likely to become diabetic. Although its unknown if green tea itself is responsible for this effect, there is evidence suggesting green tea has the ability to reduce blood sugar.
Many of the health claims surrounding kombucha stem from its probiotic content and green tea connection. Many of the benefits—especially those relating to probiotics—however, seem vastly overstated and utilize research conducted in lab or animal models to substantiate them.
Until further studies using human models are available, it’s difficult to defend kombucha as the health drink it is often made out to be.
On the other hand, green tea has shown it can be beneficial for a variety of conditions. So, if you reach for a kombucha, selecting a green tea variety may be best.
How to Make Kombucha
You can make kombucha tea at home, but there is a rather large degree of risk. There are kits available to help reduce the associated risks like culturing harmful bacteria or mold. If you decide to make it at home, be aware of the risk you are assuming.
A complete kombucha kit will supply everything you need except distilled water, or you can elect to use your own supplies and purchase a SCOBY to add to your tea mixture.
The tools and ingredients needed to make your own kombucha are:
- Clean glass jar
- Clean pot
- Large stirring spoon
- 4 cups distilled water
- ½ cup distilled white vinegar
- ¼ cup white sugar
- Green or black tea leaves or bags
- Coffee filter
- Rubber band
How to make kombucha:
- Bring the distilled water to a boil in the clean pot.
- Add the tea and steep for five to 10 minutes.
- Remove tea leaves/bag.
- Pour in sugar and stir until completely blended.
- Cool the mixture.
- Add SCOBY, then tea and vinegar.
- Cover the jar with a coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.
- Allow to ferment at room temperature for about a week.
As mentioned, brewing kombucha at home can increase the likelihood of contamination. When working with bacteria, the slightest contamination can cause harmful substances to grow and make you sick. Make sure everything you use is sterile and avoids contact with any unsterilized surface. If prepared in a sanitary environment, it is safe.
Conversely, store-bought kombuchas may contain large amounts of sugar and calories. Drinking too much of it can lead to weight gain and unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Be sure to read labels and consume the drink only in moderation.
Final Word on Kombucha Benefits
The only other danger associated with kombucha may be the belief that it’s doing more for your health than it actually is—and drinking it in excess as a result.
Few of the health claims associated with kombucha have been tested in human studies, and the probiotic count in a bottle of kombucha is unlikely to lead to any real change in your gut microbiome without the adoption of an overall healthful diet. Furthermore, if you’re drinking sugary kombucha, side effects may include weight gain and higher blood sugar levels.
Safely made kombucha may offer multiple benefits as part of a well-rounded health regimen that includes a varied diet and regular exercise.
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