Can People With Diabetes Drink Kombucha?

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Can People With Diabetes Drink Kombucha?

Kombucha is a trendy beverage that has hit not only the shelves of health food stores, but local supermarkets, as well. What is this drink and are the health claims for real? How might it impact your diabetes?

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. It’s slightly fizzy (although it’s not a soda) and it has a large following, thanks to its purported health benefits. Sales of this functional beverage grew from $1 million in 2014 to $1.8 billion in 2019, says the Food Institute, and the number of brands of kombucha have been increasing by about 30% each year for past several years, according to the trade group Kombucha Brewers International.

Kombucha might be new to you, but it’s been around since about 220 B.C., originating in northeast China. A defining feature of this bubbly brew is fermentation, a science dating back 9,000 years. Kombucha is common in China, Korea, and Russia, and gained popularity in the U.S. during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and early ’90s. It fell out of favor for a while, but as knowledge of probiotics and health benefits of fermented foods began to grow, kombucha made its comeback in the early 21st century, both commercially and in the home-brewing kit arenas.

Fermented beverages are nothing new, either, by the way. Other drinks that are fermented include alcohol that’s made from grains (barley, corn, rye), cider made from apples, and kefir and buttermilk made from milk.

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How is kombucha made?

Kombucha starts out with black or green tea leaves that are steeped in water and sugar. Then, an active culture of different types of yeasts and bacteria is added. This culture is called a SCOBY, which stands for “symbiotic colony/culture of bacteria and yeast.” This SCOBY sits in the tea for a couple of weeks, where the fermentation process kicks in. The end result is a slightly sweet but also slightly tart bubbly drink that contains vinegar, B vitamins, vitamin C, and small amounts of sugar and ethanol.

What are the benefits of kombucha?

Kombucha has become a healthier alternative to sodas and other types of soft drinks, due to being rich in probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you and are thought to provide a number of health benefits. They’re found in fermented foods, as well as dietary supplements.

Besides probiotics, kombucha contains polyphenols (antioxidants that protect against various diseases) and B vitamins, vitamin C, copper, and zinc. There isn’t a lot of solid evidence to support health benefits of kombucha, but it’s believed that drinking this brew might help with:

Kombucha nutrition info

The nutrition content of kombucha varies, as some drinks are sweetened with fruit juice or added sugars. Here are two examples (note that the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label is 16 ounces (oz.); an option is to drink half as much, or 8 ounces):

16 oz. Health Ade Kombucha Organic Ginger Lemon

  • 70 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 14 grams of carbohydrate (13 grams of added sugars)
  • 0 grams of protein

16 oz. Humm Probiotic Kombucha Strawberry Lemonade

  • 50 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 13 grams of carbohydrate (11 grams of added sugars)
  •  0 grams of protein

Humm has a “zero sugar” kombucha; their website states that, “Our proprietary process eliminates sugar during fermentation.” Their zero sugar kombucha drinks contain erythritol and monk fruit for sweeteners.

16 oz. Humm Probiotic Zero Sugar Blueberry Mint

  • 0 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 0 grams of carbohydrate
  • 0 grams of protein

Is kombucha safe to drink?

Kombucha continues to grow in popularity among health-conscious people. However, sugar aside, there are a few safety concerns about “booch” (as the drink is sometimes affectionately known):

  • Added sugar, which can contribute to obesity, fatty liver disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, as well as affect blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes
  • Excess caffeine. There isn’t as much caffeine in kombucha as in, say, a cup of traditional tea, but the amount could add up, depending on how much you drink.
  • Because this beverage contains bacteria and yeasts, it’s not recommended for people who have weakened immune systems, including people with cancer, kidney disease, or HIV/AIDS.
  • There have been a few cases of liver toxicity and inflammation from drinking kombucha. Talk with your health care provider before drinking kombucha if you have liver disease.

Kombucha is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or for children due to its caffeine and low alcohol content. And some people have reported side effects, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach problems
  • Head and neck pain
  • Allergic reactions

If you’re interested in trying kombucha, to be on the safe side, run it by your health care provider, especially if you have a compromised immune system or are pregnant. For safety reasons, it’s best to purchase kombucha rather than make your own (which some people do). Go for lower-sugar brands, and start off with a small amount, initially, to see if you have any adverse effects. Don’t forget to check your blood sugars to see kombucha’s impact on your diabetes, as well.

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Want to learn more about staying hydrated? See “Staying Hydrated,” “Best Beverages for Staying Hydrated,” “Water Facts: Getting to Know H20,” and “What’s to Drink?”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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