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?
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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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.
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:
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):
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.
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):
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:
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.
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?”
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