By: Kristin M. MacDonald, MS, RD, LDN
Owner, Healthy Appetites Nutrition Counseling, L.L.C.
Have you seen kombucha drinks hanging out in the cooler at the grocery store and wondered “what is that?” Kombucha is a tea-based beverage that is usually made with tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria. Kombucha is a fermented food product and it contains live bacteria or probiotics, similar to yogurt.
When you open a bottle of kombucha you’ll notice that it is effervescent - the bubbles are a byproduct of the fermentation process. Commercially-prepared kombucha should contain less than 0.5% alcohol, the legal limit for “nonalcoholic” labeled beverages. The flavor is slightly sweet and vinegary in nature. Some kombucha beverages contain other ingredients, such as ginger, which offer their own, unique profile.
You may see other juice-based (fruit and/or vegetable) probiotic drinks on the market. Some of these are sweeter than kombucha drinks and their flavor may appeal to a broader audience.
Generally, the calories and sugar content of kombucha are fairly low. These beverages contain no fat or protein. Commercially prepared, individual bottles of kombucha range in price from about $4 to $6.
Several months ago I wrote an article that talked about probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria and yeast that already live in a healthy digestive tract. There are over 400 varieties of bacteria that live in our digestive systems - they reduce the growth of unhealthy bacteria and promote an overall healthy digestive environment. The largest group of probiotics in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria - this includes Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is found in yogurt.3
As I mentioned in my previous article, not all probiotic strains are created equal. When looking to purchase a probiotic beverage, such as kombucha, be sure to look at the exact probiotic used and the scientific evidence that exists to support its potential health benefits.1,2
Several cautions regarding kombucha should be mentioned. First, there are not a lot of research studies supporting the claimed health benefits of kombucha. Also, at-risk populations, such as the immunocompromised or elderly, should avoid drinking kombucha due to its high bacteria content. Some varieties advise pregnant or breastfeeding consumers to consult their healthcare professional before consuming the beverage. Also, although the alcohol content is very low those avoiding alcohol for any reason should not drink kombucha.1,2
Kombucha is a unique tasting beverage and consuming this drink can allow you to incorporate more fermented foods into your diet. Be sure to understand the potential benefits and risks associated with kombucha drinks on the market.