Among the beverage choices that Americans find in local grocery stores, most options are full of processed ingredients and chemicals, making them less than ideal for supporting a healthy diet. From soda and fruit juice with added corn syrup to drinks with artificial flavors and colors, sometimes it may feel like water is the only healthy option. But for those who want something a bit more flavorful and even a bit of fizz, all hope is not lost. USHEALTH Group points out that Kombucha is the perfect substitute on their Living Good Health blog.
Making its way to the top of the popularity charts in recent years is kombucha, a drink that at first glance, may seem a bit unusual. While many major metropolitan areas across the nation have embraced kombucha with open arms, it’s still hard to find in some places and may come along with a certain set of stigmas around the type of people who drink it. In reality, kombucha is a beverage that brings its fair share of health benefits to the table and, along with an interesting history, may help support a balanced diet.
However, nothing is perfect, and even this refreshing drink may have some health concerns to consider as well. Before stocking up on the newest flavors of kombucha, it’s important to have an understanding of exactly what this drink is, how it may help your body, and things to consider before making it a daily choice. It’s best to keep in mind that any food or beverage likely has its fair share of pros and cons, and each individual may benefit in different ways.
While news of this drink hasn’t spread immensely far and wide just yet, kombucha is becoming more and more popular as the years go by. Some statistics show that as recently as 2014, sales of this drink only netted about $48,000. However, by June of 2017, that figure had gone up to $600,000 and then some. The beverage is fairly popular in most major cities, but Portland, Oregon, is the city most responsible for its success. There, residents buy kombucha at a rate of 78 times more than the average American.
What’s so amazing about this drink that’s causing everyone to buy it by the caseload? It turns out that kombucha has a very long history that makes it quite appealing. Records of it date back to 220 B.C. in Northeast China where it was used for its supposed healing properties. Rumor has it that a man named Dr. Kombu brought it to Japan to help cure Emperor Inkyo, and it was later brought to Europe in the early 1900s. Despite popularity during that century, it did become a bit scarce around World War II but regained popularity after a study was published in the 1960s that discussed its potential health benefits.
In the 1990s, kombucha began to enter the radar of the U.S. market and was even touted as a health aid for serious medical conditions like AIDS. While these claims were never studied, the drink began to grow a true grassroots following, especially because it was fairly easy to make at home. Brewed using something called SCOBY, a substance that contains bacteria and yeast, kombucha was passed from family to family long before it hit store shelves.
Although this fizzy drink has a beautiful past, it’s also been peppered with trials and tribulations. Over the years, health experts have attempted to calm people down when it comes to the kombucha craze, reminding consumers that there are no real studies to prove the supposed health benefits that it claims to bring. Additionally, testing of certain brands in 2010 showed that more alcohol was present in this fermented drink than was initially thought, causing some grocers to pull it from their shelves. Since then, regulatory standards have been put into place that protect all parties involved, and kombucha is poised for a bright future. Industry leaders project that kombucha as a whole will see sales near $1.8 billion by the year 2020, and large beverage manufacturers like PepsiCo have even partnered with some brands already.
What Exactly Is It?
USHEALTH Group mentions that Kombucha is often called many things including a tea, an elixir, and in some incorrect cases, a mushroom-based drink. Ultimately, it’s a cultured beverage that contains yeast and bacteria fermented in black, or sometimes green, tea. Sugar is typically added in an effort to help the process along and remains as a way to help improve the taste. Carbonation is a byproduct of making kombucha, and along with containing caffeine, B vitamins, and trace amounts of alcohol, it’s widely believed to be an incredible health aid.
Health experts are often quick to remind people that kombucha doesn’t have well-documented proof regarding possible benefits, but some studies are trying to change that. In 2014, a group of researchers took a close look at kombucha and its various ingredients and confirmed something crucial about this drink’s livelihood. Until recently, experiments had always focused on the makeup of the various bacteria, but this team took a different approach.
Ultimately, they discovered that new and different types of cultures were present compared to what was previously uncovered, including Lactobacillus and sub-dominant genera, meaning that kombucha is very high in probiotics. This lends to the belief that many long-time kombucha lovers have had all along: the drink is great for one’s gut and can offer the potential for amazing health benefits. But what exactly do these benefits entail?
How Kombucha Can Help
Although most medical professionals point out that there are no solid pieces of evidence that this drink improves one’s health, USHG also notes that the components in the average kombucha bottle certainly seem to be beneficial. Many might argue that water is the best beverage choice, but if individuals are looking for something with flavor and a bit of bubbles, kombucha is certainly a better choice than soda. There are several benefits that may come along with consuming this drink:
- Although kombucha does contain a decent amount of sugar, which varies based on the brand, it has been noted to help manage type 2 diabetes. A study in 2012 concluded that diabetic rats who drank kombucha had more even blood sugar levels, but of course, this may not directly relate to humans. It should be noted that the amount of kombucha consumed will have a direct effect on blood sugar as well, so it’s likely that this experiment used moderate amounts during testing.
- Liver health may get a big boost from regular kombucha consumption, as it’s rich in antioxidants. Research from 2011 found that these compounds help rid the liver of unwanted toxins, not only promoting the health of this organ but also reducing inflammation. Again, this study was focused on rats and may or may not bring the same level of success in humans.
- Those who are trying to lose weight may find that drinking green tea-based kombucha or mixing this drink with green tea can encourage the body to burn extra calories. Obese individuals in a 2008 study who took green tea extract ended up losing more weight than those who didn’t, but that result doesn’t necessarily mean that drinking kombucha will help all individuals reach their weight loss goals.
- Heart disease can be caused by a number of factors, but one of them has to do with certain types of cholesterol. Several studies have explored the relationship between kombucha and lowering cholesterol levels and showed some promising results, thus asserting the possibility that the drink may effectively lower the risk of heart disease. However, other factors including diet and lifestyle also play a major role, so it’s not conclusive that kombucha alone will make a dramatic difference.
- Today’s healthcare headlines are often filled with topics relating to mental health, but many people don’t realize that food can play a major role in one’s well-being. Some believe that there are links between depression and probiotics, as well as depression and inflammation, making kombucha a potential mood booster in a bottle. In general, drinking this beverage may indicate adherence to a healthier diet overall, thus helping to keep one’s mental state in check.
- Our bodies have amazing built-in ways of fighting off infection, but that doesn’t mean a little bit of extra help from time to time won’t be of benefit. Studies have found that acetic acid, which can be found in both kombucha and vinegar, is excellent at fighting infections within the body. Some believe that it actually kills bacteria before it even has time to do much damage, making kombucha consumption a way to proactively stay healthy.
- Although two studies, one in 2008 and another in 2013, were conducted in a test tube, their results are still promising when it comes to a human application. In those studies, kombucha was found to help reduce the risk of cancer. Not only did it prevent the growth of cancerous cells, but it also killed some of them. However, before the medical community can endorse this drink as a way to ward off cancer, an immense amount of research will still need to be completed.
- By and large, one of the most popular benefits of drinking kombucha has to do with one’s gut health. The human digestive system is incredibly complex and contains an entire ecosystem of bacteria that are essential to health and wellness. Many studies have shown a strong link between the gut and the immune system, placing a high importance on the types of foods that enter into the body. Kombucha is rife with probiotics, which support gut health and can even help soothe conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
Keep in mind that none of these benefits have been confirmed by the FDA, and in many cases, have not even been tested on humans. However, many people swear that drinking kombucha on a regular basis has provided them with an incredible boost in health and well-being. In some cases, those who drink kombucha are already in tune with eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, so this beverage simply acts as a complement to an already fantastic lifestyle.
Aspects to Think About
All things considered, drinking kombucha appears to bring nothing but benefits to one’s life, but as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Just like taking an excessive number of vitamins or supplements could do more harm than good, overconsumption of kombucha may not be in your best interest. Some of the potential side effects include:
- Consuming too many calories in one day: Just like any other beverage that isn’t water, kombucha contains a certain amount of calories depending on the brand. Some are fairly healthy, but others pack in around 120 calories per bottle. While a kombucha or two per week may not be that bad, daily consumption may lead to an overall tendency to overeat. Additionally, drinking caloric beverages makes it more difficult to get full, so instead of grabbing a fizzy bottle, a healthy snack would be a smarter option.
- Trouble with digestion: It seems rather contrary that this beverage full of probiotics would have a connection with gut issues, but that’s what experts have found in those who drink too much kombucha. As the drink is carbonated, the excess CO2 can lead to bloating and gas, and given that most of these options contain sugar, that can irritate the intestines and lead to diarrhea. It may also be unsuitable for some people with digestive disorders like IBS.
- Ingesting too much sugar: Most brands have added fruit juices or cane sugar to improve the taste, and this can push the sugar content sky high. In some cases, one bottle of kombucha contains seven teaspoons of sugar, which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver. Those who want to consume kombucha regularly should look for brands with less than four grams of sugar per serving.
- Problems with pasteurization: While regulations in the kombucha industry have certainly tightened up over the years, the product as a whole is still unpasteurized and contains yeast and bacteria. Some individuals who have weakened immune systems can experience complications if they ingest too much kombucha, and in some rare cases, allergic reactions have even been linked to this drink. As a precaution, pregnant and breastfeeding women are also advised to stay away from kombucha.
- Overconsumption of caffeine: In general, kombucha has far less caffeine than many other beverages, as it’s made from tea and usually clocks in right around 8 to 14 mg per eight-ounce bottle. However, if you’re consuming several bottles per day, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine, anxiety and the jitters could follow. Drinking excessive amounts of kombucha before bedtime may also interfere with a normal sleep pattern.
The concerns around kombucha are very real, but they can be easily avoided if you limit your consumption of this delicious drink. As with most things in life, moderation is key, so enjoying a few bottles a week at most is typically the best way to go.
All About Kombucha
Individuals who are interested in trying kombucha but don’t know where to start may have the best luck with a variety that’s flavored. Simply browsing the shelves of a local grocery store will offer a ton of options, including ginger, lemon, and even grape or apple. People should keep in mind, however, that even though some of these flavored options are quite tasty, kombucha still has a very distinct flavor.
Some describe it as being overly alcoholic in taste, and even though manufacturers are very careful to adhere to specific guidelines, there are still trace amounts that can come through in the flavor. Others note more of a vinegar-heavy note on their palates, but ultimately, kombucha tends to be an acquired taste. However, with the potential health benefits it can bring to one’s life, a bit of an odd flavor just might be worth it.
All in all, with the rise in popularity that the kombucha industry has seen in recent years, it’s likely that this beverage isn’t going away any time soon. Health-conscious individuals who want to add an extra element of probiotics to their diet will love the fizz and flavor that kombucha brings, but enjoying it in moderation is key.
About USHEALTH Group
USHEALTH Group is an award-winning health and wellness organization committed to using their unique product offerings to build innovative health coverage plans for families, individuals, business owners, and the self-employed. They have served more than 15 million people throughout the U.S.
Health and wellness are important to USHEALTH Group, and it goes beyond just health coverage. USHG is also committed to volunteer work and positive outreach in their communities. Through the Helping Other People Everyday (HOPE) program, USHEALTH Group and USHEALTH Advisors have provided donations to various charitable organizations, including the Homes For Warriors Project and The Crisis Nursery.