Do a quick search of kombucha online and you’ll find that the fizzy drink (produced by fermented tea, sugar, fungi, and bacteria) supplies sky-high energy, quells pain, fends off certain cancers, detoxes your body, helps you shed weight, and turns your immune system into a fortress. (Here's how to make your own kombucha.) Guzzlers of the health beverage preach these promises, too.
But is our beloved kombucha really a health elixir in a bottle? Here are five things to keep in mind before you take a swig.
“I would be wary of calling kombucha a remedy or a magic food,” says Maggie Neola, RD, a dietitian with an interest in integrative medicine at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. After all, glorifying one food over another (kale is king!) isn’t the way nutrition works. A healthy diet is all about variety.
That said, Neola notes there are certainly benefits to the drink. For one, as with any tea, you’ll sip a slew of healthy antioxidants and polyphenols, she says. “But because it’s fermented, you see more of that probiotic push in kombucha.” And that’s where most of the drink’s health benefits lie: probiotics—a.k.a. good gut bacteria.
“The gut microbiome is often called the forgotten organ—it’s really important to foster that health,” Neola says. After all, a healthy gut microbiome can help fend off issues like diarrhea and IBS and help your whole body function at its best.
Fermented foods like kombucha may also improve the health of your intestinal cells, boost your immune function, and cut your risk of allergy and chronic disease, says Neola. There's a catch, though: These benefits aren’t unique to kombucha itself—but rather probiotic-rich or fermented foods, she says.
Kombucha’s probiotics can also come with a downside. That’s because some kinds of the drink are unpasteurized—and thus, you run the risk of a seriously upset stomach, says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. Or worse: “Without pasteurization, you run the risk of harmful microorganisms taking over and causing serious problems, including food poisoning,” says Ryan Andrews, RD, a fitness and nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition.
But here’s the thing—in order to reap kombucha’s probiotics benefits, the drink likely needs to be unpasteurized. “Pasteurization kills off both harmful and helpful bacteria. So any potential beneficial probiotics would be gone as well,” says Andrews.
There's Just Not Much Research On Kumbucha's Effects
Past packing a probiotic punch, just how much (and how) kombucha can keep you well is a bit murky. While some studies—like one from 2014 in The Journal of Medicinal Food—have suggested kombucha tea can protect against toxic molecules called free radical and promote immunity, most of the (incredibly limited) research on the topic is done in animals. And many of the purported health benefits stem from proponents of the beverage—not science itself.
Kombucha Is A Good Source Of Probiotics—But There Are Other Options, Too
The bottom line: Probiotics are a key part of a healthy diet, says Neola. And if you want to get them from kombucha, that’s fine. Just know: If you’re going to drink the raw (unpasteurized) version, make sure to buy your kombucha from a reputable company, says Gans. She also suggests pregnant woman and kids steer clear from sipping beverage (there’s a risk of bacteria and kombucha can have trace amounts of alcohol, thanks to the fermentation process). Ready to try it? Here are some brands we love:
Or, try brewing it yourself with a kombucha starter kit like this one.
Remember, too: “Not all kombuchas are created equal,” says Neola. “Some are loaded with added sugars.” So make sure to read your label (and the serving size amount!). And if you’re making your own drink, consider taking a good class beforehand, she suggests.
Not into the drink? Many other foods and drinks are loaded with probiotics and antioxidants, will hydrate you, fend off disease, and keep your immune system strong. Andrews suggests trying these:
sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt
For health benefits related to tea
For improved immunity, skin, nails, and hair
a minimally-processed, plant-based, nutrient-dense diet
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