Is Kombucha Healthy?

Originally published in Bradford Today on August 04, 2019.

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long explains the merits and drawbacks of kombucha.

Dear Nutritionist,

I read your nutrition column every chance I get. I would like your input on Kombucha (organic and raw gingerade).

My grandsons have been drinking this for months; they have interested me in trying it. I am a young 78-year-old woman. Just wondering if it is good to drink this daily? I have bought a small bottle to try it; the taste is OK. I guess what I’m asking is: Is it healthy for me to continue with Kombucha? I would appreciate your input.

Ann from Mt. Albert

Dear Ann,

Thank you for reading regularly and for sending in another great question! I’m also glad you’re looking for ways to improve your health!

There are many things you can do in your retirement years to boost your energy and vitality and protect against senility and bone fractures. Primarily, I recommend a whole foods, unprocessed diet with a lot of fatty fish, and staying active.

And yes, I do promote the use of Kombucha - although my preference is homemade. Making it is not difficult and is very inexpensive. It can also be quite fun to try to make different flavours.

But I do know not everyone is going to take the time to do this with any regularity, as many are busy or out of the habit of homemade foods. Home brew Kombucha is popular now because it’s full of beneficial probiotics and other health promoting nutritives, and can be taken daily as a rather enjoyable drink. It’s adult tasting, tangy, non-alcoholic, and somewhat carbonated, for those not in the know.

I regularly teach classes on home fermentation that include kombucha making for hands-on learning. There are also a number of tutorials online, for those who are interested.

Commercially prepared Kombucha that is raw will contain beneficial bacteria, but it will also contain more sugar because it typically isn’t fermented to the same point that homemade kombucha is.

And, it can contain some alcohol (up to 4% in testing). The longer you let the beverage brew, the more vinegary the drink gets. So, these sweet tasting commercial drinks would contain less active probiotics.

Of course this makes them more tasty to a sugar-adapted public, which makes the drink sell better. But I am wary to say it would benefit our health like low sugar, fully fermented kombucha does.

The specific product you asked about lists sugar content as 12g per bottle, which they promote as two servings. I recommend between 4-6oz as a serving of kombucha, and only one serving a day. So that is some sugar, but not an excessive amount like you find in juice or sodas.

The probiotics listed on the label include B. coagulans and S. boulardii, both at 1 billion at time of bottling. It’s unclear if they remain alive or grow dormant or stronger after that point.

Both are known for their efficacy in treating gastro-intestinal disorders, particularly inflammatory bowel disorders and bacterial diarrhea or complaints from taking antibiotics. So, this brand does seem to confer some health benefit.

For those who are frantically Googling to see what on earth Kombucha is, let me bring you up to speed.

It’s a drink made of tea, which has been fermented by a special organism called a SCOBY (Serendipitous Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts).

Basically the SCOBY floats in the tea and creates new, baby SCOBIES that form a film on the top of the tea as they consume the sugar and nutrients in the tea. When they do this they give off a host of bacteria and nutritional compounds. For a full list of bacteria found in home brew Kombucha, as well as great photos, go here.

Each successive brew will form new SCOBIES that become thickened as they mature. These can then be used to make yet another brew. The drink can be brewed with green, black, white, or oolong tea, but the white needs to be blended with the caffeine-rich black or oolong to ensure the SCOBY has the nutrients it needs to thrive.

In my clinic, I have several jars of this brewing at any given time, and regularly I’m asked if they are pickled livers or mushrooms, which is exactly what they look like.

Adults are grossed out but children immediately want to touch and try it. Not everyone likes it right away but cutting it with a bit of apple or cranberry juice can get most people to drink it. And it’s better than full strength juice by far. I like to take it with my evening meal for the added benefit as an acidic digestive aide.

Kombucha seems to have originated in China as early as 221 BC. It then circulated to Eastern Europe, Russia, and Japan, where it got its name after a Korean physician, Dr. Kombu, brought it to Emperor Inkyo.

The sugar and steeped tea are placed in a jar and the SCOBY and starter drink is added. The fermentation process takes some time, and depending on the heat and strength of the starter, it can take anywhere from a week to six weeks to get a good brew.

Home brew contains several acid compounds and trace levels of gasses that give it the carbonation, in addition to the probiotics.

For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the research on probiotics, this is research you want to start to catch up on. It seems to hold a lot of promise for a number of complex health woes.

I predict it to be nothing less than the discovery of antibiotics in terms of how it will shift healthcare. For a quick overview of some of the application and discussion there is a great, short TED-x talk from Caltech here.

To ensure you are getting the most benefit, I advocate learning how to brew your own kombucha. It’s also far more cost effective, as commercial brews are pricey. If you continue to use the store brew, just remember that one bottle is actually two or three servings.

It’s also best for anyone using fermented foods to balance them. By this I mean using a variety of probiotic foods like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, natto, fermented sauces, braggs, and raw apple cider vinegar. This is because each of these has their own different probiotic profile.

It’s best to be exposed to a diversity of cultures, which each connote different health benefits. Thus, it’s important to include a variety to get a broad spectrum of strains.

When purchasing, always make sure the foods are raw or unpasteurized, so the bacteria are more likely to be alive. Pasteurization is used specifically to kill bacteria to improve shelf life and it was thought, food safety. But it really seems modern research on probiotics is turning that wisdom on its head!

Hey, maybe the raw milk farmers were right! But you didn’t hear me say it!

Thank you again for writing in, Ann. Enjoy your Kombucha, and, as always, I welcome questions from readers.


Nonie Nutritionista

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The contents of this website are intended for educational purposes only and nothing herein should be misconstrued as medical advice, for which you should consult a licensed physician.

Copyright 2016 Nonie De Long.