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Kombucha: Bye or Buy?

Is kombucha a probiotic win?

Bottles of kombucha

As the hype surrounding probiotics continues to soar, so does our thirst for kombucha. This trendy beverage is made by adding certain strains of bacteria and yeast called SCOBY along with sugar to tea, then allowing it to ferment for a week or more. It has a slightly sour, almost vinegar-like taste, and most brands will include other flavorings like hibiscus, ginger or lime.

Proponents say a daily kombucha habit can help tilt the balance in our guts in favor of the beneficial microorganisms leading to better gut and immune health. Indeed, kombucha can be a convenient way to welcome more probiotics into your life, especially if you don’t eat much yogurt and other fermented foods. Yet, there is very little research to demonstrate that drinking kombucha itself has a measurable impact on the microbiome and certain health measures.

There are countless strains of probiotics out there and perhaps the ones in a bottle of kombucha aren’t the ones you need most. It’s also hard to know how many live probiotics you are getting in that pricey little bottle. And some brands add generous amounts of sugar and fruit juice to make it more palatable to the masses and, in turn, render the drink closer to soda.

The verdict: Even though kombucha contains some good stuff like probiotics and is most often a better choice than heavily sweetened drinks, many of the health claims surrounding the fermented drink are suspect. It’s a good idea to drink it simply because you enjoy kombucha instead of thinking of it as the ultimate health elixir. And always look for bottles with lower sugar levels.

See also: Food Choices for Gut Microbiome Health

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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