Kombucha. Maybe you've heard about it, maybe you haven't, or maybe like me, you're an avid drinker of this wonderful, fizzy, "full of good stuff for you" drink. I've been drinking kombucha for the past 4 years, and I absolutely love the stuff. I greet my husband when he gets home from work with dinner on the table and a glass (a wine glass for that matter) of kombucha that he's always so excited to drink. The phrase "Oh ya, kombucha" is one of the many we use to show our affection for this stuff.
If you don't know what kombucha is, it's a drink that's made by fermenting a symbiotic culture (or SCOBY) with sweetened green or black tea. Although the sugar gets converted in the fermentation process, most people, and commercial companies that sell kombucha, add juice to make it taste more appetizing. Because it's naturally effervescent (aka fizzy), and includes high amounts of either converted sugar, or added sugar from juice, is kombucha just another form of pop for the health conscious?
The SCOBY (or yeast) is said to contain beneficial bacteria that contributes to healthy digestion because of it's probiotic nature, but the amount of contributing microbial populations vary from batch to batch and such claims have not been clinically substantiated. Because kombucha is a fermented drink, it does contain alcohol, although when doing research on how much alcohol each bottle contains, it is unclear.
The health benefits that kombucha claims to have are the following:
- Improved digestion
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Cleansing and detoxification
- Immune support
- Reduced joint pain
- Cancer prevention
As you can see, those are some pretty steep health claims that makes kombucha sound very appealing to majority of the population. If I can drink something that will aid in a healthy digestive system, help keep my body lean, all while preventing cancer, sign me up! Going along my merry way, with kombucha in hand, and believing that what I've been consuming for years has been very beneficial to me, I started to question it's efficacy, and all of the beneficial health claims it totes around.
That's right you heard me, pregnancy. No, I'm not pregnant...yet. My husband and I are moving forward into the next chapter of our lives and we are trying to get pregnant! I never thought I'd want kids until I got married, and then all of a sudden my world and rules about life changed. Being the health conscious person that I am (sometimes a bit over the top), I forewarned Kevin that I would be ultra careful as to what I consumed while growing our little bundle of joy for 9 months. I started to think about what I consumed everyday and remembered reading on the back of my GT's kombucha label "this product contains trace amounts of alcohol".
I knew kombucha contained alcohol because of fermentation, but didn't know exactly how much I was consuming in each bottle. I'm not a drinker, I can count the times I drink each year on one hand, and it usually consists of celebrations that involve a glass of champagne. I don't like what alcohol does inside the body and I choose not to drink as a part of a healthy lifestyle, not to mention the addictive nature alcohol has.
If kombucha contains "trace amounts" of alcohol, how much alcohol does that mean I'm consuming on a daily basis? Is it really trace amounts (meaning less that .5%), or am I inadvertently consuming a drink that's essentially sugar and booze?
As you can tell where this is going, I started to dig deeper. I take my health very seriously, and the thought of consuming something detrimental when I'm pregnant wasn't ever going to fly. So I started doing my research. I wanted to know just how much alcohol I was consuming every time I cracked open a bottle of GT kombucha.
For starters, I'm not here to persuade you to stop drinking kombucha, I'm simply presenting you with information so you can make your own decisions. I personally chose to drink the brand GT kombucha because it listed the amount of sugar as being very low (2 grams per half the bottle), and because it's raw organic. What I failed to recognize when reading the label on the back of the bottle was that the total amount of carbohydrates it contained were 7 grams per half the bottle, that's 14 grams of carbohydrates per bottle, with 4 grams of sugar per whole bottle. If the bottle has a discrepancy of 10 grams of carbohydrate that need to be accounted for, where are they coming from?
In order to have carbohydrates present, there needs to be starch, fibre, sugar or alcohol, and since kombucha contains no fibre or starch, where are the other 10 grams of carbohydrate coming from?
This question was not so easily answered when I started to dig a little deeper into the GT label. If you've drank a bottle of GT, you know that in the label it lists its ingredients with the last ingredient being "100% pure love". Love is all well and good, but not really a legitimate ingredient to put on the back of a label that meets an form of food standard (even though the FDA classifies some pretty terrible ingredients as "safe"). If love can be listed on the ingredient label, it would suggest that accuracy and regulation aren't really being taken too seriously. Love may give you butterflies and think "oh that's a nice ingredient", but all I wanted to know was how much alcohol I was consuming, and how much sugar each bottle contained.
The answer to those two questions are dependant on a number of factors including:
-The amount of time each batch ferments
-Whether it's raw or pasteurized
-Whether it's kept in the fridge or stored on the shelf
-If other sugar has been added in another form (fruit juice, cane juice, agave, etc.)
Each one of these factors have an effect on the amount of alcohol each bottle of kombucha has specifically, as well as the amount of sugar it contains. As I continued to read about kombucha and it's brewing methods, safety and efficacy, I found a very interesting article about the health food store Whole Foods, pulling all kombucha off their shelves due to some of the drinks containing upwards of 3% alcohol, which is as much as a typical beer! Because GT is a raw kombucha, it is naturally going to be higher in alcohol, but because it's refrigerated, it would contain less alcohol than kombucha that sits out of the fridge.
So how much alcohol does kombucha contain?
All of the evidence I found supporting kombucha as a non-alcoholic beverage was negligible to say the least. All kombucha contains alcohol to some degree, and every bottle that's on the store shelves can contain anywhere from .5%-3%, and in some cases even more, including GT. I personally don't consider .5% as being a "trace amount" of alcohol, especially since I don't want to consume any alcohol as a part of a healthy lifestyle.
As someone who doesn't want to consume alcohol on a daily basis and realizing that i was indeed doing so, I was pretty shocked. I guess when I read "trace amounts", I believed it to be just that. When I looked up kombucha and pregnancy, the professional information (not a health or food blogger, but clinical advice), was to steer clear. Not only does kombucha potentially contain enough alcohol to put the fetus at risk, but it can contain contaminated bacteria (especially when brewed at home or consumed raw) which can be fatal to both the mother and the baby.
Along with other serious health risks of drinking kombucha, especially those who suffer from a weakened immune system (so much for the immune support health claim), drinking kombucha when you're pregnant or breastfeeding is very risky. If it's not good for a pregnant woman to consume, is it really good for anyone?
Ok, so that's the alcohol bit out of the equation, but what about those pesky unaccounted for carbohydrates within each bottle? Like I mentioned earlier, if the bottle contains 14 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of sugar, and contains no fibre or starch, where does the other 10 grams of carbohydrate come from?
Like I said, kombucha contains no fibre or starch so that would lead me to believe that the 10 grams of carbohydrate unaccounted for is coming from one of two sources, sugar or alcohol. Regardless of the source, I'm not interested in drinking either. I'm not a fan of sugar consumption, especially in liquid form, and I'm not a fan of alcohol. So here's where I ended up, I'm either consuming a sugary beverage, which is addictive and damaging in itself, or I'm drinking a sugary alcoholic beverage, which is addictive and damaging in itself. Whatever the case may be, I chose to stop consuming kombucha.
Whatever health claims it may have are not actually clinically supported and do not, in my opinion, outweigh the risks that could be associated with its consumption. If you don't want to consume sugar or alcohol, kombucha is probably not the best drink for you. If you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system, kombucha is definitely not recommended.
If kombucha contains alcohol, is it safe for recovering alcoholics? This question came up over and over again in my search to find the truth behind the ingredient label. Most sites said no, because even .5% is not nothing for an alcoholic. Although it's going to vary from person to person and will effect different people depending on their recovery, the answer isn't clear and will be dependant upon the individual.
What I do know is that I've been obsessed with kombucha, feeling the need to drink it everyday, and spending at least 80.00-100.00 per month on it. Did I drink kombucha so religiously because of the health benefits it claimed to have, or was I in a way addicted to it's sugary, alcoholic nature? Most likely both. I initially began drinking kombucha because of its health claims, and particularly, because of its benefits for improved gut health. Since I stopped drinking it, I haven't experienced any digestive complaints though, and nothing feels different other than the fact that I'm knowingly not consuming as much sugar per week.
I Personally think that the amount of sugar contained in each bottle is the driving factor that keeps people reaching for more. Because kombucha is sweetened with juice to mask its extremely vinegary taste, it's really like consuming a sugary sweetened beverage of any sort. Sugar is sugar, no matter what you call it. Cane juice crystals, raw can sugar, beet sugar, agave...it all has the same effect inside your body, and more importantly, inside your liver.
Sugar has been proven to be one of the most addictive substances on the planet, and is the root cause of metabolic disease that's so prevalent in todays society. Regardless of the amount of alcohol you're consuming within each bottle, the amount of sugar you'll invariably be ingesting (in liquid form which is the worst metabolically), will be higher than most health conscious people would like it to be. The reason many people drink GT is because it claims to have a low sugar content, while other brands of kombucha can contain upwards of 20 grams of sugar per bottle! But again, where are the other 10 grams of carbohydrate coming from in the GT bottle? Is there more sugar than it claims to have?
So there you have it. These are my findings, this is the research that's out there, and those are my opinions. Whether you choose to consume kombucha or not is a personal choice, but realizing that even the kombucha making business is a multi-billion dollar industry that needs to be objectively looked at from every angle will ensure you're not simply following a trend just because someone told you to consume something. Business is business, and if business is good, corners are usually going to get cut somewhere when it comes to the food industry, health food or not.
What are your thoughts? Do you think kombucha is the magic elixir it claims to be, or is it just another form of pop for the health conscious?