Kombucha: Nutrition Facts, Health Benefits, and Dangers of This Fermented Tea
Kombucha tea is a star of the alternative medicine and health world. In fact, raw kombucha has long been used by the Chinese and other traditional medicine societies to cure diseases and ailments. This fermented tea is promoted as a healthy elixir that can treat everything from heart disease to diabetes and AIDS.
The health claims of kombucha tea aren’t always backed by studies or hard evidence. We’ve done the research for you to find health benefits of kombucha tea that are backed by science.
This handy guide will show you everything you need to know about kombucha tea. You’ll learn what it tastes like, how it’s made, and more about its nutrition facts. Discover what makes this tea so unique and uncover the health benefits and side effects.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea that typically uses green tea or black tea leaves, which are sweetened with sugar. The tea is made by combing bacteria and yeast strains with tea leaves and sugar. The mixture is then fermented to produce tangy kombucha. This tea is commonly known as mushroom tea, tea fungus, and Manchurian tea. The fermentation process results in a mild alcohol content and high levels of vitamins and minerals that are good for human health.
The fermented beverage is made using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, which is referred to as the mother or SCOBY. A SCOBY is a slimy, thick, and circular formation made up of microbial agents. The SCOBY typically consists of an acetic acid bacteria and a yeast—most commonly Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This produces a kombucha tea that contains living bacteria, which are also probiotic.
The entire kombucha fermentation process can last anywhere from seven to twelve days depending on room temperature and the bacteria strains used. During fermentation, the SCOBY uses up all of the sugar, meaning kombucha tea actually has a low amount of sugar in the final product. The SCOBY absorbs the sugar in the sweet tea and converts it into acids.
Kombucha can be brewed at home or purchased form a variety of health food stores including Whole Foods. For home brewing, it's typically stored in large glass jars and you can find bottled kombucha from name brands such as GT's Living Foods founded by GT Dave. You can also find kombucha tea bags from tea companies such as Yogi.
Kombucha tea is purported to be a healthy elixir that can cure a host of diseases and ailments. While we'll delve into these health claims in a minute, first it's important to go over the nutrition facts.
A six ounce serving of kombucha generally contains about three grams of carbohydrates, five milligrams of sodium, and three grams of sugar. This tea is also fat free and low in calories. Most kombucha tea also contains acetic acid, lactic acid, and good bacteria. Since kombucha is made using tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, it also contains high concentrations of the healthy antioxidant known as EGCG.
The fermentation process of kombucha tea makes it slightly effervescent. This probiotic tea offers a slightly vinegary flavor that is tart and tangy. The flavor can be strong for palettes that are accustomed to sweeter flavors. For this reason, many kombucha teas undergo a second fermentation process where they are sweetened with fruits, fruit juices, and herbs.
Health Benefits of Kombucha Tea
Kombucha is legendary when it comes to health claims and purported benefits. It's used everywhere from China and Japan to the United States and Russia thanks to its concentration of healthy bacteria. Advocates of the beverage claim it can cure or treat everything from AIDS to gout and rheumatism.
Medical studies are few and far between and most haven't shown the health benefits that many proponents claim. When drinking kombucha, it's important to note that many health benefits have not been proven in humans. The bottom line is that kombucha has good bacteria that offer some health benefits, but that doesn't mean it's a cure-all. Here are some kombucha health benefits that are backed by science.
1. Boosts Immune Health
Kombucha is packed with vitamins and good bacteria that boost the immune system. Since kombucha is made using green or black teas, it also contains antioxidants and vitamins—including B vitamins and vitamin C—which help fend off infections like the common cold and flu.
2. Aids Digestion
One of the most powerful kombucha benefits is its ability to streamline and improve digestion. This beverage is packed with healthy probiotics that help the body break down foods. Kombucha is a natural diuretic, meaning it helps flush out waste and toxins more quickly. Drinking kombucha may also prevent bacterial and fungal infections. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food points to the antioxidant activity of kombucha as the agent for protective digestive health benefits (1).
3. May Prevent Heart Disease
Kombucha made with true tea leaves may help protect heart health by lowering bad LDL cholesterol. A study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that green tea can reduce the risk of heart disease by more than 30 percent (2). While the study focused on brewed green tea, kombucha may still offer these health benefits when it is made using green tea leaves.
4. May Help Treat Diabetes
Drinking kombucha may help ease the symptoms of diabetes in certain patients. Most studies have been conducted on animals, but show promising evidence that needs to be confirmed in human trials.
A study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine examined the effects of kombucha in diabetic rats. Researchers found that kombucha was more effective than black tea in reducing blood glucose levels. These results were due to the fermented tea's ability to inhibit a-amylase and lipase activity. It was also shown to inhibit the absorption of bad cholesterol and triglycerides (3).
Dangers of Kombucha
Drinking kombucha is safe when consumed in mild amounts and when brewed properly. If you buy kombucha products from a health food store, you don't need to worry too much about its quality. If you are brewing kombucha at home, you need to use the right containers and prevent the mixture from being contaminated. Here, we'll go over a few things to watch out for.
Kombucha should NEVER be brewed in ceramic containers or those that use lead crystal or paint coatings. The acidic nature of kombucha can leach these chemicals into the tea mixture and cause lead poisonings. Don't use lead-glazed ceramic pots or pans at any point during the preparation process. Stick to clear, glass jars to ensure safety.
Drinking kombucha in excess can lead to high concentrations of acid in the human body known as acidosis. This can result in serious health problems including irregular heartbeat and death. Don't drink kombucha every day and make sure to keep all homebrews between a pH of 2.5 and 3.5.
People With Alcoholism
While kombucha is a naturally made tea, it does contain a small amount of alcohol—typically 0.5 percent. People who suffer from alcoholism should not drink kombucha.
For kombucha brewing at home, it's important to take steps to prevent contamination of the tea. Always use clean utensils and wash your hands liberally before and during the brewing process. Take particular care if you are going to store a kombucha SCOBY for future use. Always store the SCOBY at cooler temperatures—generally in the refrigerator—to prevent bacterial growth. Finished kombucha should always be stored in the refrigerator to prevent further fermentation and contamination of bad bacteria.
Kombucha tea is made by fermenting tea, sugar, and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The by-products of the fermentation process include organic acids, carbonation, and increased counts of good bacteria and microorganisms. While its purported health benefits are extensive, research has only confirmed a few of these potential benefits.
Whether you simply enjoy the flavor or are looking for a new healthy tea, kombucha is worth a taste. Make sure to consume in moderation and only drink high quality brews from brands you trust. If you choose to brew at home, follow the directions carefully to avoid contamination and negative side effects.