Kombucha: What is it and does it work?

Kombucha is the unusual beverage that's taken the world by storm, but is it something over-60s should be drinking? Source: Getty

When it comes to managing gut health, kombucha is the latest trend taking the health world by storm, popping up in health stores, cafes and supermarkets. The sparkly, fermented tea originated in China thousands of years ago and has been shown to improve gut health, which plays a vital role in our overall health by reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Interestingly, Kombucha is the fastest growing drink category in Australia as people look for healthier alternatives to soft drinks, alcohol and fruit juices.

“If you’re going to pick kombucha over either of those other drinks, you’re definitely going to get health benefits,” Dr Joanna McMillan, nutrition scientist and dietitian, tells Starts at 60.

What is kombucha?

Made from tea and sugar, the fermentation process of kombucha creates live bacteria and other microorganisms which feed on the sugar. This creates a potent combination of organic acids, which are good for gut health because they improve nutrient digestibility and encourage gut enzyme activity.

Tea is the key ingredient here as it contains polyphenols — compounds found in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties to improve digestion issues, cardiovascular diseases and assist with diabetes, weight management and neurodegenerative disease.

“Those polyphenols and potentially the live bacteria that are present in a properly made kombucha can actually help us to support a healthy microbiome [all of the genetic material within the collection of microorganisms in the gut],” McMillan says.

Kombucha is a healthier alternative to soft drinks, fruit juices and alcohol.
Kombucha is a healthier alternative to soft drinks, fruit juices and alcohol. Source: Pixabay

Can kombucha react with medications?

Unlike alcoholic beverages which cannot be mixed with medication, kombucha is generally safe and doens’t require people to seek medical advice before consumption.

“You wouldn’t want to be having too much of any kind of drink or food, but certainly having a serve a day is perfectly safe and there’s really no risk to anybody from having a drink like this,” McMillan says.

Kombucha is safe to consume for people taking medication.
Kombucha is safe to consume for people taking medication. Source: Pixabay

What makes a good kombucha?

Refrigeration stops fermentation from continuing and prevents the kombucha from tasting like vinegar. It also allows the live bacteria that benefit gut health to remain dormant. Kombucha being sold at room temperature or on a shelf isn’t likely to effective because the continuing fermentation process affects the live bacteria in the drink.

Before spending your hard-earned money on kombucha, check the label to see if you’re getting the real deal. Kombucha that uses live bacteria with low sugar levels of less than 5 grams per 100 millilitres and no artificial sweeteners is usually a sign of a traditional kombucha.

“Look for the ones that have got the lowest sugar, no added sweeteners and if it labels something about the particular strain of bacteria that’s being used, then that’s a good sign you’ve got a proper, traditional kombucha,” McMillan explains. “If you’re taking a proper kombucha that has a real probiotic in it, certainly there would benefit to having a glass a day.”

Read the label to ensure you're picking a kombucha that doesn't have added sugar.
Read the label to ensure you’re picking a kombucha that doesn’t have added sugar. Source: Pixabay

Read more: Feeling sluggish? The best ways to manage good gut health

What does it taste like?

While there are plenty of different flavours of kombucha on the market, a traditional kombucha has a tart and vinegary taste to it.

“In just a pure kombucha that is just fermented tea, a lot of the flavour is coming from the by-product of that fermentation in the drink,” McMillan says. “There’s a very fine line between getting the right point of fermentation because if you ferment away all of the sugar, you end up with quite a vinegary drink that’s not pleasant to drink.”

Too much sugar in the end product will essentially create a soft drink without health benefits and many drinks labelled as kombuchas aren’t actually the real deal because of added sweeteners and sugars to make the drink tastier and more appealing.

“That’s not what a proper, traditional kombucha is. There’s potentially ill-effects on our health from those things. It’s really important to look for a proper one,” McMillan says.

Read more: How to manage your changing gut health as you age

They may taste better but flavoured kombuchas usually have more sugars and sweeteners that won't be as healthy.
They may taste better but flavoured kombuchas usually have more sugars and sweeteners that won’t be as healthy. Source: Pixabay

Do you drink kombucha? Do you find it has a positive impact on your gut health?

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