Is Kombucha Actually Healthy?
It’s no secret that the health and fitness world operates based on the law of the ‘fad’. From fad diets, to fad exercise regimes, it seems like everywhere we look, there is another health expert claiming that XYZ product is the big new thing that will help you to be a healthier, happier human being.
As a health enthusiast myself, I am definitely not one to scoff at anything that has the ability to improve my general wellness, however it pays to be weary of what you are spending your money on and consider if the products you are buying are truly healthy, or simply just another health craze.
According to Auckland-based health expert, naturopath and medical herbalist, Lisa Fitzgibbon when it comes to health fads, it pays to be weary of the new kid on the block, Kombucha. “Kombucha [is a] a slightly sweet, subtly tart, fizzy, fermented tea,” Fitzgibbon explains. “It is made using tea leaves (dried camellia sinensis), table sugar, and water. A symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) is used to aid the fermentation process.”
While Kombucha is currently a favourite among health nuts and celebrities, Fitzgibbon says that people often overlook the fact that the drink contains caffeine. “It’s popular with some health conscious people who don’t drink coffee or tea, which is strange as Kombucha contains caffeine,” she says.
Aside from the caffeine, what actually is the deal with Kombucha? Is it actually good for us or is it simply just another fad?
Read the back of any Kombucha bottle and you’ll quickly learn that the drink’s claim to fame is in its fermented properties. According to Fitzgibbon, fermentation has a number of benefits including preserving food to prevent wastage, breaking down food so that nutrients are easier to absorb and supplying your gut with good bacteria.
However, Fitzgibbon says that it may pay to question what actually happens when you preserve tea… and if it has any real benefit at all. For starters, tea does not need to be fermented as, “camellia sinensis (the tea plant) is preserved when its leaves are dried.” Fitzgibbon also points out that unlike foods such as fermented cabbage, it is not necessary to ferment tea to break-down nutrients as adding hot water already does this.
Perhaps one of the biggest question marks lingering over the drink is the fact that Kombucha contains added sugar. “Aren’t we trying to discourage added sugar in our diets?” Fitzgibbon questions. “For some reason, people justify this by saying that Kombucha has a lot less sugar in it than what was initially added. You’re still adding more sugar than what would have been there in the first place.”
Overall, Fitzgibbon says that this does not make sense and goes against the whole idea of fermentation. “The idea of fermentation is that you use something that contains its own natural carbohydrate or ‘sugar’ (like fruit, veggies, and dairy products) and you end up reducing its overall sugar content,” she explains.
So the verdict? While there is no denying that eating fermented food can have fantastic health benefits, Fitzgibbon says that the magic drink may not be quite as good for us as we have been led to believe. “I think people just want this drink to be good for them. And who wouldn’t? It’s sweet. It’s flavoured. It’s fizzy,” she says.
However, it’s not all bad news. If you do love Kombucha, Fitzgibbon says that it could be a good substitute that is perhaps slightly better for you than other ‘treat’ drinks. “While I wouldn’t promote this drink for therapeutic use in my practice, I might suggest it as an occasional treat instead of having a ‘fizzy drink’ or alcoholic beverage,” she says.
If you want to incorporate fermented food into your diet, try eating foods that have been naturally fermented, such as sauerkraut.
Lisa Fitzgibbon is a naturopath and medical herbalist based in Grey Lynn in Auckland. For more information visit her website.
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