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Three glass bottles filled with kombucha.

This trendy tea has had quite the buzz around it as of late. But there are still many questions that surround it: How do you pronounce it? What is it? Should you be drinking it for health? Or even for weight loss?

What most people don’t realize is that kombucha has actually been around for more than 2,000 years. However, it was only recently that this ancient practice of fermenting tea gained popularity — somewhat for its uniqueness, partially for its potential health properties, and also because it’s quite easy to make yourself.

Let’s take a closer look at the beverage — and what all the buzz is about.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented beverage, made from four ingredients: black or green tea, bacteria, yeast, and sugar. To turn this added-sugar-beverage into one that’s more health-boosting, a bit of time is needed for the ingredients to work their magic.

It happens like this: The drink starts with tea as its base. Sugar is then added, as are bacteria and yeast. The bacteria and yeast use the sugar as their food/fuel, which facilitates the fermentation process and forms a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY typically floats to the top of the liquid and forms a flat, spongy substance that resembles a mushroom or pancake.

After a few days to a month, the tea is transformed into kombucha and is ready to drink. The longer it sits, the more the sugar is fermented. A longer fermentation time yields less sugar and more of a vinegary bite to the kombucha. The final product is a carbonated, slightly sweet yet somewhat tart, refreshing fermented beverage.

What makes kombucha healthy?

Organic, raw kombucha is unpasteurized and is often an acquired taste — its distinct earthy and tart taste and vinegar-like smell is a bit different than what most of us are accustomed to drinking, but the health benefits it can provide are well worth giving it a try.

You might have heard some of kombucha’s “benefits” thrown around: These claims range from increasing energy to remedying hair loss to preventing cancer. The key word there is “claims” — the verdict is still out on most of them and more scientific research studies need to be done. However, the ingredients and process used to make the beverage do tout their own benefits.

The final product of kombucha contains B vitamins, probiotics, enzymes, antioxidants, glucosamine, and certain acids — all of which can provide health-boosting properties. It’s these components that aid in things like preserving cartilage structure and preventing joint degeneration, helping the body’s natural detoxification processes, fighting free radical damage, and improving gut health and digestion.

Does kombucha help with weight loss?

You may be thinking, “Kombucha has sugar in it. How could that be helpful for weight loss?”

It’s important to note that approximately 90 percent of the sugar that’s initially included is used up during the fermentation process. Remember, it’s the sugar that the yeast and bacteria eat, similar to what happens in making bread, wine, or beer. Therefore, if you’re drinking kombucha in its raw, organic form, it’s far from the other sugar-laden drinks you might otherwise be consuming — and could serve as a great alternative to soda or fruit juice.

One of the most beneficial elements to kombucha is its probiotic content, or its offering of “good” bacteria. Nearly every single cell in our body relies on bacteria. And when the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut is unbalanced (this is called dysbiosis), our health can become compromised. Cravings, candida, food sensitivities, bloating, poor bowel movements, and skin issues are just a few of the problems that can result from dysbiosis.

A healthy gut flora and properly functioning digestive tract can both positively impact your overall health, but also your weight-loss efforts. More and more research studies are showing the correlation between the gut microbiome and obesity and weight loss.

A balance of proper gut bacteria aids in digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall metabolism. When our body is functioning optimally (which it can’t do without a proper balance of gut bacteria), it’s more efficient at burning fat.

The acid in kombucha, such as acetic acid, can offer health and weight-loss benefits as well. Acetic acid is the component in kombucha that gives it its vinegar-like taste, but more importantly, it has been shown to positively impact insulin sensitivity and help reduce fasting blood sugars.

This acid may interfere with the breakdown of sugar and starches consumed, and therefore lessen their impact on blood glucose. While your ability to lose weight is impacted by many factors, glucose and blood-sugar regulation directly impacts your body’s ability to utilize fat as fuel rather than storing it.

Some people also feel a slight increase in energy after consuming kombucha, which may be attributed to the caffeine content, and find it helpful to drink prior to exercise to provide a little boost. Others find it useful to quell their sweet tooth.

While kombucha can aid in overall health and may even assist with your weight-loss efforts, it’s not a magic pill or weight-loss potion. An 8-ounce glass a few times a week can be beneficial to add to your routine, but there’s no need to go overboard.

What should I watch out for?

As with many other “healthy” products, there are typically always varieties that make positive health claims on their labels, but on closer look, also add in artificial colors and sweeteners, excess sugar, or other ingredients that far negate its intended benefits.

This is especially true for a drink like kombucha, where the natural flavor isn’t exactly an immediate thirst-quencher for all. It’s often common practice for manufacturers to add unhealthy (but tasty) ingredients to make it more appealing.

Look for varieties that are organic and contain minimal sugar (usually around 4 to 6 grams or less), and that don’t contain any added artificial ingredients, such as sweeteners or colors. Some manufacturers will add sugar and juice once the fermentation process is complete, which drives up the final sugar content. Also know that while the unpasteurized forms often contain more live probiotics, it’s important to first consult with your doctor to confirm if it’s a safe option for you.

Also note: Many of the bottles you may purchase at the store are generally two servings. Therefore, you may not only be consuming added sugars, but also in a double dose.

Can I make my own kombucha?

While this beverage may sound crazier than your average recipe, it’s actually quite simple to make at home and only requires a few ingredients. Since most retail stores charge anywhere from $3 to $6 per bottle, making a homemade brew can be both a fun and cost-effective way to reap the drink’s benefits.

With any homebrews, mindful health and safety practices are critical in producing a healthy and safe beverage to consume. People who have compromised immune systems should be careful with homemade kombucha consumption as contamination is possible, and there is also the potential for the yeast to grow bacteria that may be harmful for those individuals. Women who are either pregnant or nursing should also consult with their doctor before consuming.

To brew your own kombucha, you’ll need to either purchase a starter kit and order a SCOBY. Or, if you know someone else who brews kombucha, you can use a “kombucha baby” culture from a “mother” SCOBY. The other two ingredients, tea and sugar, can be found in any grocery store. As far as the how-to, you can easily navigate this using the directions that come with your starter kit or by doing a quick internet search. However, here are a couple of helpful hints:

  • During fermentation, put the container in a corner of your counter or another spot where it won’t be disturbed and can ferment for about a week.
  • The longer the fermentation time, the more acids are produced, and therefore the more of a vinegar-like taste you’ll get. You can also try adding fruit to your kombucha batch at the necessary stage for a fruit-infused flavor, such as blueberry or watermelon, or even herbs like mint.
  • When you brew your own kombucha, the SCOBY that forms on top has layers. If you’re interested in continuing to brew your own batches, peel off a layer to start your next batch (this is the “kombucha baby”). Store the SCOBY submerged in kombucha in a glass or ceramic container in the refrigerator.

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

The Life Time Health Team

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