Lining the cold drink aisle at your local grocery store, you'll find the newest and most popular way to consume probiotics called kombucha. This fermented tea drink is low in calories and designed to be high in probiotics that are "good" bacteria beneficial for your health.
A study from the National Institutes of Health suggests that incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet can help aid in your gut's ability to communicate with the brain. There are also positive results in neurological, developmental and behavioral treatments, as well as benefits to overall digestive and immune health.
So is kombucha the best way to consume your probiotics?
Kai Peyrefitte, CEC, CCE, executive chef at Sharp Coronado Hospital, shares his thoughts on these flavored, fizzy drinks. "The commercially made probiotic drinks that I have analyzed have very healthy ingredients," he says.
According to Peyrefitte, there is some debate on how effective commercially made probiotic drinks actually are. "Questions such as the live populations at time of consumption in kombucha drinks have raised concerns," says Peyrefitte.
"It can't hurt to drink them anyway, even if the impact is more minimal."
"Probiotic drinks and foods are made through a fermentation process," says Peyrefitte. "The live 'good' bacteria that is developed during the process is the probiotic."
He recommends fresh probiotic drinks such as homemade smoothies, if you are looking to get a higher dose of probiotics. He sweetens his smoothies with natural sweeteners such as raw honey, berries and other fruit.
Other naturally fermented products you may not know have some probiotics in them are kimchee, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, miso, yogurt, tempeh and apple cider vinegar.
When consuming and making your own probiotics, Peyrefitte recommends:
- Consuming probiotics with a meal containing fat for maximum efficiency.
- Listening to your body and cutting back if you have uncomfortable symptoms.
- Keeping your probiotics under 120 degrees, because they become ineffective if cooked.
- Making small batches so they can be consumed quickly. The longer in storage, the less effective.
"Probiotics are fairly easy to make," says Peyrefitte. "Properly sanitized equipment is important, as is washing all of your ingredients completely."
While there are few long-term studies on the benefits of drinking probiotic-rich fermented drinks like kombucha, probiotics have shown to be effective with diarrhea, immune health, gastroenteritis, induced C. diff. and relapse of inflammatory bowel disease. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor before drinking kombucha.
Although there is no definitive research on the benefits of drinking kombucha to consume your probiotics, Chef Kai believes that there are no negatives to consuming a healthy amount of probiotics in whichever form you prefer to balance your gut bacteria.
The next time you are looking to add probiotics to your diet, remember that making kombucha at home is both less than half the price of the store variety and only takes a clean glass jar, tea bags, a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), a coffee filter and a rubber band. You can purchase a fresh scoby or ask a friend who brews kombucha to share.
Remember though that fermentation takes time, so patience is key.
Yields 1 gallon
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 quarts water
8 bags black tea, green tea (or 2 tablespoons loose tea)
2 cups starter from the last batch or store-bought kombucha
1 scoby per fermentation jar
Optional: 2 cups fresh chopped fruit or juice
Boil water, stir in the sugar and dissolve. Add the tea and steep to room temperature. Place in cooler until cold. Strain or remove the tea bags. Add the starter tea.
Transfer into jars and add the scoby. Cover the top of the jar with a coffee filter. Allow to ferment for 7 to 10 days at room temperature out of the sunlight. Begin to taste it after 7 days.
Once it is at the desired sweetness, remove the scoby. Bottle and refrigerate.
For the media: To talk with Chef Kai about probiotic foods, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com or 858-499-3052.