What Is kombucha?
The inner workings of your digestive system have been shown to have a major effect on your overall health. An efficient digestive process can provide more energy in your day-to-day activities and a higher quality of life. A sluggish digestive system, on the other hand, can spell trouble in more ways than one.
Bloating, painful abdominal cramps, hemorrhoids, and nausea can all result from a slow or underperforming digestive system. People who have digestive issues or simply want to keep things moving can benefit from adding probiotics into their diet.
Kefir and kombucha are two gut-healthy drinks that have been around for a while. They’re each made with a blend of fermented yeast or bacteria that changes the bacterial composition of the drink, turning it into a substance that can help alleviate bloating and speed along your digestion.
Kombucha is a fermented, tea-based drink. It can be green, brown, or cloudy. Sometimes, flavored options come in different colors.
Production starts with a base of black or green tea and an active mix of bacteria and yeast, or “starter,” that is added. The mixture is left to ferment for about a week or longer, and then it’s ready to drink.
While the kombucha is fermenting, it will produce gasses. That makes the drink carbonated. It’s also possible that there will be very small or trace amounts of alcohol in a bottle of kombucha that develop during the fermentation process.
Kombucha has also been called mushroom tea, but there are no actual mushrooms in a bottle of kombucha. It was given that nickname because of a thin film that develops on the top of the tea during the fermentation process.
There’s another name for this film. It’s also called SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and it appears after every successful fermentation. Once you have this film, it can be used to make more kombucha as the starter.
Kombucha contains yeast, bacteria, and acids that can help contribute to a healthy digestive system.
What Is kefir?
Kefir is a fermented drink traditionally made from a base of milk. It can also be made from water, though that’s less common. It originated on the Caucasus mountain. Today, it’s a dietary staple in Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia, and Russian cultures.
Kefir is fermented by using a variety of yeasts and bacteria. It is made from sheep’s milk, camel milk, soy milk, goat milk, or even buffalo. Most commonly, you’ll find it made from cow’s milk in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
Originally, this drink was made using kefir grains. These look like small, white cauliflower-like pieces that carry a culture of bacteria and yeast. This method is sometimes still used in small batches or home production.
More recently, these cultures have been isolated from the grains and are used to create a more consistent commercial product.
Kefir is characterized by a slightly tangy taste similar to yogurt. It can also be a little carbonated and might contain trace amounts of alcohol. You can think of it as a thin yogurt drink.
Benefits of kombucha
This tea-based drink definitely has a few notable health benefits.
Reap the health benefits of tea. Green tea is known to be one of the healthiest things you can drink. Add proper fermentation to that, and you’ve got yourself a healthy powerhouse in a bottle. Adding green tea to your diet can help improve mental alertness, improve digestion, promote weight loss, and reduce headaches.
Decrease inflammation. Plant compounds native to kombucha can actually help decrease inflammation in your body. The fermentation process can even boost the power of these compounds.
Antioxidant boost. You’ll benefit from the extra dose of antioxidants that are naturally present in kombucha.
Help give you a mini detox. Kombucha has fermented acid in it, which can help explain that slight whiff of vinegar you encounter when you open a bottle. The fermented acetic acid works wonders against bad bacteria in your digestive tract. It even helps to detox the liver.
Could help improve cholesterol. Studies show that green tea can help improve your cholesterol levels. That in turn can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Benefits of kefir
Kefir is a great source of nutrients and contributes to your gut health. Thanks to the new flavors available, it can be worked into the diet of even the pickiest eater. Even if you are sensitive to dairy, you will be able to enjoy this drink.
Better than yogurt. Yogurt gets lots of clout as a prestigious probiotic, but it pales in comparison to the benefits of kefir. Kefir has more than 50 different types of beneficial bacteria and yeast inside. Yogurt is often limited to just “good” bacteria and no yeast. Drinking kefir will give your digestive system more of a boost. Bring a bottle along when you leave the house and enjoy a satisfying, refreshing snack.
High nutritional value. Kefir offers protein, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B2 and B12, magnesium, and phosphorus. There are only about 100 calories in one cup of low-fat kefir.
Low lactose content. People with lactose sensitivity can still enjoy kefir. Studies show that people with a lactose allergy have a lower level of reaction or no reaction at all to kefir.
Helps ease digestive issues. Eating probiotic foods like kefir can change your gut bacteria for the better. It can help food pass more smoothly through your digestive tract and help prevent or treat an upset stomach.
Can help reduce allergic reactions. Early studies have shown that consuming kefir can reduce allergic reactions, as well as asthmatic reactions. These studies have specifically studied the effect of kefir on non-human animals, but the early research is promising.
Which drink is better for you?
Both kombucha and kefir are strong digestive aids, each with their own host of benefits. You can enjoy the benefits of both drinks in moderation.
It all comes down to your individual needs and dietary requirements. If you’re highly allergic to lactose, trying kombucha or a water-based kefir could be a better choice for you in order to avoid dairy.
Keep in mind that although these drinks aren’t new, the research centered around them is just beginning. More research is needed to find out all the benefits and shortfalls. Your doctor or a licensed nutritionist who you’re receiving treatment from is the only person who can confidently tell you which drink is the better choice for your diet.
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You shouldn’t drink more than four ounces of kombucha 1 to 3 times per day. That means you can divide the amount in a store-bought bottle and finish it over the course of a few days.
Overdoing it on kombucha or other probiotic drinks could lead to more intestinal issues than you started with, though. It can also cause headaches and nausea.
Some specific groups of people are advised to not drink kombucha:
- Pregnant people
- People with liver disease
- People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- People with diseased kidneys
- People with compromised immune systems
- People with a dependency on alcohol
Be aware that whenever you consume probiotics or something that affects your gut, unexpected reactions can occur. That includes allergic reactions. Proceed with caution, and consult your doctor first.
It’s not uncommon for you to have irregular digestive activity like mild bloating or cramps when you first start probiotics.
Because probiotic drinks contain active yeast and bacteria, be cautious before you sip. Certain smells can be a giveaway that something isn’t right. Doing a quick sniff test before drinking could go a long way in helping you avoid sickness.
An overly acidic or nail-polish-like smell in a bottle of kombucha could mean there’s a chemical imbalance in the bottle or that the fermentation didn’t go right.
The best way to avoid this is getting your fermented drinks from a reliable source. Homemade products or products made without supervision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aren’t regularly inspected and have more potential to become hazardous.
Fermentation at Home
If you love DIY, you’ve probably thought about making kombucha or kefir at home. Here are a few things to be aware of:
- Always use pasteurized milk and dairy. Doing so will ensure that harmful microorganisms and germs stay out of your food.
- Keep a sanitary and sterile environment. Make sure your cooking utensils and storage jars are clean before you put your mixtures inside.
- Use glass or other non-porous containers for storage. Clay can sometimes allow its native substances to seep into your mixture and contaminate it.
- Avoid starting your fermentation process with a questionable starter. Buy it from a reputable company.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
BMC complementary and alternative medicine: "Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats."
Brazilian Journal of Microbiology: "Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage."
Cleveland Clinic: "What Are Kombucha's Health Benefits (and How Much Can You Safely Drink)?"
Food microbiology: "Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples."
Frontiers in Microbiology: "The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir."
Immunobiology: "Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects of kefir in a mouse asthma model."
International Journal of Food Microbiology: "Kombucha tea fermentation: Microbial and biochemical dynamics."
Journal of the American Dietetic Association: "Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion."
Mayo Clinic: "What is kefir? – Mayo Clinic Minute."
Mycoses: "The yeast spectrum of the 'tea fungus Kombucha'."
NIH, NICCIH: "Green Tea."
Osmosis: "Lazy Bowel Syndrome."
USDA: "Kefir, lowfat, plain, LIFEWAY."
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