Addicted to Store Kombucha? Here’s Why …Updated: December 23, 2016Kombucha
Back in early 2012, I wrote an article about how kombucha can be helpful to rebalancing the microbiota in the gut and does not flare up candida for most people who tend to struggle with this issue.
Since then, however, there have been some drastic changes to the kombucha industry that needed to be analyzed, so I thought I would take a few lines to write about this.
If you are a store kombucha fan, you will definitely want to take note of this!
You almost have to be living under a rock to not have heard about kombucha these days. It is everywhere with at least seven brands available in stores in my local area alone. Kombucha is a hot seller even for the largest supermarket chain here in Florida, which does make car trips convenient as you can always pick up a bottle no matter where you are traveling around the state. In addition, there are at least two locally brewed kombuchas in my city, which is a positive development because you can not only enjoy the benefits of this traditional beverage, but also support the community too.
For those of you who may have not noticed this hot trend in the bottled beverage business, kombucha is a traditional Russian drink that is made from fermenting plain black tea (or a combination of black and green tea) and sugar. It has been consumed for hundreds of years and, through extensive testing in Russia, proven to be an effective overall detoxifier through the binding of the beneficial organic acids in the kombucha to toxins present in the body. Once tightly bound to the organic acids, the toxins are then rushed to the kidneys for excretion.
A similar drink made with green tea and honey is called Jun Tea also referred to by its fans as kombucha champagne.
At the time I wrote the article about kombucha and yeast infections, I claimed that drinking kombucha would likely not aggravate the situation. This is because rebalancing of the gut environment not only requires an infusion of beneficial microbes to crowd out the pathogens, but also involves die-off of possibly large amounts of pathogens which can cause symptoms to flare up temporarily. This sometimes confuses people into thinking that adopting a regimen of consuming fermented drinks is making them worse, not better.
This short term aggravation of symptoms is referred to as “a healing crisis” and is sometimes necessary if improvement in the gut environment is to occur over the long term. A healing crisis can occur not only with kombucha, but with other fermented beverages and foods such as kefir, yogurt or sauerkraut. It can also be triggered by taking a therapeutic strength probiotic supplement for the first time.
While all of this information certainly remains true as much today as it did in 2012, something very fundamental has changed with regard to kombucha consumption.
Kombucha has now become a commercialized, highly popular soda type drink frequently sweetened with fruit juice and even sugar added post-fermentation!
You see, back when I wrote that original post in 2012, there were few if any commercial kombucha brands that contained added sugar or processed fruit juice. Plain kombucha contains little sugar as most of it is fermented away during the brewing process. However, the majority of the commercial kombucha on the market today is flavored and sweetened which most definitely adds a candida risk to those who consume them regularly.
Let me give you an example. Kevita is a very popular brand of kombucha carried by Whole Foods and other healthfood stores (not to be confused with Kevita’s line of plain probiotic drinks). However, I’ve never even seen a plain Kevita kombucha. Why? Probably because they don’t sell well in comparison to the flavored and sweetened ones. Checking the Kevita website indicates the same with six kombucha flavors listed.
Warning: Kevita Adds a Big Hit of Caffeine to Some Flavors
One of my favorite Kevita kombucha flavors is the Pineapple Peach (the Kevita kombucha pictured above is a different flavor – lavender melon). Checking the ingredients, one could easily be misled into thinking that there is little sugar since stevia leaf extract is listed under the ingredients. However, if you check the nutrition label, there are 16 grams of sugar in every bottle (8 grams per serving with two servings per bottle). Why there is so much sugar is in there is beyond me because close examination of the ingredients doesn’t indicate any added sugar or fruit juice – only pineapple flavor, peach flavor and ginger extract.
Not only is there a whopping 4 teaspoons of sugar per bottle, 80 milligrams of caffeine is added via green coffee beans (1). Yikes! That’s nearly as much as a brewed cup of coffee. Don’t give this to a child thinking it is a healthier alternative!
When I found all this out, needless to say, I stopped buying it! You see, one of the benefits of drinking plain kombucha is that the caffeine and sugar are fermented away to a large extent. What good does it do your health if you add it back in and get the sugar and caffeine hit that you are trying to avoid in the first place?
As a comparison, if you take a look at GTs original, raw kombucha (plain), there are only 4 grams of sugar listed for the entire 16 oz bottle (2 grams per 8 oz serving). This is only one teaspoon of sugar versus the flavored Kevitas which have four times this amount plus some flavors that have a mega hit of caffeine too.
Which Commercial Kombuchas Won’t Aggravate Yeast?
After examining the seven brands of flavored kombuchas available in my area, a pattern clearly emerged. The most sugary brand I examined was Reed’s which contained 11 grams of sugar for an 8 ounce serving. The sugar is primarily from added fruit juice. Below is a chart which summarizes the kombucha brands I examined and the sugar content per bottle and per 8 ounce serving.
Note that the sugar content of G.T’s varies widely, from as little as 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz to as much as 10 grams. Based on this chart, the only brands I would consider worthy of consuming everyday if you don’t make plain kombucha yourself would be High Country Kombucha (every flavor I checked was low sugar) and G.T.’s Kombucha (plain, Trilogy and possibly a few other flavors) that have 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz. Be sure to double check your favorite flavors before assuming the worst! Other brands would be fine as a treat occasionally, but not an everyday indulgence, which is unfortunately how many people are drinking them!
As a final caution, watch out also for the many other brands of probiotic drinks that aren’t kombucha but are marketed as probiotic beverages. Many of these are very high in sugar as well and also may contain stealthily added caffeine!
Some Flavored Kombuchas DO Pose a Candida Risk
In summary, the point is that plain kombucha that is properly fermented for at least seven days is not going to cause a problem for those who suffer from candida overgrowth in the gut or are prone to yeast infections or thrush. The sugar remaining in plain kombucha is minimal, so drinking it in moderation is fine although some might initially experience a bit of a healing crisis from the introduction of probiotics into the intestinal tract from this healthful fermented beverage.
However, if the flavored kombuchas are your thing, watch out! The amount of sugar in these bottles which are typically 12-16 oz is significant and can easily trigger a candida attack for those who are susceptible. Sticking with plain or better still, brewing kombucha yourself is the best bet for enjoying this delicious, healthful and bubbly beverage with all the benefits and none of the downside.
More Kombucha Label Standards Coming
Let me throw yet another wrench in the works.
The most confusing aspect of sugar labeling for kombucha seems to be the inconsistency between and even within the same manufacturer. For example, how could GT’s Plain kombucha contain the same number of sugar grams per serving as GT’s Trilogy flavor which is decidedly more sweet?
For answers on this, I turned to my friend Hannah Crum, also known as the Kombucha Mamma. She and her husband Alex own Kombucha Kamp, an online, one-stop shop for all your kombucha supply needs.
When I asked Hannah about the true amount of sugar in bottled commercial brands, she said that the kombucha trade association is just beginning the process of tackling this issue as an industry. Eventually, the goal is to have a KBI Verified Program which will provide a seal that verifies to the consumer that what is on the kombucha label is actually IN the bottle.
The truth is that the current method of testing sugar in kombucha is outdated. Most manufacturers are taking a Brix reading which is the simple measurement of sucrose dissolved in solution. However, the brix reading also includes organic acids and dissolved solids which incorrectly skews the number higher. This works well in the beer and wine industry because these products do not also have the action of the probiotic bacteria converting sugars to healthy acids. In the future, the hope is that a more accurate way to determine sugar content in kombucha will be utilized through High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) performed by an independent, third party lab.
So, for now, know that flavored kombuchas are indeed higher in sugar than plain kombucha and that they can indeed trigger candida problems if you are not careful. Always listen to your body, and if a drink seems like it has a lot of sugar in it, chances are it does.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
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