A jar of Kombucha
Can adding "mushroom tea" to your diet enhance your health? Here’s what you need to know about the most popular beverage at your local health food store.

When Jonathan Cox was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in his teens, his quest for better health led him to fermented foods and eventually kombucha, a bubbly fermented drink that promises to help balance the bacteria in your gut and lead to better health.

“It’s helped with a lot of things,” he said. “Usually autoimmune diseases can pop up with multiple symptoms, so things like sinus infections don’t happen as much as they used to. Your overall health is improved.”

It was a turning point for Cox. And after years of experimenting and brewing his own kombucha at home, he founded One Love Kombucha. The small Charleston-area company sells both bottled kombucha and SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast and can be used to make kombucha in your own home.

With its recent rise in popularity, many people know of kombucha and that it’s supposed to boost health. But not everyone understands how it’s made and how to get best health outcomes possible from it. So what exactly is this miracle drink that lines the shelves of health food stores and why is it so beneficial?

While some people refer to kombucha as “mushroom tea,” mushrooms are not one of the ingredients. It’s made with bacteria, yeast, sugar and green or black tea, which ferments, forming a mushroom-like film. The fermentation process creates something called a probiotic, which has been shown to help with digestion, inflammation and even weight loss.

Even though it’s made with black or green tea, it doesn’t taste much like tea — there’s a vinegar smell and the fermentation process creates fizzy bubbles, much like the carbonation in soda.

Not only can it help add to the good bacteria in your gut, it can also kill off the bad kind, helping with all sorts of digestive problems. And, of course, since other systems in the body are connected to gut health, the benefits can be far-reaching.

Just a few years ago, there weren’t very many different kinds of kombucha to choose from, but the drink has become so popular that there are many options popping up, created by local brewers as well as by bigger companies. Local coffee shops and breweries are even beginning to offer kombucha on tap. So how can you be sure you’re getting the right kind of kombucha for you?

“The best kombuchas are ones made in small batches that use local produce,” said Ali Anderson, a nutritional therapist at Island Health SC in Johns Island. “They are also raw and unpasteurized.”

Anderson said that while buying bottled versions from the store is a convenient way to experiment with different kinds and help your palate adjust to the taste of kombucha, making it at home is also a good option. Not only is making your own kombucha cheaper, it allows you to individualize it based on your health needs or tastes.

“Making it at home is a great way to control the flavor and sugar content,” she said.

Kristi Reid-Barton, a nutrition coach in Greenville, agreed and added that it’s important to get the freshest kombucha you can find — so check the expiration date on the bottle before buying it.

While the fermentation can be great for the gastrointestinal tract and get digestion back on track, Reid-Barton cautioned not to drink it on an empty stomach.

You also want to make sure your kombucha doesn’t have too much sugar, which certainly isn’t good for your health. Anderson recommended that her clients drink around 4 to 6 ounces of kombucha per day. She warned to steer clear of anything with more than 7 grams of sugar per serving.

In addition to the direct health benefits, Anderson said she’s seen clients who are able to kick their soda habit by switching out their sugary drinks for kombucha. Those types of lifestyle changes can amplify the benefits.

Whether you’re looking to get your digestion back on track, manage other health issues or just improve your overall health, it’s worth giving kombucha a try.

We’ll drink to that.

By Erica Rodefer Winters

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