The Kombucha Health Drink Craze | Is It Actually Good for You?
Kombucha tea: the buzz about this fermented beverage seems to be everywhere these days. From grocery store samples to articles across the web, there’s no shortage of content promoting the benefits of this beverage. Most of the health benefits stem from the benefits kombucha potentially provides to our gut. Marketed as a health drink, kombucha can potentially kill harmful bacteria. It contains antioxidants and is a potential source of probiotics; the list of benefits goes on. Stop and think when reading these articles about the benefits that often come with words and phrases that include “can” and “may.” Like this: “Kombucha may provide the benefits of green tea” or “kombucha can kill bacteria.” Even the claim that kombucha “may reduce the risk of heart disease” is clouded by “may.” These non-definitive “potential” benefits make for a long list. But the actual studies and scientific evidence to back these claims are lacking. That isn’t to say kombucha and its fermented drink properties don’t have these benefits. We just need more scientific evidence to say this that these benefits are real.
Evidence indicating kombucha benefits has become complicated. So many different companies have jumped on the kombucha bandwagon. With an array of bottled choices and health claims, it’s also important to understand that no kombucha drink is created the same. Different flavors, varying ingredients, and the overall creation of kombucha fermented drinks change the impact the drink has on our body and our mouths. Two bottles of kombucha can be as different and diverse in their acidity and ingredients as orange juice is to soft drinks.
What Makes Kombucha So Unique?
The high acidity of kombucha makes it a unique beverage and gives it some perceived health benefits. But, not only does the level of acidity and pH level vary greatly from bottle to bottle and company to company, so does the sugar content. Acidity and sugar play a huge role in the health of our teeth and smile. Are you being cautious with your kombucha?
The primary ingredients used in traditional kombucha include water, tea leaves, sugar, and the “SCOBY.” SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast,” which is key to the fermentation process. The finished product melds flavors of tea and a slight vinegary taste.
Because the taste of vinegar isn’t everyone’s go-to, popular brands adjust the flavor by adding sugar to make it sweeter. They also add in artificial flavoring and juices that contain added sugar. Some companies do keep the natural flavor, making it a healthier option. That’s why it’s important to do your research.
Is Organic Kombucha Healthier?
“Organic” doesn’t necessarily imply that a product is healthy for our bodies or our teeth. Kombucha manufacturers pasteurize the beverage to keep it more “shelf-stable.” But pasteurizing kills the live bacteria in kombucha, destroying any probiotic benefits! Additionally, when it comes to our oral and overall health, the high levels of acidity and sugar can be harmful.
Sugar and Kombucha
Sugar content in kombucha varies quite a bit. Grab two kombucha brands off the shelf. You’ll notice the sugar content can be as low as two grams per serving. Or, it can be as high as 30 grams per serving! For some, the latter exceeds the recommended intake of sugar for an entire day (25g for women, 36g for men)! The bacteria in our mouths that create plaque and contribute to tooth decay feed on sugar. Sugar produces the plaque that forms on our teeth and leads to many oral health issues. These range from dental caries (or cavities) to gum disease (gingivitis).
It’s so important to read the ingredient labels of these drinks and pay close attention to the sugar content. Challenge yourself to make more informed decisions about what you’re consuming. With kombucha, it’s not just the sugar that causes problems for our smiles. It’s also the acidity levels in these drinks that can lead to other problems such as tooth decay.
Kombucha, Acidity, and Tooth Decay
The pH levels of most kombucha fall in a range of 2.5 to 3.5. For reference, white vinegar is around 2.4. This level of acidity paired with sugar can wreak havoc on our teeth if left alone. The probability of enamel erosion is much greater when we consume acidic beverages. It also leads to a higher probability of tooth decay if left untreated. Additionally, like coffee and tea, kombucha can stain your teeth.
According to Dr. Joseph Dill, vice president, dental science and network strategy for Delta Dental Plans Association, “As with all good things, moderation is the key. Kombucha is loaded with probiotics that are important for digestion and a healthy digestive tract. But, it’s also more acidic than water and can wear away the white enamel layer of one’s teeth. This makes them sensitive and more prone to decay. Over time, it can make your teeth appear brown.”
So, should you stop drinking kombucha? Absolutely not. But you can fight back the negative effects with a few easy tricks anyone can do.
If you drink Kombucha, here are a few ways that can help fight the problems it can potentially cause to your teeth and oral health:
- Know your brands. Read your labels and be wary of the ingredients and sugar content.
- Drink it in one sitting. Don’t sip on it over long periods of time. This gives the bacteria in your mouth more time to create problems for your teeth and gums.
- Use a straw. Position the straw behind your teeth when you suck to minimize the direct exposure to your teeth.
- Consume with food. Eating healthy food low in sugar can help remove some of the acid and sugars from your mouth before the bacteria has a chance to work.
- Drink Water too. Drinking water, preferably fluoridated water from the tap, can wash away much of the acid and sugars in your mouth. Even a quick rinsing with water can be beneficial.
We’re not advocating for everyone to stop drinking Kombucha by any means. We are saying to be diligent in reading labels for sugar content. Practice a few of the tricks that you can use to combat the negative effects that kombucha presents in your mouth. And as always, brush your teeth twice per day, and floss at least once to keep your teeth and smile happy.
Looking for more about some healthy food options, lifestyle choices, and recipes for good oral health? Click here.