Kombucha, shrub, and other non-alcoholic fermented beverages as alternatives to alcohol and soda are recently all the rage with claims for promoting gut and general health. But do they really help? While there is minimal evidence for any particular fermented beverage improving health there are at least a few lines of evidence that suggest there might be some benefit to fermented drinks. The benefits may be particularly salient if you’re replacing sugar and alcohol based drinks.
Gut Health: Fermented foods in general that include fermented teas like kombucha or fermented milk like kefir in a study out of Stanford University showed that increased consumption led to increases in gut microbiome diversity and decreases in body inflammation. Microbiome diversity in adults is considered a metric of health. What’s fascinating is it wasn’t microbes from the fermented foods that increased. Rather, it was microbes that may have already been present in the gut and increased to detectable levels as a result of being stimulated by the components in fermented foods.
Blood Sugar: Vinegar (aka acetic acid or acetate), a product of many fermentations including one of the main end products in kombucha has been shown to decrease the glycemic index of foods when consumed at the same time. Practically this means less insulin released, less stress on the pancreas, and less conversion of sugar to fat in adipose tissue. There has been a lot of talk about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, but it may simply be vinegar in general that’s driving any possible benefit.
Weight: Vinegar in some studies has been shown to decrease appetite. In a study of 175 overweight individuals in Japan, vinegar led to a modest decrease in body weight and a significant decrease in visceral (VFA), subcutaneous (SFA), and total fat (TFA) area. High doses (about 2 tbsp. vinegar in a beverage) led to the largest change, low doses (about 1 tbsp. in a beverage) led to an intermediate change, and placebo (lactic acid instead of vinegar in a beverage) led to no change. While the weight loss was modest, consider too the benefit of replacing high calorie alcohol and sugar-based drinks with a low calorie alternative.
So should you drink kombucha or other vinegar-based drinks? If you do, it’s best to have versions that don’t have a lot of sugar and that are consumed just before or along with meals to have the best potential for benefit. Consider them as an apéritif.
When the pre-dinner grumbles hit or the end of the day beverage cravings roll in, reach for a vinegar rather than alcohol or sugar based drink. For those looking for alternatives to beer, wine, and spirits, it’s a perfect mocktail substitute that satisfies the ritual and tickles the palate in a similar way.
Many can find a habit of daily kombuchas a bit spendy though so here is a thrifty alternative. It gives you infinite possible combinations that you can tailor to your own palate. It’s a variation on a shrub – a beverage that arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century.
EASY SHRUB RECIPE:
- Fancy glass of your choice
- Take a can of your favorite flavored sparkling water
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of honey & mix
- Enjoy on the rocks or off, with or without added berries for color
There are many different delicious versions and recipes of other shrubs that involve fermenting berry or fruit compotes over several days. Here’s a version from Academy of Culinary Nutrition. Have fun with the endless possibilities and enjoy!
SPECIAL NOTE: For those that signed up for the Smart Nutrition App wait list, please stay tuned. It’s release is anticipated shortly.