Get all the gut-healthy benefits without the sugary side effects.
Kombucha, the carbonated fermented tea, is loaded with good-for-your-gut probiotics. But many brands of the stomach-settling beverage also pack hefty doses of sugar.
A 16-oz. bottle of O Organics Kombucha (the store brand of Safeway and Albertsons) contains 22 grams, California-based Búcha Live Kombucha rings in at 24 grams per 16 fl. oz., and Portland-based Kombucha Wonder Drink, takes the cake with between 20 and 24 grams in just 14 fl. oz.
That’s about three times too much sugar, says Dafna Chazin, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian who opts for kombuchas with around 8 grams of sweetener (or less) per bottle. (Be sure to read the label carefully, warns Chazin. “Many kombucha labels will list the amount of sugar per 8 fl. oz. but a small bottle typically contains 16 fl.oz.”).
To be clear, you shouldn’t be searching for a zero-sugar ‘booch, because the ingredient is actually essential to the fermentation process, says Chazin. The SCOBY colony (e.g. a mixture of yeast and bacteria that help ferment the tea) need to have enough sugar to sustain themselves during the fermentation process, which can last up to 30 days.
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During this time, the organisms produce acid, which is why sugar is added post-fermentation as well. “Otherwise it would be similar to drinking vinegar,” says Chazin.
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That said, there are certain brands that contain less of the sweet stuff than others.
When weighing your options, scan the ingredient list first, recommends Los Angeles-based registered dietitian Amanda Kozimor-Perrin. “If sugar is one of the first three ingredients, skip it,” she says.
Here, Chazin and Kozimor-Perrin share three fizzy beverages that make the cut.
This Los Angeles-based brand is Perrin’s “absolute favorite” low-sugar kombucha. “Sugar is the fifth ingredient out of seven, so it’s pretty far down the list,” she says. She favors the Ginger Lemon variety, which contains just 4 grams of sugar per 16 oz. bottle.
Other varieties of Health-Ade—like the crisp, slightly sweet Pink Lady Apple and refreshing Pomegranate—are similarly low-sugar, with just 6 grams per each 16 oz. bottle.
(www.health-ade.com; $4 for 16 oz.)
Note: Health-Ade has been accused of misrepresenting the amounts of sugar and alcohol in its products. Depending on the outcome, we may no longer be able to recommend this product. See the full news story here.
2) HOLY Kombucha
With 10 grams of sugar per 16 oz. bottle, this ‘booch is slightly sweeter than Chazin’s recommendation, but sugar is the fifth of nine ingredients on its label, so it meets the criteria for Kozimor-Perrin.
The Moondance variety—with hints of lemon, orange, ginger and tumeric—is particularly palate-pleasing.
(www.holykombucha.com; prices vary)
3) KeVita Probiotic Drink
Ok, so this technically isn’t kombucha (variances in production method differentiate kombucha from probiotic water) but the beverage does offer very similar health benefits, says Chazin. Like kombucha, it contains friendly probiotic bacteria that can aid in digestion, enhance overall immunity and prevent seasonal allergies and even the common cold. And with just 8 grams per 16-oz. bottle, it’s a safe low-sugar bet.
Chazin’s favorite variety: the Lime, Mint and Coconut. “It’s very refreshing!” she says.
(www.kevita.com/products/sparkling-probiotic-drink; $3 - $4 for 16 oz.)