Kombucha not as beneficial for gut health as fruit and veg - researchers

Kombucha is often hailed as a health buff's best friend, with no-added nasties and gut-boosting bacteria to boot - but now, researchers say the trendy tonic may not be that beneficial.

The fermented fizzy drink has surged in popularity over recent years, with its perceived health benefits making it a staple for many on a wellness kick. The beverage contains probiotics, the live bacteria associated with better digestive health and improved gut function.

However, everyone is different - meaning everyone has a different bacterial makeup in their gut. Due to these vast disparities in individual gut health, researchers say the benefits of the bubbly brew are questionable. 

"It's still not clear whether just consuming a few specific bacteria in the drink [has] enough influence to change the microbes within our gut," Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) researcher Damien Belobrajdic told 7 News.

There are currently no studies on humans that examine the effects of kombucha. The only evidence available has been ascertained through animal-based and laboratory research.

"We don't have the evidence [as to] why one particular bacteria would be more beneficial than others," Belobrajdic told the outlet.

Instead, go back to basics and reap the benefits of a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, health experts advise.

A plant-based diet wins again

According to New Zealand's Heart Foundation, high-fibre foods such as legumes, beans, oats, quinoa, nuts and seeds have demonstrated a positive impact on gut health in a number of studies. 

Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt are also recommended as dietary sources of good bacteria and are backed by a greater amount of research.

Symptoms of an unhealthy gut typically include skin conditions and irritation, autoimmune diseases, food intolerances and allergies, fatigue, weight fluctuations and an upset stomach, including frequent bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea.

"Good gut health doesn't need to be complicated or expensive. You can create a healthy gut microbiome just by eating lots of different plant foods," nutritional advisor Lily Henderson wrote for New Zealand's Heart Foundation.

"Eating less red meat, limiting salt and sugar, eating less processed foods and more plant foods will have a positive effect on your gut microbiome too."

Not all kombucha is created equal 

For those who enjoy indulging in a kombucha or two as a soft-drink substitute, just beware - cheaper brands can still contain added sugar and artificial sweeteners. 

There are a number of brands in New Zealand that make raw kombucha without additional nasties - just be sure to check the ingredients if you're a regular drinker.