Kombucha, kefir, turmeric lattes: Which health drink claims are hard to swallow?

Hygiene is important when brewing kombucha.
Hygiene is important when brewing kombucha. Photo: Christopher Pearce

A new generation of drinks claiming to boost your health are staking their claim in the market, tempting us away from good old-fashioned (and free) water. But which drinks are delivering real benefits, and which offer little more than hype?

Kombucha

You can buy Kombucha from cafes and health food shops, or make your own. It's a tart-tasting drink with many health claims but clinical nutritionist Victoria Tsoleridis says until recently it has been difficult to obtain clinical research on the beneficial effects.

"There are claims that kombucha can prevent various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, promote liver functions and stimulate the immune system," she says.

Victoria says the quality of the ingredients will dictate the finished product, with better versions high in polyphenols, flavonoids, and other antioxidants. "This antioxidant activity, which is responsible for cardiovascular, and cancer protection, increases as the fermentation process advances, and acidity increases.

"In one cell-based study, kombucha decreased the survival of prostate cancer cells … It does this by inhibiting inflammatory genes inside the cancer cells."

Kombucha has had some reported health dangers, but Tsoleridis says these incidents are isolated and rare.

"Regardless of the product there are always risks," Tsoleridis says. "Everything is dependent on hygiene, healthy scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), the right ingredients, boiling water, temperature and pH and using glass to ferment the product.

"Most of the reports of (skin) anthrax, liver damage and metabolic acidosis are due to ingesting large quantities of poor quality kombucha."

Tsoleridis says half a glass a day of quality kombucha is more than enough to reap the health benefits.

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Bulletproof coffee

Bulletproof coffee is a hot drink made by blending a shot of coffee with butter and MCT oil. Converts start their day with a bulletproof coffee and say it suppresses hunger, offers long-lasting energy and increases mental clarity.

The Bulletproof website sells coffee beans and MCT oil that it claims will help you program your body "to burn fat for energy all day long!". The problem is that, to date, there are no peer-reviewed studies that support this claim.

Nutritionist Emily Rose Yates says the proclaimed benefits of bulletproof coffee are unproven, and the key to Bulletproof's quick weight loss is its ketogenic diet philosophy. "A ketogenic diet is a diet high in fats and proteins which encourages the body to use stored fats for energy rather than carbohydrates which trigger the storage of energy to fat," she says.

The problem with the ketogenic diet, Dr Marcelo Campos wrote for the Harvard Health Blog, is that it's hard to follow, and it can be heavy on fatty, processed, and salty foods.

The long-term effects of bulletproof coffee remain unclear because most people struggle to maintain this diet for significant periods of time.

 

Ok, maybe it's the coffee after all 😘☕ #bulletproofcoffee #fridayfeeling

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Superfood lattes

Go into any edgy cafe worth its beans and you'll find a range of alternative lattes on offer. They can set you back up to $9, and they may make you feel like you're doing yourself some good, but are they more than expensive flavoured milk?

Beetroot and smurf (blue-green algae) lattes are both touted for their cardiac health benefits, but the truth is that the tiny amounts used to change the colour of your coffee are nowhere near enough to make a discernible difference to your health.

Turmeric lattes, however, can help due to turmeric's anti-inflammatory benefits, but make sure you're getting a full teaspoon of turmeric accompanied by black pepper to increase its bioavailability. Turmeric is the pick of the bunch of the superfood lattes, and likely the only one that will make any difference to your health.

Kefir

Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink similar to yoghurt, but with a tart flavour and a slight fizz. Victoria Tsoleridis says kefir contains protein, calcium, fat-soluble vitamins A and D, and vitamin B12, so kefir is a nutritional winner.

"It has over 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a complete probiotic source," she says. "Similar to kombucha, it has a high amount of antibacterial properties against salmonella, H. Pylori and E. coli."

As with kombucha, it's important to be careful about hygiene if fermenting your own kefir, or buy it from a reputable source, such as your local health food shop.

 

Green kefir smoothie via @sbsfood 🍃

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Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has been popular in folk medicine for centuries, with claims that it can help with everything from weight loss to cancer. There is some evidence it can help you lose weight in the short term. One Japanese study found participants lost one kilogram in a 12-week trial, but had put the weight back on four weeks later.

There is also some evidence cider vinegar can lower blood glucose levels, with one small study finding that adding vinegar to a meal reduced glucose and insulin levels for around 45 minutes and increased satiety for up to two hours. There is no peer-reviewed evidence to back claims that apple cider vinegar can clear your skin, cure your allergies, get rid of hiccups or leg cramps, or cure cancer.

The bottom line is that, if you're drinking for thirst, water will always be your best choice. But the health credentials of some of these drinks are starting to check out within the scientific community – especially kombucha, kefir and turmeric lattes. A small amount could be a wise addition to a balanced diet.