Hard seltzer was just the beginning.
Now we’ve got hard coconut water, hard herbal tea, hard juice, hard whatever iteration of a refreshing beverage you can think of. Part of this, of course, is the result of our endless quest for new thrills. It’s the same phenomenon responsible for carrot-cake-flavored Oreos and Papa John’s Papadia.
But while food innovations continue to become more and more monstrous, the alcohol industry seems to be on a health kick. And not just by making its booze less unhealthy. Nope, it wants its beer, wine, spirits, etc. to essentially double as wellness products. Hard kombucha and probiotic-added hard seltzers are two pretty good examples.
The obvious question then becomes, can something like probiotics maintain their beneficial properties when alcohol is involved?
Well, hypothetically, but it’s complicated.
“Could these products contain probiotic bacteria? Yes, they could,” says Jennifer Hanway, a board-certified holistic nutritionist. “We can’t say for sure, because we can’t test every single bottle. With something like a hard kombucha, we know that there could be probiotics in there, but we don’t necessarily know what strain. We don’t exactly know whether they’re going to stay alive in the alcohol. Some companies say they do, some say no.”
Even if these products do contain live probiotics, it’s challenging to know whether they’ll stay alive long enough to actually work in our digestive system. “This is part of the difference between a probiotic supplement and probiotic/fermented food,” explains Hanway. “When you take a probiotic supplement, you know the exact strain and the exact amount of probiotic that you’re getting.”
For that reason, Hanway wouldn’t recommend turning to hard kombucha or probiotic alcohols as a means of improving digestion. “If you’re looking for something that’s going to boost your gut health, you’ll need a good quality probiotic,” she says.
Hanway, however, doesn’t write them off completely. “It’s absolutely going to be a better choice than a regular beer or a spirit with sugary soda. Is it going to make marked health differences? Probably not. But could it be a better option if you want to have an alcoholic drink? Absolutely.”
What’s most important to consider is that excessive drinking is going to have a negative impact on your overall wellbeing, even if you’re consuming a seemingly “healthier” beverage.
“Let’s say you have two glasses of quality red wine a week — that’s not going to be the end of the world,” Hanway says. “But if you do start to drink more heavily, three or four nights a week depending on the type of alcohol, that’s going to lead to an inflammatory response in the gut.”
“Inflammation can impact everything from our immune system to our energy to our mood and mental health,” she continues. “When we do have a considerable amount of alcohol, we often see an overgrowth of bad bacteria and a reduction of the good bacteria. This can further cause inflammation, leaky gut and nutrient deficiencies. Alcohol and gut health really don’t go hand-in-hand. Can you get away with drinking in moderation occasionally? Yes. Is drinking on a regular basis going to be harmful for your gut health? Yes.”
So while something like hard kombucha might indeed be a better choice, it’s not necessarily going to improve your health. Like any alcohol, it can be abused all the same. But if you’re getting tired of your hard seltzer, yet still want a boozy beverage lower in carbs and sugar than the average gin and tonic, you can do a lot worse than hard kombucha.
Just don’t think you’ve all of a sudden become the paradigm of good health.