Drinking soda is so last decade. Well, actually according to a Gallup poll released this July, 48 percent of Americans drink at least one glass of soda per day. But this statistic hasn't stopped a crop of healthier beverage alternatives from popping up in the last few years, attempting to replace coffee and soda as our preferred daily drinks. There are a slew of new liquids on the market, many promising to provide nutrition through supplements and additives. This year the buzzwords on everyone's lips about what the liked to sip are "kombucha," "chia" and "probiotics."
Kombucha is a fermented tea containing amino acids, probiotics and anti-oxidants. High Country Kombucha is made locally in Eagle and sold nationwide. Owner and founder Edward Rothbauer said he started drinking kombucha in the early '90s after becoming paralyzed from a construction accident. He acquired a live culture and started making kombucha at home. Rothbauer believes drinking kombucha helped him recover from his accident and get movement back in his lower region. Rothbauer started High Country Kombucha in 2004 and now the company produces 65,000 cases of kombucha every month.
There are few U.S. studies showing a direct link between drinking kombucha and preventing disease.
Rothbauer said there is research being done in Europe and Asia showing kombucha "protects you against gamma radiation, is anti microbial (and) will build your immune system against any pathogens."
"Locally, I know a lot of people that won't go a day without it because it helps with gout," Rothbauer said. "Right now (kombucha) is being used widespread as a wellness supplement. The people that do drink it understand the benefits."
Not everyone in the alternative health business is a fan of kombucha. Dr. Andrew Weil, well known writer and teacher of holistic health, does not see any health benefits to drinking kombucha and warns against toxins that could arise when making homemade brews of the tea. Eagle Naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist Eliza Klearman thinks kombucha is a healthy drink someone could add to their diet if they wanted to.
"I'm definitely more open to it than (Dr. Weil)," Klearman said. "I would recommend that people drink kombucha ... You have to be careful with how it's brewed, but I think it's a great addition to someone's repertoire when it comes to health."
Gypsum resident and senior at Eagle Valley High School Isaac Burnham started drinking kombucha about a year ago after a friend introduced him to it. Burnham said he now drinks kombucha daily and feels it gives him more energy when running for track and cross country.
"I used to drink a lot of Red Bull, which was very unhealthy," Burnham said. "After drinking Red Bull I would crash and it would make things worse. Now I drink (kombucha) to rejuvenate. It affects your mood too. When you drink it, you know that you're drinking something healthy, so your mood is better."
Another popular drink additive on the market is chia seeds. Brands like Mamma Chia claim to contain high doses of omega-3 fatty acids and be a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Chia seeds are replacing flax seeds as the "it" seed to add to both beverages and baked goods. Klearman said chia seeds are high in fiber and omega-3s, which most people need more of in their diet.
"If there were any supplement I would recommend anybody take, it would be omega-3 fatty acids," Klearman said. "(Omega-3s) are used for every function in the body. They help maintain cell walls, they're really important for brain and neurological functions and they're anti-inflammatory. All diseases start with inflammation and (omega-3s) have that anti-inflammatory component."
Klearman said there are two main types of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and ETA. Chia seeds are a good source of ETA but not DHA.
"Chia seeds, eating them or drinking them, are great to add into your diet," Klearman said. "But (chia seeds) are not going to replace fish. They're not going to really even replace the need for a good quality fish oil supplement."
Yogurt-based probiotic drinks are also becoming more prevalent. Probiotics contain healthy bacteria and yeast that aid in digestion. Klearman said while probiotic drinks do help with digestion, certain yogurt-based drinks can be loaded with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which counteracts the benefits.
"I don't think it's bad to eat yogurt," Klearman said. "But I'm fairly picky about what kind of yogurt I want people to eat. (I recommend) whole milk plain yogurt. Making your own fermented foods, like making your own yogurt, is always going to be better than what you can find in the grocery store."
Klearman said the most important thing to remember is that no healthy drink can replace the benefits of eating a well-balanced diet.
"Make sure it's a part of a whole, healthy diet, not just 'I'm drinking my chia seeds,'" Klearman said. "People don't realize that by eating the right foods, we can have an effect on our health."
It's still unclear if the benefits of drinks with nutritional additives will live up to the hype in the long run. But as long as people keep buying them, the trend towards drinks that help rather than hinder your health is here to stay.
"I actually had the former CEO of Budweiser tell me that kombucha was going to be 'the beer of the 21st century,' because of what he felt was people moving toward a healthier (lifestyle)," Rothbauer said.
Perhaps kombucha will never surpass beer, currently America's most popular alcoholic beverage. But just like beer, it does have an acquired taste that tends to grow on people the more they drink it.