The ‘King of Kombucha’ on His Plant-Based Diet and Connecting with Nature
Few things can make me feel like I am the epitome of health instantaneously, but kombucha tastes as if it's aligning my chakras, clearing my skin and ridding my body of disease with every sip. If you're a fan of the fermented tea like I am, and drink it daily, you know there's one brand on store shelves that you reach for first-- GT's Living Foods' Enlightened Kombucha. I'm not alone in my preference either, as the company controls nearly 40 percent of the kombucha market in the U.S.
I can't make a trip to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or my local Shoprite without picking up a Guava Goddess, Tantric Turmeric or Gingerade flavor of their fizzy fermented drink. And, for as excited as I get about the company's staple offerings, when they release a seasonal flavor I nearly lose my mind in the supermarket aisle (which anyone shopping with me can attest to) and buy two, three, or four bottles, because who knows how long it'll be around?
With this aforementioned kombucha obsession, you can imagine my excitement when I got to catch up with GT Dave, founder and CEO of GT's Living Foods, which is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, and talk to him about his plant-based diet, what he eats in a day, and the products we can expect next from GT's Living Foods.
Q: You’re largely credited for bringing Kombucha into Western consciousness—how did you come to learn about the Eastern traditions of Kombucha, far before the masses in the United States were singing its praises?
A: In the early '90s, my parents brought Kombucha into the household when I was 15 years old. I was initially turned off by Kombucha due to its unusual taste and smell, but I quickly changed my mind when I witnessed how much my parents loved it and how eventually it helped my mom during her battle with breast cancer.
Q: At an early age, your family took trips to India to visit a holy man, Sai Baba. Has sharing kombucha with others helped you connect with your spirituality?
Yes, it absolutely has! I was raised with the simple philosophy of "making the world a better place." Providing something as special as Kombucha with the people has been very spiritually fulfilling.
Q: Why is kombucha, said to be an “Immortality Tonic” in Ancient China, a good choice to help your body protect against disease and strengthen your immune system, given the current health pandemic?
Kombucha contains a variety of probiotics that are naturally created during its fermentation. These beneficial microorganisms help replenish and restore the gut flora (aka microbiome) in our digestive system. Studies have shown that our gut health has a direct link to our immune system and our body's overall performance (i.e. mood, energy, and appetite). Therefore, with a healthier gut, your body is stronger and more resilient. In the midst of COVID-19, incorporating gut healthy and functional living foods into one’s diet, like Kombucha, becomes critical when trying to increase your resistance to viral activity.
Q: Every time I go to the grocery store, it seems like there’s a new brand of Kombucha cropping up on the shelves— what do you believe sets GT’s apart that has made it the most trusted brand in the space?
What separates us from other brands is that, much like farmers, we "grow" our products rather than "manufacture" them. We stay true to the traditional recipe of raw Kombucha allowing nature to run its course. From day one, we have always chosen to make our Kombucha in small batches (less than 5 gallons) and fully ferment them for 30 days (the longest in the industry). Once the fermentation is complete, we take the batches and bottle them immediately. With the exception of adding some fresh ingredients post-fermentation, we do not process our Kombucha in any way. We promise to offer our Kombucha unpasteurized, unfiltered and in its most raw form, without any additives or fermentation "short-cuts" – just like nature intended.
Q: You started making Kombucha in your parents’ kitchen— Do you ever brew small batches at your house or do you always reach for a bottle?
I always reach for a bottle! I can't compete with the quality we achieve at the company.
Q: You’ve said that you’re vegetarian— what do you feel that a vegetarian diet in tandem with your kombucha consumption has done for your health?
My general outlook for my diet is – food as fuel. By pairing a plant-based diet with Kombucha and a lifestyle that prioritizes well-being (i.e. meditation, working out, 8 hours of sleep), I feel my best. Kombucha restores balance to the body, which replenishes the gut and cleanses the body of toxins. Once balance is restored to the body it performs better and has improved natural defenses. This is why many people who consume Kombucha, including myself, regularly report improvement with their skin, energy, weight loss and overall well-being.
Q: Here at The Beet, we want to share the beneﬁts of plant-based living because we believe that plant-based diets can have transformative effects on peoples’ health. It seems like GT’s Living Foods also approaches food and drink as medicine— what does your daily diet consist of, besides Kombucha?
My day starts with two plant-based smoothies; one before the gym and one after. Both smoothies are made with fresh-pressed juice, chia seeds, plant protein and other nutritious ingredients. For lunch I have oatmeal with dried fruit and dinner I usually have a salad that consists of some kind of dark green leaves like kale, fresh veggies such as bell peppers, baked yams, fresh avocado, almonds and lentils or a black bean patty. I also make sure to drink two gallons of spring water each day.
Q: I’ve heard in past videos and interviews you say that you drink roughly 8-12 bottles of Kombucha daily after sampling new batches. What amount would you recommend customers drink per day in order to reap the health beneﬁts?
I am proof that you can drink A LOT of Kombucha but drinking as much as I do is not required to enjoy Kombucha's health benefits. Generally speaking, a 16oz bottle per day is sufficient and it can be consumed all at once or spread throughout the day.
Q: You’ve expanded GT’s Living Foods to Aqua Keﬁr, Probiotic Shots, Adaptogenic Tea and even Coconut Yogurt— Does GT’s Living Foods have any future plans to expand further into other foods?
We definitely do! We believe living foods heal the body and we want our fans to have options for every occasion. We’ve just introduced "Hard Kombucha" which is a raw Kombucha paired with fresh ingredients that create a clean alternative to the refined, pasteurized and sugary alcoholic beverages. Next year we’ll be offering even more innovation including a line of plant-based protein drinks.
Q: What daily habits or practices do you recommend others to incorporate into their routine for being more connected with their surroundings and Mother Nature in general?
I believe real connection starts with taking time for yourself to reset and re-ground your mind and body. Mediation is an essential part of this practice as it quiets the mind and clears your thoughts.
For connecting with Nature, I like to frequently immerse myself in the outdoors whether that's a hike at Runyon Canyon here in LA or the deep jungle in Kauai where there are waterfalls and fertility all around me. I make a conscious effort to tune into the vibration of our beautiful Planet and listen to her words of wisdom.
Q: Do you have a mantra that you’re guided by?
"There's no time like now."
For me, this means seizing each day and living it to the fullest.