Are Prebiotic Sodas Good for Your Gut Health?

Photo: Getty Images/ Tanja Ivanova
ICYMI, just a few days ago, the popular prebiotic soda company Poppi was hit with a class action, consumer fraud lawsuit alleging its gut-health benefits—particularly regarding its prebiotic content—have been severely overblown. According to the lawsuit, one can of the popular soda contains merely two grams of prebiotic fiber, which the plaintiff claims is far too negligible to provide any meaningful gut health benefits despite the company's motto: “Be Gut Happy. Be Gut Healthy." A nutritionist quoted in the suit even called the soda nothing more than "sugared water."

So, what's the final verdict on gut health vs. prebiotic sodas? And should we be chucking our beloved cans of "prebiotic" soda away?

Experts In This Article

According to Will Bulsiewicz, MD, gastroenterologist and New York Times bestselling author of the books Fiber Fueled and The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, while prebiotic fiber-filled sodas certainly aren’t the end all be all when it comes to the best gut-boosting drinks, they are a good option compared to most traditional fountain drinks that can contain upwards of 24 (!) grams of sugar per can. (Poppi has about five grams or less.) “I'll take these new health-washed sodas over the old sugar-laden, artificial-colored classics. They are a step in a better direction,” Dr. Bulsiewicz previously told us. But this isn't exactly a green light to keep drinking these potentially health-washed sodas, either.

Before you run to the store to restock on these (pop)ular "prebiotic" sodas, we spoke with Laura Iu, RDN, CDN, CNSC, RYT, a registered dietitian and founder of Laura Iu Nutrition, to learn more about how these drinks actually impact your digestive system (and whether or not they’re a number one option for going number two). Plus, she shares what to look out for on the label, as you may be surprised to learn that not all prebiotic sodas have the same gut-healthy potential, and drinking too much of them can even have adverse effects.

What does prebiotic soda even mean?

OLIPOP, Poppi, Health-Ade Pop—it seems like every time we visit the drinks aisle in the grocery shop, more and more functional beverages seem to pop up (literally), many of which are packed with ingredients that claim to boost gut health and regularity. “While in the past it would have been unconventional, nowadays you can look for functional ingredients that help with digestion, especially prebiotics, in beverages,” Iu says. Prebiotics, she adds, feed the probiotics (aka good bacteria) in the gut, which in turn helps your microbiome stay well-balanced and regular.

By closely inspecting the ingredients label, Iu explains that determining which sodas are made with prebiotic benefits shouldn’t be too difficult, so long as you know what to look for. “Keep in mind you’re unlikely to find ‘prebiotic’ listed on a label, but there are other keywords to look for, such as fiber or inulin, fructooligosaccharides, or galactooligosaccharides,” she says, all of which have prebiotic benefits. Many of these sodas source their prebiotic fiber blend from ingredients like chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, or cassava root.

How often should you drink prebiotic sodas?

Although prebiotic sodas can be enjoyable to sip on, Iu says they shouldn’t replace other whole food sources of prebiotic fiber in your diet. “If you’re eating a variety of foods, chances are you’re already getting some prebiotic fiber from these foods—think barley, seaweed, oats, garlic. I’d suggest starting with one can and seeing how you feel after drinking it,” she says.

Iu adds that it’s important not to overdo it when it comes to drinking too many of these in one day. “Carbonated beverages, especially those with added fiber, can give you a false sense of fullness. That’s important to consider, so you’re not filling up on liquids and potentially missing out on other important nutrients,” Iu says.

Can prebiotic sodas actually help you poop more?

In short, probably. (One can of OLIPOP has a whopping nine grams of fiber, after all.) But while fiber—fiber-rich sodas included—is known to help regulate your digestion and frequency of number twos, it’s important to consume it in moderation, like most things in life. “Fiber helps promote bowel regularity, and we need it, but excessive fiber intake can exacerbate gut issues,” Iu says. To avoid intestinal discomfort (or risk, you know, pooping your pants), she recommends taking it slow when it comes to amping up your fiber—and prebiotic soda—intake. “If you’re not used to consuming fiber, I recommend slowly increasing your fiber intake and monitoring for gas or stomach pain. Usually, it should go away, but if it gets worse, or you have a diagnosed gut disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then it’s best to work with a registered dietitian,” she says.

The good news: Iu says there’s no specific “best” time of day to treat yourself to one of these tasty drinks, and there’s no need to pair it with something to eat. So, instead of reaching for sugary sodas or booze, which can cause inflammation in the gut, try out a low-sugar prebiotic soda and see how it makes your stomach feel. Who knows, it might even become your drink of choice (if it’s not a virgin Negroni sbagliato, that is).

So, is kombucha any good for your gut? An RD explains:

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