Are Prebiotic and Probiotic Sodas Actually Good For You?

Fitness

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Sodas have been getting a bad rap since at least the 1940s, when the American Medical Association called them out specifically in a recommendation to limit sugar intake. But now, soda is at the center of a major wellness trend. We’re talking about prebiotic and probiotic sodas, which are hitting shelves as “better for you” alternatives to regular soft drinks. But are prebiotic and probiotic sodas actually good for you?

Brands like Poppi, Olipop, and Culture Pop have gained traction by positioning themselves as lower-calorie, lower-sugar, and generally healthier options to your typical soda. They even offer replicas of your favorite soft drink flavors, from cola to root beer to grape, with some unique offerings sprinkled in.

But when something seems too good to be true, it’s hard not to be wary. So we asked nutrition experts to weigh in on prebiotic and probiotic sodas, and whether they’re actually good for you, or if they’re a lot of hype.

What Is Prebiotic Soda and Probiotic Soda, Exactly?

Simply put, prebiotic or probiotic sodas are carbonated drinks that have gut-healthy ingredients added in. Poppi and Olipop are prebiotic sodas, which mean they contain a specific type of fiber known as prebiotics, sourced from ingredients including agave inulin, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, and Nopal cactus.

“Prebiotic means you are providing the food for the bacteria. So that fiber that’s in there is providing food for all the good bacteria,” says Diana Ushay, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, of Erica Leon Nutrition and Associates.

Culture Pop, on the other hand, is a probiotic soda, which means it contains live bacteria as a main ingredient, Ushay says — “good” bacteria that’s been shown to benefit gut health.

How Does Prebiotic Soda Compare to “Regular” Soda?

The differences between prebiotic and probiotic sodas and the “regular” sodas they’re modeled after go beyond the existence of fiber or good bacteria. Following the theme of “better-for-you” sodas, they’re also lower in sugar and calories, and tend to have fewer artificial ingredients too.

Popular prebiotic and probiotic sodas generally have about 2 to 5 grams of sugar per can, for example, whereas a classic one could have anywhere between 39 to 44 grams of sugar. And while diet sodas have no sugar, they’re often loaded with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which — while not as bad for you as you might think — have been linked to some health risks. Prebiotic and probiotic sodas, on the other hand, tend to use plant-derived sweeteners, like stevia or inulin (which has the added benefit of being a prebiotic).

“If you’re comparing soda to soda, overall the nutrient profile of some of these probiotic sodas are much better than a standard one,” Ushay says.

Are Prebiotic and Probiotic Sodas Actually Good For the Gut?

It’s hard to believe that sipping a can of something that tastes so much like soda can actually benefit the gut. After all, it’s tough to find a good probiotic supplement; could the prebiotics or probiotics in these drinks really make a noticeable impact on our GI wellbeing?

When it comes to prebiotic sodas, the consensus seems to be yes — they can benefit your gut. “Any time you’re consuming a prebiotic, you’re providing food for beneficial bacteria, So, you’re only doing things to help your GI tract,” Ushay says.

They can also help you boost your overall fiber intake, notes Lorraine Kearney, RD, CDN, and CEO of New York City Nutrition. That’s a plus, since only about 5 percent of the U.S. population meets the recommended daily fiber intake (about 19 to 38 grams, based on gender and age), according to the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Poppi has about 2 grams of fiber per can, and Olipop has a generous 9 grams.

But, if you’re not accustomed to eating prebiotics or you have a sensitive stomach, you should be aware that this type of fiber can have downsides. “These sodas can be beneficial, but they may not be for everyone because of the high prebiotics,” says Kearney. She says that some people may notice more gas or bloating when consuming these drinks, especially if they have any underlying gastrointestinal conditions. Taking in a large amount of prebiotics, especially in a single sitting, can sometimes inflame GI issues rather than help with them. (So also probably not a good idea to chug several of these sodas in a row.)

The bottom line: “Some people could notice improvement in their gut health, but they shouldn’t rely on these [prebiotic] sodas alone,” Kearney says. She recommends taking a food-first approach, meaning eating fiber-rich foods to best support your gut health and adding the sodas in later.

As for probiotic sodas, it’s hard to say how big an impact on your health they might have. But they’re also unlikely to cause harm to your gut health, so it’s likely OK to try the sodas to see how your body responds. If you start to notice benefits in how they affect digestion or simply in the way they make you feel, then stick with them. If not, it’s fine to enjoy the drinks for the taste, but you may not get any huge health perks in the process.

Another thing to keep in mind: most probiotics are meant to be taken daily, since they move through your GI system transiently, which means the effects you’d notice after drinking one can once or twice a week might be limited. That said, one recent study found that the probiotic in Culture Pop, Bacillus subtilis DE111, could benefit digestion, metabolism, and immunity as little as four hours after ingestion — but the research was conducted by employees of the company that makes that probiotic, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.

So, Are Prebiotic and Probiotic Sodas Good For You?

Adding a prebiotic or probiotic soda to your day — especially if you use it to replace a regular soda, fruit juice, or syrup-packed coffee drink — could have its benefits. But you shouldn’t use them as a dietary crutch. “It’s a healthier alternative and something to have in addition, but not something to replace your daily source of fiber and prebiotics,” Ushay says.

She suggests sticking to one soda per day, if you’re going to have them. Consuming too much carbonation and fiber from these sodas could lead to gastrointestinal distress.

Also be aware that people respond differently to different types of prebiotics and probiotics. So if you find that one brand of prebiotic or probiotic soda makes you bloated, you can try a different one. The agave inulin in Poppi, for instance, might not mesh with your stomach, but the chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke inulin in Olipop might work great. Ushay says there isn’t one specific ingredient you should be looking for or avoiding; just pay attention to how your body reacts to what you’re drinking, and adjust as needed.

Finally, talk to your doctor or dietitian before adding any of these sodas into your diet. That may seem over the top, but Kearney says it really is necessary — especially if you’re taking any meds, because the functional ingredients in these sodas could interact with them, or have a preexisting condition.

“Just because something is labeled as healthy, or marketed that way, doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for everyone,” Kearney says. So do your due diligence before imbibing — and then go with your gut. It’ll let you know whether your prebiotic or probiotic soda should make it into your weekly beverage rotation.

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