These 'Healthy' Sodas Claim to Boost Gut Health—But Do They Work?

  • Prebiotic sodas have grown in popularity, due to claims that they support gut health.
  • These sodas, like Olipop and Poppi, contain prebiotics, which are plant fibers that help probiotics thrive.
  • Though prebiotic sodas might be a healthier option than some regular sodas, experts say they can't replace the benefits of a balanced, nutritious diet.

poppi soda in cooler with ice

poppi soda in cooler with ice

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Prebiotic soda has grown in popularity, with many people flocking to it under the impression that it’s a healthier soda alternative that can boost gut health, lower cholesterol, promote weight loss, stabilize blood sugar—even improve the complexion of skin.

But if you're a fan of fizzy drinks or simply interested in enhancing your health, you might have some questions: Is prebiotic soda truly better for you than regular soda? And are the health claims valid or simply a baseless marketing tactic? 

Here’s what two registered dietitians had to say about this latest carbonated drink craze.

What Is Prebiotic Soda?

To understand what prebiotic soda is, it helps to know what a probiotic is.

Many people have heard of probiotics, which are live bacteria or yeasts that benefit digestive and immune health when consumed. (The trendy fermented tea kombucha is an example of a probiotic.)

On the other hand, prebiotics are plant fibers that help probiotics thrive, Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD/LDN, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition at Body Beautiful Miami, told Health. After consumed, these non-digestible starches go to the lower digestive tract, feeding healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome.

Several brands have developed prebiotic sodas, but the leading market players are Poppi and Olipop. Like regular soda, prebiotic soda contains carbonation and comes in various flavors, such as cola, lime, and orange. 

Unlike regular soda, they also contain prebiotics. Most of them have a prebiotic fiber called inulin that’s been extracted from its richest source—chicory root, Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and the founder of Real Nutrition NYC, told Health. Shapiro said prebiotic sodas may also include apple cider vinegar—and thus, pectin, a fiber found in fermented apples—as well as a variety of minerals, herbs, and botanicals.

Is Prebiotic Soda Healthier Than Regular Soda?

Shapiro said that most prebiotic sodas are healthier than traditional ones because they contain some fiber and often have less sugar. “In a can of prebiotic soda, there is on average two grams fiber and four to five grams added sugar, while in a can of normal soda, there can be, on average, 35 to to 40 grams of added sugar,” Shapiro noted.

That’s about the upper limit for daily sugar intake recommended by the American Heart Association for men and more than the daily recommended amount of 25 grams for women.

Because prebiotic soda contains less sugar than regular ones, it also tends to have fewer calories—a can of Coke is 150, for example, while a can of the popular prebiotic soda Olipop is 35.

Another advantage of prebiotic sodas is that they don’t contain high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener added to many traditional sodas that’s been linked to health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. “Omission of high fructose corn syrup is a big win for health,” Gormer said.

Does Prebiotic Soda Benefit Health?

Prebiotic fibers are critical to the body because they can stimulate good gut bacteria growth. These fibers are also fermented in the large intestine by bacteria that transform them into health-boosting short-chain fatty acids, Gormer explained. “Studies show that these fatty acids can have beneficial effects on inflammation, appetite, and blood sugar levels,” she said. 

But, according to Shapiro, processed fiber like that in prebiotic soda may offer only limited benefit because it may be fermented faster than fiber from whole foods, stopping short of reaching the microbes in the large intestine.

While Gormer said she thinks the health benefits of prebiotic soda are exaggerated, she noted that these drinks do have something to offer. “Olipop uses a mixture of different prebiotics including cassava root, chicory root, artichoke, nopal cactus, calendula flower, and kudzu root,” she said. “These ingredients add fiber and inulin, which can help with constipation and stabilize blood sugar.” 

Gormer noted that even though there’s no definitive research showing that apple cider vinegar—the ingredient the Poppi brand uses—improves gut health, it’s possible it “may help with blood sugar levels, prevent heartburn, and provide antioxidants.” 

It's important to remember, however, that one product alone can’t replace the benefits of a healthy diet, Gormer said. “If our diet is generally full of sugar, oils, fat, and processed foods and lacks fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, proteins, and healthy fats, then just adding one item may not make a be a lifesaver or rescue device,” she said.

She suggested eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to give your good bacteria the food they need and to provide nutrients that have far-ranging health benefits. “Constipation, which plagues many people, is potentially a non-issue if [people] consume these foods.” 

Are There Downsides to Prebiotic Soda?

Everyone will respond differently to prebiotic soda, said Gormer, but it’s possible that drinking too much could cause gas and bloating due to the fiber content (she advised limiting intake to one a day.)  People with conditions such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or colitis may want to steer clear of prebiotic soda altogether, she said.

Additionally, one study found an association between consuming 30 grams of inulin daily and inflammation and liver damage biomarkers. However, you'd have to drink several cans a day to reach that dosage, and Shapiro said the soda’s effect is also “dependent on the individual and how they digest and react to the amounts of fiber they consume.” 

Alternatives to Prebiotic Soda

If prebiotic soda interests you for its potential gut-health benefits, whole foods will provide an even bigger boost to digestive health, said Gormer. “Compared to inulin fiber found in the prebiotic sodas, [prebiotic sodas] just can’t hold a candle to eating these plant-based foods," she said.

Good sources of prebiotic fiber include:

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Cherries
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Green vegetables, such as asparagus and artichokes
  • Peas and beans
  • Oats
  • Whole grain wheat
  • Soybeans

Likewise, if you’re drawn to prebiotic soda as an alternative to traditional sodas such as Coke and Sprite, Shapiro and Gormer said you can find even healthier ways to satiate your flavored drink cravings. 

Shapiro suggested opting for sparkling water because it has no added sugar and therefore contains no calories. Fresh fruit slices can add flavor without artificial flavoring, she noted.

“Another good alternative is herbal tea,” said Shapiro. “Herbal tea has its own flavor, along with health benefits from antioxidants.”