Are Prebiotic Sodas the Great Gut Health Solution They Seem to Be?

A slew of prebiotic soda options have launched, offering a carbonated beverage with prebiotic benefits. But are these sodas all they’re cracked up to be?

When it comes to not-great-for-you beverages, soda is near the top of the list. Soda is linked with a number of negative health conditions, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, but now there’s a new player in the soda market: prebiotic sodas. Brands like Poppi, Olipop, and Wildwonder—to name a few—have been rolling out these bubbly beverages, touting them as good for your gut.  

They might sound like a better-for-you choice than traditional soda, but do they really deliver for your gut health? Sadly, no. Here, experts explain why.

  • Jill Carnahan, MD, is a functional medicine expert based in Louisville, Colorado, and the author of Unexpected
  • Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, is a plant-focused nutrition and wellness expert based in New York City and the author of Sugar Shock. 
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Prebiotics and Your Gut

Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, something experts refer to as your gut microbiome. One marker of a healthy gut? A diverse community of microbes, which prebiotics can help support.

“Prebiotics are non-digestible food products that offer food for the microbiome,” says Jill Carnahan, MD, a functional medicine expert. 

While prebiotics can be manufactured, they’re also found in foods like onion, garlic, artichokes, chicory root, leeks, bran fiber, asparagus, beans, black and green tea, apples, and honey. Of course, when you eat those foods, you’re also getting vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive substances that help prevent diseases, says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a plant-focused nutrition and wellness expert

Prebiotics might rarely, if ever, cross your mind, but your gut needs them to thrive.

“Prebiotics nurture a healthy gut environment, which is crucial for optimal health, since your microbiome is involved in nutrient absorption, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels, mood regulation, and immune functioning,” Cassetty says.

Enter these prebiotic sodas, which combine prebiotic ingredients—sources often include a fiber called inulin from agave, cassava root, and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as cranberry extract—with apple cider vinegar. These sodas are then sweetened with any combination of sugar, juice concentrates, and alternative sweeteners, like stevia or monk fruit extracts. 

Should You Swig These Sodas?

Prebiotic sodas hold a few advantages over traditional soda, especially when it comes to calories and added sugar. While a typical can of soda has 150 calories, a prebiotic soda usually contains 25 to 35 calories, Cassetty says. They also contain less added sugar. Coca-Cola’s 39 grams of added sugar per can is hardly a match for the 3 to 5 grams of added sugar in some cans of prebiotic soda. 

Those are huge savings, so to speak, especially considering that women are advised to limit added sugar in their diet to 25 grams per day, men to 36 grams per day.

“Using a prebiotic soda to ween off sugary soda could be a healthy step,” Cassetty says. 

Yet in terms of promoting gut health, prebiotic sodas fall flat.

“They’re not a healthy alternative to natural prebiotic-rich foods,” Carnahan says, adding that she believes the added sugar, though less than that in traditional soda, is a health risk. Along with numerous other negative health consequences, added sugar increases the risk of dysbiosis in the gut, which is the growth of abnormal organisms. 

Even those alternative sweeteners can be problematic.

“The healthiest diets are low in added sugars and alternative sweeteners, so if you’re drinking a prebiotic soda and consuming several other sources of alternative sweeteners, you should consider reducing your reliance on these sweeteners,” Cassetty says. 

And that’s not all, as prebiotics can trigger digestive discomfort like bloating, gassiness, and diarrhea. Cassetty points to a 2019 study in the journal Foods, which found that a low therapeutic dose of 2.5 to 10 grams of prebiotics was enough to trigger mild to moderate gastrointestinal distress.

“Don’t be surprised if you get crampy after drinking a prebiotic soda with nine grams of fiber,” she says, adding that if you have an existing gastrointestinal condition like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, you should avoid these drinks completely.

Prebiotic sodas are also pricey, and not a necessity.

“They’re pure marketing hype, when you can get the same prebiotics from real food sources for a fraction of the cost and no downside, like excess sugar,” Carnahan says.  

Bottom line? If you’re sipping prebiotic sodas because you’re not consuming enough fiber-rich whole foods, it’s time to revamp your diet, Cassetty says.

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  1. "Sugary Drinks." Center for Science in the Public Interest.

  2. Davani-Davari, Dorna et al. “Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications.” Foods (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 8,3 92. doi:10.3390/foods8030092

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