Do Prebiotic Sodas Actually Work? An RD Weighs In
Prebiotic sodas are all the rage right now. Bright colored boxes of the fizzy drinks can be found in most grocery stores with plenty of different brands to pick from. While they might look pretty and be trending on TikTok, do prebiotic sodas actually work? We picked the brain of a registered dietitian to get all the details.
What is a prebiotic?
First off, what exactly is a prebiotic, and why have sodas or sparkling waters started to include them into their recipe? Prebiotics are compounds found in food that promote growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. Otherwise known as the “good bacteria.”
“Many of us are familiar with probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are healthy for our digestive system. We think that most germs and bacteria are bad and cause disease, but our body is full of bacteria, some good, some bad. Probiotics are known as the good or helpful bacteria because they keep our gut healthy,” says Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD/LDN. “Prebiotics are special plan fibers that help healthy bacteria grow in your gut. This is connected to a healthy digestive system and contributes to a healthy immune system. Prebiotics are a source of food for your gut’s healthy bacteria – they feed it. They are carbohydrates that your body can’t digest, so they go to your lower digestive tract where they act like food to help the healthy bacteria grow.”
Are prebiotic sodas effective?
Prebiotic sodas typically come in flavors similar to popular soft drinks or sparkling waters like cola, lime, and orange. Unlike traditional soda, prebiotic sodas are lower in sugar because they are sweetened with sugar substitutes.
“They also contain a variety of other ingredients including apple cider vinegar, herbs, botanicals, and minerals,” Gomer says. “The brand Poppi uses apple cider vinegar as their prebiotic source, whereas others, like Olipop, use a combination of sources such as cassava root and chicory root.”
Can prebiotic soda help with gut health?
Gomer ensures that there is no question when it comes to wondering if prebiotics are helpful in promoting good gut health. However, the jury is still out on whether prebiotic sodas are the way to do that.
“The prebiotics in the sodas are inulin or apple cider vinegar. Inulin is the fiber that is the food for those probiotics and ultimately needed for a healthy gut that can impact digestion, immune system, and potentially other positive outcomes. The true question is if sodas (and the prebiotics in them) are truly going to have those beneficial health results,” she explains.
Gomer suggests that getting prebiotic nutrients from food might be the best bet, considering how many other nutrients can be found in a single food as opposed to one can of prebiotic soda.
“Understand that prebiotics are found in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Along with the fiber naturally found in these foods, there are tons of other benefits nutritionally including vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals … that are known to prevent stroke, improve cholesterol, prevent heart disease, diabetes, and weight management,” Gomer says.
Because these sodas do contain prebiotics, the brands are able to make claims that these sodas will help drinkers reap the same benefits from drinking their product as they would eating foods containing prebiotics like gut health, weight loss, or even improving complexion.
Gomer says, “I think that these claims are exaggerated because even in the best case – one soda cannot alone do all that and each individual’s diet and lifestyle will contribute to how much benefit a soda can contribute to.”
Though prebiotic sodas may not be the end all, be all for gut health and a cleaner diet, Gomer does see some benefits to the drink, including their ability to help someone wean off from sugary sodas or energy drinks.
“The omission of high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners is a big win for health,” she says.
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