Can These Soda Alternatives Actually Help You Get A Healthier Gut?
What to know about the probiotic beverage trend.
Wellness beverages have been a massive trend of late, whether those be adaptogen-spiked coffee alternatives or sleep-inducing teas and tonics. Kombucha has been one of the buzziest of these for years now, but a new twist on the idea seems to be especially surging: probiotic and prebiotic sodas.
Made with ingredients that are said to support a healthier gut, these fizzy, fun-to-drink concoctions may have the sweetness and nostalgia-inspired flavors (think cola and orange cream) of some of your childhood favorites, but supposedly have legitimate health benefits — and a lot less of the not-so-desirable ingredients traditional sodas have. When discussing this beverage category, it’s important to note that while brands like Olipop, Poppi, and Health-Ade’s Booch Pop are often lumped together, they all utilize different ingredients to boost your gut health.
One main difference to look out for is whether they claim to contain probiotics or prebiotics. “These drinks fall in different camps,” Samantha Cassetty, registered dietician for Twinlab and Reserveage tells TZR. “Some contain prebiotics, which are substances that the healthy bacteria in your gut feed off of. Others contain probiotics and may or may not include the prebiotics.” If you’re not familiar with the difference, the latter refers to live cultures (or “good bacteria”) whereas the former typically refers to digestion-friendly fibers.
For example, the popular brand Poppi touts claims of prebiotic properties, which Lauren Minchen, registered dietician nutritionist and nutrition consultant for AI-driven visual diet diary app Freshbit, says are thanks to its inclusion of apple cider vinegar, which she says can can promote a healthy pH balance for probiotics to thrive, and pectin (a type of fiber).
Olipop also uses plant-based fibers to restore balance to your gut, Minchen explains. “This healthy soda is chock full of gut-loving ingredients, from plant fibers (9 grams per can!), prebiotics, and bacteria-balancing botanicals to support a healthy gut,” she explains. “The plant fibers act as probiotic fuel (prebiotics), and the botanicals help to create an environment in the gut that promotes probiotic growth and flourishing in the gut.” In this case, the prebiotics and probiotics are working in synchronicity.
And still there are more where those came from. De La Calle offers a spin on the traditional fermented pineapple drink Tepache and Health Ade Booch Pop is a kombucha-based drink, which means it includes fermented black tea. These two attribute their gut-benefitting power to fermentation, and these types of foods are an often recommended form of probiotics.
If you’re shopping for such drinks, both experts note that one thing to consider is sugar — an excess of which is known to increase anxiety among other health concerns. “Soda is the leading contributor of added sugar to our diets, and the majority of adults are consuming too much added sugar,” Cassetty says. “These drinks still contribute sugar, but they have much less than a standard cola. For comparison’s sake, there are 39 grams of added sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda. That’s almost 10 teaspoons! [Probiotic and prebiotic] drinks have about 4 to 6 grams of added sugar or about 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons.”
While they may be less sugar-y than a typical soda, the dietitians say you should still be looking at the labels — even for the sugar substitutes. “[Alternative sweeteners like Stevia and erythritol] are okay to have, [but] it’s a good idea to have them in reasonable amounts — just like it’s okay to have some sugar but not so great to have too much of it.”
With that in mind, both experts share that if you’re someone who trying to kick a soda habit, drinks like these — in moderation — can make for a good substitute. “If you're used to drinking regular or diet sodas, these are great substitutes that provide gut-loving nutrients and reduce exposure to added sugars/corn syrup, food coloring, and endocrine-disrupting sweeteners,” says Minchen. “These are okay to be consumed daily! One can per day, especially if you are looking to replace your daily soda, is a consistent way to boost your consumption of probiotics, prebiotics, and gut-loving botanicals.”
But is a can of probiotic or prebiotic soda a substitute for eating whole foods or using supplements to get get your daily dose? Well, that depends. According to Minchen, consistency is an important factor. “What I prefer is whatever someone will do consistently and sustainably,” she explains. “You can have great intentions with pills or foods or drinks, but if you're not consuming them habitually (even just a few times per week), they will only be so helpful. Find the form that feels easiest for you, and then stick with it!”
And while she acknowledges these drinks’ ability to be beneficial to your gut, Cassetty shares that they shouldn’t be your primary nutritional source. “[They] aren’t a magic bullet for gut health,” she says, adding that you’ll still want to maintain a balanced diet. “A drink like this can be part of a strategy, but it’s essential to hit the fiber targets of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men by eating a variety of plant foods. Additionally, reduce the amount of heavily processed foods you’re eating, particularly those with added sugar and refined grains, since these foods have been tied to unfavorable composition of gut bacteria. This holistic approach is more involved than drinking a probiotic soda, but it’s also the best way to improve your gut health and your total health.”
As for who should be especially cautious of these drinks, Cassetty says that if you have food allergies (another reason to be checking out the ingredients on any buzzy “health drink”), have a sensitive digestive system, or are pregnant or nursing, it’s best to consult with a physician before introducing them into your diet.
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