Prebiotics, not to be confused with probiotics, are popping up everywhere, including in soda cans. Drinks like OLIPOP contain a whopping nine grams of fiber per serving, about a third of the recommended fiber intake for American adults. While these health benefits sound amazing on paper, emerging anecdotal stories from consumers complaining of some gastrointestinal distress symptoms like gas, bloating, and even pain suggest there are a few more things to consider before popping a tab on a prebiotic soda.

Unlike probiotics, which are the bacteria that fortify our gut with new healthy bugs, prebiotics—a fancy word for non-digestible fibers that serve as a food source for beneficial bacteria in the gut—essentially act as fuel for these bacteria, promoting their growth and activity in the gastrointestinal tract.

Prebiotics are typically found in certain types of carbohydrates, and foods rich in these prebiotic fibers include garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, asparagus, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, and whole grains, as well as products like bars, shakes, and sodas. Consuming prebiotics can help maintain a healthy balance of gut microbiota, which is essential for proper digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall gut health. One meta-analysis1 reviewing 11 randomized controlled trials found that prebiotics increased bifidobacteria—a beneficial bacteria in your gut that people with IBS typically have significantly lower levels of2, according to Melissa Boufounos, CHN, sports nutritionist and owner of MB Performance Nutrition.

However, overdoing it can lead to the aforementioned side effects, namely gas and bloating, common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, better known as IBS.

How fiber intake affects IBS

In 2018, researchers on the American Gut Project published a major paper citing that folks who ate upwards of 30 plants per week had more diverse, healthier gut health3. The strongest conclusions were that eating more fiber and several different types significantly impacts your gut health. When you break down 30 plants per week into days, that’s about four types of plants daily. This includes all our colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and spices, too.

Now, folks who have IBS may have food sensitivities and intolerances to certain fibers making this 30-plants-per-week goal more of a challenge and upping the appeal of alternatives like prebiotic sodas or other processed foods. This is where things can get tricky, especially if you have a sensitive stomach because while not getting enough fiber can be an issue for anyone, swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction is particularly problematic for people with IBS.

Too much of a good thing can be bad, and this may be true for certain fibers and some people with IBS. The type of IBS an individual has, along with the prebiotic type and dose, plays a role in symptom improvement or worsening, according to Boufounos. For example, folks with IBS-D who are prone to diarrhea may have a greater intolerance to prebiotics. Whereas folks on the constipation end of the spectrum may benefit from added prebiotic fiber in their diet. “Not all types of prebiotics are well tolerated by people with IBS,” Boufounos says, “but for some, it may be possible to slowly increase prebiotic intake in a tolerable manner without triggering symptoms.”

Can prebiotic soda worsen IBS?

Ultimately, Boufounos says prebiotic-fortified products are new to consumers, and more research is needed to better understand how they can affect our health, including our digestive health.

Until then, it’s important to remember that not all prebiotic sodas are created equal or with the same ingredients. Plus, IBS symptoms and triggers can vary from one person to the next, so it’s not possible to blanket statement whether all prebiotic sodas are good or bad for IBS, adds Boufounos. If you want to see for yourself, your best bet is to introduce them into your diet slowly.

How to start drinking prebiotic sodas if you have IBS

If you’re looking for the gut-boosting benefits of prebiotics without the negative side effects, here are a few ways to start small and potentially increase your tolerance for prebiotic sodas.

  • Make a mocktail: A splash of prebiotic soda, seltzer water, fruit, and lime juice to garnish feels like a fancy drink that may also improve your gut health.
  • Split the can: Instead of drinking a full prebiotic soda, which could contain up to nine grams of fiber, consider splitting it with a friend or family member to acclimate your digestive system slowly.
  • Monitor your symptoms: Everyone’s digestive health and symptoms are different. Monitor your symptoms after eating or drinking foods high in fiber to evaluate your tolerance. Check in with a dietitian or gastroenterologist if you suspect you have IBS-related symptoms.
  • Choose balance: No single food or beverage will be able to transform your health. Keep in mind that choosing a variety of fiber sources is likely the best way to diversify your gut health and possibly improve IBS symptoms like diarrhea, gas, bloating, and constipation.
  • Lifestyle matters: Remember that diet is one piece of the pie to manage your IBS. Stress management, sleep, exercise, and medications are all important factors to consider when evaluating your digestive symptoms.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Wilson, Bridgette et al. “Prebiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional bowel disorders in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 109,4 (2019): 1098-1111. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy376

  2. Pratt, Charlotte, and Matthew D Campbell. “The Effect of Bifidobacterium on Reducing Symptomatic Abdominal Pain in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review.” Probiotics and antimicrobial proteins vol. 12,3 (2020): 834-839. doi:10.1007/s12602-019-09609-7

  3. McDonald, Daniel et al. “American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research.” mSystems, vol. 3, 2018, doi:10.1128/msystems.00031-18.

Leave A Reply