“This literally tastes like orange soda,” says Darcy McQueeny in a sponsored TikTok holding up a can of brightly-colored Poppi. “Hang on, five grams of sugar in this whole thing?”

In a similar video, Gracie Norton pours a can of Strawberry Vanilla Olipop in an iced wine glass while saying “Olipop would be my true soda replacement that I would drink on a daily basis.”

Olipop and Poppi are two brands in a growing market of prebiotic sodas, a type of fizzy drink that paints itself as a healthier version of traditional soda with more flavor than the popular sparkling waters like Spindrift and La Croix.

The growth of prebiotic sodas

Over the last several months, you’ve probably noticed your favorite influencer don a can of this stuff. The two brands you’ll recognize are Olipop and Poppi. Olipop has an estimated $180 million valuation, and although Poppi’s valuation is unknown, the brand has raised over $40 million in funding. Poppi appeared on the reality show Shark Tank in 2018 and got a deal with shark Rohan Oza for $400,000 for 25% of the company. Olipop is currently in over 100,000 stores, including Target and Whole Foods. During the pandemic, Olipop focused more on its direct-to-consumer platform and e-commerce, which increased sales during a time when people were exploring more foods and food businesses.

This past year, both brands have had partnerships with influencers primarily on TikTok including Danielle Slavsky, Becca Moore, Kate Davidsun, @coffeebae97, and many more. On TikTok, the hashtag “poppi” has 75.6 million views, and the hashtag “olipop” has 148.9 million views.

Wait, back up. What is a prebiotic soda?

A prebiotic soda is essentially just another bubbly beverage on the market with some added health claims thrown in. These brands, like Olipop and Poppi, claim to help balance your skin, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, aid digestion, and help weight loss. 

“Prebiotic drinks can be a great way to ensure that you are feeding your healthy [gastrointestinal] bacteria and subsequently keeping your GI tract healthy,” said Rebecca Granda-Trujillo, a registered dietitian at Abbott Nutrition.

So, are prebiotic sodas healthy?

It depends what you mean by healthy. Prebiotic sodas aren’t bad for you, but they also don’t necessarily do a ton of good. “Just because a drink is labeled to contain prebiotics, does not necessarily mean it is automatically healthy or good for you,” Granda-Trujillo said. “You still need to read the label and make sure that it does not contain added sugars, high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, artificial flavors or preservatives.”

Although she has never personally tried either Ollipop or Poppi, Granda-Trujillo said that all the ingredients seem to be clean but adds: “I don’t think that any of the ingredients can claim to be effective in lowering cholesterol or promoting weight loss per se,” referring to Poppi's list of claims on their site. 

Juliana Tamaya, who works as a clinical dietician MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, has a slightly different view. “The type of fiber in these sodas does help promote bacterial growth in the microbiome as it goes undigested to your gut, where it sits and gets fermented and eaten by bacteria,” she explained. “During its journey to your intestinal tract, this fiber will also help absorb some cholesterol to move it away from your blood. While these sodas alone will not lead to weight loss, they can help keep you full and provide better glucose control than regular sodas.”

Tamaya acknowledges the differences between the prebiotic and regular sodas, noting that the prebiotic sodas are the first of its kind to contain a significant amount of prebiotic fiber. This is a nutrient, she claimed, that is lacking in Americans’ diets. Although alone, these new sodas do not act as band-aids to one’s health.

Would you try a prebiotic soda?

Even though the prebiotic drink may not be the next cure for your gut, both Olipop and Poppi are on track to become the next La Croix. Their presence on social media is growing, and soon, these brands might become a permanent fixture in the sparkling aisle. So, will you try it?