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Poppi's Super Bowl ad raises questions about prebiotic soda. What do these beverages do?

Cans of Poppi prebiotic soda on a shelf.
Poppi made a splash with its Super Bowl ad. But what exactly is prebiotic soda? (Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Poppi)

Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast was packed with intriguing (and head-scratching) commercials, but there's one in particular that's raising a lot of questions: Poppi's ad for its prebiotic sodas. The ad, which is called "The Future of Soda Is Now," says that the beverage brand wants to change the way people think about soda. "This will be the last moment you ever think of soda as being a dirty word ... as being bad for you," a woman says in a voiceover, as shots of beautiful people drinking cans of the stuff fill the screen.

The ad also plays up the brand's "clean ingredients" and prebiotics (nutrients that act as a source of food for the gut's healthy bacteria), noting that it has just 5 grams of sugar and 25 calories per can, maximum. "It will be the soda your kids and grandkids think of when they think of soda," the ad declares. "Poppi is the next chapter in the story of soda."

For all of the Super Bowl ad's claims, this is still soda we're talking about — a beverage that's repeatedly been linked to health conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes and more. Is it healthy to drink a prebiotic soda, whether it's from Poppi or a competing brand like Olipop? Nutritionists weigh in.

What does a prebiotic soda do?

Every prebiotic soda is slightly different, but there is a common theme. "Prebiotic sodas are designed to support gut health by providing dietary fiber that acts as food for beneficial gut bacteria," Gina Keatley, nutritionist and co-owner of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, tells Yahoo Life. "This fiber, known as prebiotics, helps to nourish and promote the growth of healthy microbiota in the digestive system."

Having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome can be important for different aspects of your health, including good digestion and immune system support, and could possibly even influence mood and mental well-being, Keatley says.

Do you need a prebiotic soda?

No, according to nutritionists. "You don't need a prebiotic soda," says Keatley. But she adds that there is "very little danger in consuming the extra fiber," especially since most Americans don't have enough fiber in their diet.

"You can get prebiotics from foods like onions and garlic," Vanessa Rissetto, registered dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health, tells Yahoo Life. Meaning, you don't need to have a soda to get this effect. Foods like whole grains, bananas, greens, soybeans and artichokes are also rich in prebiotics, according to Mayo Clinic.

Are there health benefits to drinking a prebiotic soda?

Experts say that while prebiotic sodas are healthier than regular sodas, they're still not something that you need in your life. It's also unclear what amount of prebiotics is actually in the sodas.

Poppi lists these ingredients in one soda: sparkling water, organic cane sugar, apple juice (concentrate), fruit juice color, organic apple cider vinegar, organic agave inulin, natural flavors, stevia, natural tartaric acid and green tea caffeine. "A big issue is that there are no amounts listed for any ingredient in this product and the way the ingredients are listed — which is standard for every packaged food in the U.S. — is that the first ingredient is present in the largest amount, the second in the second largest amount, etc.," Deborah Cohen, registered dietitian nutritionist and associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Preventive Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, tells Yahoo Life.

"Apple juice, organic cane sugar and apple cider vinegar are not considered prebiotics," she explains. Cohen also notes that the amounts of these fruit juices are "most likely negligible" given the low calorie counts of the sodas. "Inulin is also considered a prebiotic and, while present in Poppi, it's most likely only a negligible amount as it's listed way down the list," she says. "This product would not be considered a good or close to a good source of prebiotics."

Still, if you're a regular soda drinker, this could be a good swap, Rissetto says. "They have fiber and only 5 grams of sugar, whereas a regular can of soda has no fiber and upwards of 40 grams of sugar in a can," she says.

While Rissetto says that prebiotic sodas are "nice to have" if you want a better soda alternative, she stresses that they're "not a must-have." In fact, she says that they "probably shouldn't be consumed on a daily basis" given that they are still sodas.

Keatley says it's misleading to refer to these drinks as healthy sodas. "At this point using the word 'healthy' just isn't specific enough to have a good meaning," she says. "Healthy for who, and in what context, are questions we need to ask."

Cohen agrees that calling prebiotic sodas healthy is misleading. "These products are basically sugared water," she says.