As a consumer, you know that many companies throw around tag-lines and promises like candy. Using health-related buzzwords like "gluten-free" and "antioxidants," companies dupe consumers into believing the foods and drinks they're consuming are healthier than they actually are. This "false sense of health," in addition to inadequate education on interpreting nutrition panels, harms consumers’ wellbeing and may even contribute to the United States obesity epidemic. 2
At OLIPOP, we know companies often make their products deliberately misleading to prevent their customers from the truth. That's why we go to great lengths to educate our consumers about our products and the science behind them.
While science is constantly evolving and we, as a company, evolve alongside the research, consider this blog a brief introduction to digestive health and OLIPOP. We hope you will learn a thing (or two!) and fully comprehend that we're not just a soda yelling out claims but actually have your health (and taste buds) in mind.
What Is Digestive Health?
The last time you learned about the digestive system may have been by watching The Magic School Bus or Osmosis Jones. So as a refresher, here are the basics of the digestive system: it breaks down food and liquids into their chemical components (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) so that the body can absorb them as nutrients, use them as energy, or repair and build cells. 3
The food's journey begins in the mouth, then heads down into the esophagus and into the stomach, where digestion truly begins. Shortly after the stomach, your food finds its way into your small intestine, which breaks down food even further so you can absorb nutrients and put them into the bloodstream. The rest of your food residue is then passed into your large intestine, where your bacteria eat some of the remnants like scavengers. As the bacteria are chowing down on the scraps, the large intestine absorbs most of the remaining liquid. The rest of the undigested food that remains? Well, do we have to go into that detail? Pretty sure we all know where that goes!
Like everything in life, the digestive system does not always run efficiently or smoothly. For some, digestive problems can be genetic, and for others, they might be more complicated. 3 In both cases, nutrition plays a significant role.
Digestive Health and the Gut-Brain Axis
In addition to breaking down your food, your gut is communicating with your brain and plays a role in many essential functions like immune, metabolic, and cognitive health. The connection between the brain and the gut is referred to as "The Gut-Brain Axis" and is the network of connections involving multiple biological systems that allow bidirectional communication between gut bacteria and the brain. The axis is crucial in maintaining homeostasis of the gastrointestinal, central nervous, and microbial systems. 4
These microbial systems are known as the microbiome and are the collection of microorganisms that live in, on, and around our body and are most concentrated in the digestive system. In recent research, scientists have pinpointed the importance of our microbiome as a critical regulator of gut-brain function. 5 The microbiota and the brain communicate via numerous ways, including the immune system, tryptophan metabolism, the vagus nerve, and the enteric nervous system, involving microbial metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids, branched-chain amino acids, and peptidoglycans. 5
While research in the field continues to grow, we still do not fully comprehend the functional importance of the symbiotic relationship between host and microbe, particularly in brain health. However, scientific research is continually narrowing the gaps in our understanding of the gut-brain axis as many tools and animal models have been invaluable to expanding our knowledge. 5
We do know a few things for sure, such as, we understand our microbiomes are greatly affected by numerous factors such as genetics, lifestyle, medical interventions (i.e., antibiotics, vaccinations, etc.), and health status. Additionally, diet has regularly proven to be one of the most critical factors affecting the microbiome. In fact, data shows that 50% of the modification of gut microbiota has been linked to dietary modifications. Significant changes in diet during adulthood can alter the microbiota in a very short period. 6
The underlying message: for the gut-brain axis to function, our microbiomes must be adequately fed.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) and our Digestive Health
While you might feel full after a meal, that doesn’t mean the good-for-you bacteria that live in your gut microbiome are satisfied. In fact, it’s very possible that despite eating an adequate number of calories a day, the beneficial bacteria that live in your microbiome may still be starving and not getting the nutrients they need to function.
As a result, your microbiome can’t function like it's supposed to, which may impair your cognitive functions and wellbeing. It starts a hard-to-break cycle: people don’t give their microbiome the nutrients it needs, and their mental and emotional health may be impaired. When you feel down in the dumps, you may gravitate towards comforting, high-sugar, high-fat, high-calorie foods, which sends you back on the same track of starving your microbiome of the nutrients it needs to function properly.
So how is it that you can feel full but your microbiome is still hungry? Most likely, it’s because you’re eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). This is a diet that is high in sugar, processed foods, saturated fat, and sodium while also low in unrefined, fiber-rich foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruit—the exact foods that contain many nutrients the microbes in your microbiome love to eat.
Here is a brief history of how the nutrient-poor SAD has become the most prevalent diet pattern for the majority of Americans and ultimately how it affects your health:
- About twelve thousand years ago, humans obtained their food exclusively through hunting and gathering. Their diet consisted of plants, wild and fibrous, and meat, lean and gamey.
- The creation of agriculture caused a dramatic shift in the way people ate: domesticated fruits and veggies were selectively bred for increased sweetness and less fibrous flesh while animals became grain-fed. Additionally, products like dairy, grains, rice and wheat became extremely common. 1
- Alterations to our diets proceeded to happen when the Industrial Revolution produced a rapid change as it relied upon mass-produced food. All of these changes in our diet lead to today where our grocery stores are packed with highly processed, incredibly sweetened, calorie-dense foods that have been stripped of fiber and made with preservatives to lengthen their shelf life1.
A diet with these new food products is a massive deviation from what we have eaten throughout our evolutionary history. 1 Our current Standard American Diet is low in fiber, nutritional diversity, fruits and vegetables, and high in saturated fats and refined sugar. This Standard American Diet coupled with sedentary lifestyles results in changes of the microbiomes. Researchers believe that this may contribute to higher frequencies of chronic inflammatory disorders, like cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, allergies, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. 7
To understand what a fully functional microbiome might look like, we can study the last remaining full-time hunter-gatherers in Africa. The Hadza people, hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, have a diet most like that of our ancestors who lived before the arrival of agriculture. They eat meat from hunted animals, berries, fruits and seeds, honey, and tubers. 7
Researchers estimate they consume between 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day. In contrast, the average American gets only 16-17 grams of dietary fiber per day - almost half of what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends per day. 7
The lack of fiber and nutritional diversity in Americans’ diets is greatly affecting our microbiomes. Currently, the average American adult has around 1,200 different bacteria species living inside his or her gut while the modern-day average hunter-gatherer has about 1,600 species.7 To put that in perspective, that is a full 33% more bacteria in modern-day hunter-gatherer guts than what we have. Like those living hunter and gatherer lifestyles, our ancient human ancestors also had more varied bacteria in their guts than Americans do.7
How do you maintain digestive health?
As our human diet has moved from hunting and gathering to farming and now to today with our ultra-processed foods, our gut microbiomes have to adjust. While some of our bacteria species have gone missing, several factors drive our microbiota loss, one of which is the absence of adequate fibrous plant material in our diet.1
Fiber, in particular, is essential in maintaining and feeding your microbiome. Certain types of fiber nourishes them, allows them to thrive, and improves the microbiome's diversity.1
OLIPOP: What Does It Do for Digestive Health?
Most people don't have the time to wander through the forest and woods, pick berries, and search for fibrous roots. So, we did it for you. OLIPOP is the first research-backed, consumer beverage that brings you a digestive health solution that fits in the palm of your hand. With 9 grams of fiber per can, OLIPOP is doing our part to put fiber back into the hands (and stomachs) of Americans.
OLIPOP is the fastest-growing functional beverage in the U.S. and, so far, has contributed more than 75 million grams of fiber to the American diet. Our co-founder and formulator, Ben, has spent years searching for ingredients backed by research and has historical evidence of working to fuel our microbiomes and improve our digestive health.
What Are OLIPOP Ingredients?
Our ingredients work together to promote healthy digestion by feeding the microbiome that exists within all of us. In every OLIPOP flavor, we use something called OLISmart: our proprietary blend of 7 unique botanicals, plant fibers, and prebiotics (the primo food source for beneficial bacteria), each hand-picked for their biome-supporting benefits.
Why Is OLIPOP a Soda?
Something needed to be done to get plant fiber back into American's diets. So, we took a functional approach: a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. And all signs pointed us towards the microbiome. The truth is: our collective microbiome is starving, and if we don't feed it the nutrients it needs, it can’t do its job of supporting our overall health—from our immune system to our digestive system.
When we decided to make a product that would support consumer's biomes, we realized that we weren't going to get people to switch to a hunter-gatherer diet. Therefore, we met consumers where they already were with a product that met their taste preferences, but filled with the ingredients they needed to create an optimal environment in their microbiomes. And the truth is, it's really hard to argue with liquid cake.
- Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health (Penguin, 2015).
- Temple Northup, “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health” Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 3 (January 2014): 9-18, https://doi.org/10.18848/2160-1933/CGP/v03i01/40561.
- “Harvard Health,” Harvard Health, March 27, 2012, https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.
- Orhan Akpinar, “The Gut-Brain Axis: Interactions between Microbiota and Nervous Systems,” Journal of Cellular Neuroscience and Oxidative Stress 10, no. 3 (August 18, 2018): 783–783, https://doi.org/10.37212/jcnos.610103.
- John F. Cryan et al., “The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis,” Physiological Reviews 99, no. 4 (October 1, 2019): 1877–2013, https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00018.2018.
- Clara Seira Oriach et al., “Food for Thought: The Role of Nutrition in the Microbiota-Gut–Brain Axis,” Clinical Nutrition Experimental 6 (April 2016): 25–38, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yclnex.2016.01.003.
- Clara Seira Oriach et al., “Food for Thought: The Role of Nutrition in the Microbiota-Gut–Brain Axis,” Clinical Nutrition Experimental 6 (April 2016): 25–38, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yclnex.2016.01.003. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/current-dietary-guidelines
- The gut-brain axis is responsible for many essential functions like immune, brain, and emotional health. In order for it to function, our microbiome, the collection of bacteria in our gut, must be adequately fed.
- The Standard American (SAD) diet is low in fiber, nutritional diversity, fruits and vegetables, and high in saturated and hydrogenated fats, and refined sugar. This diet is contributing to Americans' decline in a diverse microbiome.
- Consuming a diet rich in food-borne microbes can reverse the damage caused by our SAD diet. However, diet is essential in maintaining your microbiome's diversity
- OLIPOP’s natural ingredients work together to support our overall health by supporting our gut health in various ways.
4 min read
Does OLIPOP Have Side Effects?
Fiber has a ton of positive effects on the body. But if your body isn’t used to a high-fiber diet, it might take some adjustment. Here’s what you need to know.
10 min read
Embracing Sustainability: 7 Achievable Steps for a Healthier Planet and Lifestyle
From recycling to minimizing food waste, here are 7 tips for sustainable living. Plus learn more about the sustainability commitments we’re making at OLIPOP!