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Episode 29: How To Shop Smart For Prebiotic Products and Fiber

Episode 29: How To Shop Smart For Prebiotic Products and Fiber

You can’t walk down any aisle of the grocery store without seeing a product touting the benefits of probiotics and (prebiotic) fiber. But have you ever stopped to think that not all sources of probiotics and fiber are created equally?  

On today’s episode, Olipop founder Ben Goodwin is on the podcast talking about how consumers can be smart about what they’re buying off the shelves. He and Andrea discuss how to know if a product has been formulated correctly. 

Ben also dishes on the clinical research he’s been doing in the lab, including what he’s learned about prebiotics since we last spoke with him. Andrea also asks him what’s regularly on his plate now that he knows so much more about gut health - his answer may surprise you.   

To learn more about Ben and Olipop, head to or follow the company on Facebook and Instagram.  

On this show, you’ll learn: 

  • An update on Ben’s company, Olipop (1:33)
  • New clinical trials (3:38)
  • In-vitro microbiome testing (9:13)
  • New information on how prebiotics interact with the microbiome (15:23)
  • What’s on Ben’s plate? (20:45)
  • Benefits of different cuisines and spices (22:43)
  • With so many new products available, what should we be on the lookout for? (25:05)
  • Creating not just a beneficial product, but also a palatable one (33:00)
  • A realistic fiber intake range for the average American diet (41:29)

BIOHM gut quiz


Andrea Wien: I'm Andrea Wien and you are listening to the Microbiome Report, powered by and our resident researcher, Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum's new book, Total Gut Balance, which is now available for Amazon pre-order. My guest today is Ben Goodwin. You may remember Ben from way back on episode seven. On that episode, I crowned him the most interesting person in the world of microbes. So it's no surprise that we wanted to have him back on to give us an update on what he's learning.

Ben is the founder of Olipop, the first prebiotic soda on the market. Since we chatted, he's also been busy working on two clinical trials surrounding how different compounds interact with the microbiome. We get into what he's studying and what he's learned so far, plus what he hopes to uncover in the future. We also chat about what consumers should be thinking about when buying pre and probiotic foods at the grocery store. He's got some really great tangible advice for incorporating prebiotics into your diet. So you're definitely going to walk away from this episode with a very exciting to-do list. Enjoy the show.

Ben, thank you so much for joining us again. How are you doing?

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, I'm doing really well. Thanks for having me.

Andrea Wien: So I would love to just start getting an update since we last spoke. It's been quite a few months, and Olipop, I see now people in my feed, people are going over to the West Coast specifically from New York and seeking it out. So I know it's grown so much, but we would love to just get an update on where the company's at.

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, thanks. It's been a wild year, that's for sure. We're in about 600 points of distribution here so far, and I think we'll be in about double that by the beginning of next year. So it's been pretty meteoric. We're also now shipping all across the country on our direct consumer website, which is We've grown our Instagram following, which you can find us at drinkolipop, which has been pretty fantastic. And distribution's building really quickly. We're two regions of Whole Foods now, Northern California and Southern California. Just got approved for Rocky Mountain, and we're working on a couple other ones. We're going live in Wegmans at the beginning of next year, then Fred Meyer and QFC end of this year, early next year. And then there's a bunch more great retailer conversations lined up.

But it's been really amazing. It's hiring out this team, I think we're up to about 17 people now, and we're going to be doubling that by early next year. So, start ups are a really engaging place to be, and I really enjoyed working with the whole Olipop crew to get us to where we are right now. But I think, as crazy as this year has been, next year is going to be even more wild. So I'm looking forward to that.

Andrea Wien: That's great. I'm so excited. I know I've been following you on social media, and after our last conversation, you sent me a case, and I became totally obsessed, like everyone else who's tried it. And actually won one of your giveaways, and I was so excited, and then my husband and I-

Ben Goodwin: Oh, amazing!

Andrea Wien: We were rationing the stock that we had at our house.

Ben Goodwin: That's really fun.

Andrea Wien: So, yeah, it was exciting.

Ben Goodwin: That's really fun. And one cool thing that's coming up soon is in December, we're actually doing our first run of classic root beer. So, we'll have a root beer coming out really soon, and then we're going to be releasing another two to three flavors probably next year as well.

So, the artwork's already done for them, and working on the formulas, and they're going to be delicious.

Andrea Wien: I love it. People will be very excited to hear that. So, you've also been doing a lot on the other side of the equation of things, and I know you have some interesting clinical trials going on right now. What can you tell us about what you're studying and testing?

Ben Goodwin:  Yeah, so, we're a pretty science-oriented company, especially for a start-up. I've been a product developer for about 14 years, I've worked on a range of different products, this is my third beverage company. And I've always just been a little... I've gotten disturbed by the, I think I mentioned this, maybe, the last interview, but basically throwing a bunch of magic ingredients in a bottle or a package, and then making a bunch of claims and hoping for the best.

And so, our goal is to try to set a new standard around what is thought of as possible for start-ups. So we've taken the scientific part of the process really seriously. And I've actually, even when I started formulating the product in 2017, I knew that research was going to be a really important part of the equation for us. And I think it's not only useful in terms of validating whatever you put in your product, with the original functional ingredients, but also, for us, I think I have this pretty clear vision that what are known prebiotic and fiber ingredients now are great, but I think they're going to be a part of a much larger grouping of different ingredients that have useful characteristics for the microbiome moving forward.

So, we really also are now entering this phase of seeking out kind of new and novel fiber and prebiotics that maybe don't have as much awareness, or there aren't supply chains built for them, but could be really helpful for people.

So, right now, we've signed an agreement with Baylor College of Medicine, we're really excited to be working with them. We're the only industry partner that they're doing this type of research with, which is... it's an honor for us. It does mean that we have to work through some of the kinks together of figuring out absolutely the best approach to the research. But we have a pilot phase basically all designed with Robert Britton and Joseph Petrosino, who are two top members of their microbiome facility.

And we're going to be starting off with in vitro research, but it's very sophisticated in vitro research. It's arguably the most sophisticated microbiome testing system in the world. And it tests for shifts in the microbiome composition, which is great. But then we can also test for all sorts of what's called secondary outcomes, so you can take a look at how the microbiome is shifting, but then you can also take a look at how those microorganisms are behaving, and what compounds they're producing. Because ultimately, one of the most useful things about our microbiome is that it produces something called metabolites, and those metabolites end up having all sorts of functional aspects in our body.

Stanford actually just recently completed a study, and then an article was released on this that I read recently. But they're predicting that the average person's microbiome produces over 10,000 different metabolites on any given day. So all those different chemicals basically are coming into our systems, and many of them have really critical functional components to them, whether they get built into neurotransmitters, or get built into hormones, or benefit the immune system, or the nervous system, or any other number of different byproducts.

So, when you're testing for microbiome shifts, you also want to test for metabolite shifts, so you can kind of see what those organisms are doing. And then one of the things that makes this particular in vitro testing apparatus amazing is there's also ways to effectively test what the outcomes of the microbiome shifts, and the metabolite shifts, would be on basically the lining of the intestinal wall, which is really hard to test for outside of actually being in humans.

So there's a whole bunch of reasons why that's important. But basically, we live in this world where we don't get enough fiber and we don't get enough prebiotics, and oftentimes bacteria will mutate over time and actually eat away at the mucosal membrane that lines our intestinal wall. And when that happens, you get [inaudible] mucus, and then you end up having interactions between the intestinal wall and the contents of the digestive tract, which is not great, doesn't sound great, because it's not. But that's oftentimes called leaky gut syndrome, or there's a number of other ways to characterize it.

But then you can have these undesirable interactions, which lead to inflammation, and immune system overreaction, and permeability of the intestinal wall, which all this stuff is really not positive, but I think it's actually quite common, given the way that most Americans eat, and the lack of fiber and prebiotics in their diet.

So, we're going to be testing for all of those things. We're going to be testing both our current formula and tweaks on our current formula, and then we're also going to be, as we identify new compounds that we want to test, we can run those same compounds through this system, and then compare that data against the data for our existing formula. So it's going to be a really great tool to help us kind of prove out and vet the current formula and new stuff we're trying to develop.

Andrea Wien: Yeah. It opens up a whole new world. You're talking about these metabolites, I think people also refer to them as post-biotics, we did a show on that with Aubrey Levitt.

Ben Goodwin: I know Aubrey, yeah.

Andrea Wien: And that whole world is such a new frontier. The microbiome itself is still a new frontier. But then to be even learning more about the byproducts of these bacteria and fungi. So are you, you mentioned the in vitro testing, and I don't know how much of this you're able to get into, but what is that look like... I mean, are you doing it on humans? Is it a simulation of something that you've made? What does the testing actually look like?

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, so the in vitro test is not in humans, but it's not like a Petri dish either. This is a really much more sophisticated system, I'm really very excited about it. It's very hard to describe what it looks like, because it's definitely something out of a science fiction movie. There's all these little... there's a feeder station, and it goes through these tubes, and then there's these little boxes, there's like an inoculate that they put in to replicate the digestive system, and then they put all of the material you're trying to test the interactions with are pushed through the system.

So it's really hard to describe, but it's some weird, externalized gut system. But that's all outside of human, and the reason why it's outside of human is, human trials are very complicated to execute. They're also really expensive, so if you do one incorrectly, you could have just spent a couple million bucks, and then you don't even have usable data.

So the goal for us was to find the most sophisticated system, which we have found, and then to find, you know, Baylor College of Medicine and the staff that are working on this project are just top-flight academics and we're really pleased to be working with them. So we wanted to find a really good team that was going to help us actually design research that was actually usable and correctly done.

And, you know, the issue you always have is the company, the concern is that you're going to do research, and then broadly academic or scientific community is going to just say, "Well, whatever, that was just industry-funded research, so it's not really trustworthy."

So we wanted to find a lab that was pretty unflappable in terms of, they're going to be doing solid, academic-grade science, irrespective of who they're doing it with, and have a reputation for doing that, and that's what we found with Robert and Joe over at Baylor. So we're really happy about that.

We've also engaged a senior faculty at Purdue, so he's basically, they have a complex carbohydrates division over there, and he's actually helping us a little bit as well on the study design, but he's also working with us to actually develop really stringent quality controls around prebiotics, quality control system, which will interface with the research, but will also help us on our end, just determining that everything that goes into the product is really consistent, is doing what it says it's supposed to be doing, has all the kind of safety features, and we're actually holding the different companies that produce the base material accountable. So that's going to be really useful.

Now, we are... there's not a ton I can say on this yet, because it's still in the very early stages. But what I can say is, we are working on a grant for a human trial. We are working with one of our favorite gastroenterologists in the world on this one, so that's really... I can't wait, hopefully the grant goes through and we can announce it. But we are working towards a human study, which would involve fiber and prebiotic consumption levels in humans in an industrialized population.

So, if we can get that going, that would be phenomenal. To be working on human, both in vitro and human clinical trials at this phase, in a start-up life cycle, it's pretty extremely unusual, and to also be working with the caliber of researchers that we're working with is great.

So those are kind of the two tracks we're taking now. But I'm going to wait until the grant is actually approved before I start giving specific details out on the human trial.

Andrea Wien: Absolutely. That's fantastic. So as you are starting to come out with this, are you going to be publishing this? Obviously, we'd love to have you on the show to talk about what you're starting to find, but when do you expect to have some of these preliminary results back?

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, so we might start having the... so we're doing a pilot study, and the function of the pilot study is, yes, it's to get useful data. But it's also to determine that we have the right approach for their system. Because again, we're their first industry partner that they're doing this with. They haven't done anything quite like this before.

So, the first round of research is just to say, "Okay, here's our hypothesis on how to best run Olipop through this system and get usable data. And then we'll have to do kind of all the cross checks necessary to confirm that all the data came back accurately."

But we should actually have the first bout of data back by Q1 of next year. I'd like to have some stuff, we go to Expo West every year, and I'd like to have some stuff available to show consumers at the conference by the time we're there. I'm thinking Q1 next year for the first round of data, and then if it's usable good data, we can start to share it, and then we can basically build off of that base to do further iterative testing, kind of in whatever direction we want, to test... we could test different quantities of Olipop, we could test the different versions of the current formula, we can test new and novel prebiotics and fibers.

And what's great about it for me is, if you even take a look at Jerusalem artichoke or chicory or any of the botanicals that we're using, there's like 10 different forms of extracts for all of them. So it's liquid, it's powder, it's this concentration, this standardization, this chain length, in terms of the polymerization of the actual molecules. There's so many different forms. And we've taken a lot of time so far to choose what we've chosen, based on the existing literature, and what works best in the formula. But it's going to be really exciting to find out if there's different formats that work better.

And the other thing that I firmly believe, and I think there's some good literature that shows this, but with fiber and prebiotics, it is one plus one equals three. When you start to bring in a certain amount of diversity, and you bring in different kind of complementary compounds that feed an array of different beneficial microorganisms, I think you do get a disproportionate benefit. And so that's again something we're actually going to be able to get to test what exactly we're getting out in this research from trying these different combinations and finding out what's the most effective.

Andrea Wien: That's so exciting. You mentioned it a little bit, I think we talked probably on the last show, of the one plus one equals three. But throughout this process, I have to assume that you've learned so much more about how prebiotics interact with the microbiome. Is there any new information you can share with us?

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, I mean, I think the main thing that's been impressed upon me is really just how important the nutritional diversity piece is. I think oftentimes, with processed food, something becomes made commercially available, everyone, all the food suppliers, just rush to put the same thing in the product.

So, for prebiotics it's almost always chicory. Pretty much everybody uses chicory. Some people use acacia fiber. But it's usually just the same compound over and over again. My concern around that, especially as more brands come onto the scene, and they start pushing out different products to try to chase the prebiotic claim, or to try to maybe copy Olipop, or whatever it is, they'll just reach for, okay, what's the kind of cheapest, most available, easiest to integrate ingredient? And they'll probably go for chicory or they'll go for single ingredient. And that's totally absurd, in terms of how the microbiome actually works.

We're designed to be eating seasonally, we're designed to be getting a lot of diversity in our diet, and anytime, I'm sure that you have a pretty educated consumer base, even microorganisms that live in the body that are considered probiotics, if there are too many of them, they can actually become problematic.

So one of the things that makes the microbiome function properly is having an adequate number of different competing species, so that no one particular species gets excessive control or overly dominates the playing field. Obviously, there's certain bacteria that are in higher concentrations, like lactobacillus strains, et cetera. But they still need to be kept inside of their relative balance.

And, yeah, that's just kind of the thing that has really been impressed upon me, is how critical that diversity of nutritional inputs and kind of a rotational component to those nutritional inputs are to the microbiome. And there is some product development stuff I'm looking at around emulating seasonality. Can't really talk much about it yet, because it's in development. But that's something that I'm going to be looking at for the future.

And then in terms of underlying product, which is our sparkling digestive tonic, right now, we already have a range of different ingredients in the products. We've got oligosaccharides, and we've got resistant starches, and we've got different polysaccharides, and we've got some dextrins. So there's already a bit of a range of will kind of exceed most other prebiotic products out on the market.

But, I'm looking to kind of jump into that even more. There's pectins, there's betaglucins, there's more types of polysaccharides. There's actually metabolites that hypothetically can have their own prebiotic effect. There's just a bunch of different stuff that can go in the product, or in different iterations of different products. So I'd like to really build up a nice catalog of different ingredients that we can pull from, and push out to our consumers.

But yeah, I think prebiotics are useful because even if you are... and prebiotic diversity is useful, because even if you have, let's say you have two people with exactly the same microbiome, and you feed one person cheeseburgers and french fries and pizza and soda, and obviously not Olipop, but traditional soda, and then you feed the other person a diverse, rich diet, and maybe some Olipop in there, and they're getting their smoothies, and they're having lots of different cool nutritional input, even if they have the same microbiome to start, obviously it won't stay that way, if they eat so differently over time. But they will produce massively different metabolites. And the microbiome will end up behaving quite differently, depending on what you're putting into it.

So, I just think of it as kind of like inner ecosystem cultivation. It's like being conscious of effectively the garden you're growing inside of yourself, and then obviously that garden produces different fruits and vegetables and whatnot, and then your body actually really uses those. So it's kind of a fun concept for me, thinking about the fiber and the prebiotics and the food you're bringing into your system, as selectively feeding the plants that you want, and they're producing different fruits based on what you're feeding them.

So that's kind of been some of my biggest takeaways as the year's gone on.

Andrea Wien: This episode is brought to you by, the website of our resident scientist, Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum, and his new book, Total Gut Balance: Fix Your Microbiome Fast for Complete Digestive Wellness. Dr. Ghannoum has spent over 40 years studying our microbial communities, and has now condensed his insights into an entertaining book that dives deep into the fungal colonies into your microbiome, why candida gets a bad rap, and his advice for a diet plan, complete with recipes, that's happy for your gut, based on years of clinical research.

He also lays out a handy test to take, so you can find out where on the health meter your microbiome is at today. And then he gives you recommendations on how to better balance your gut in 24 hours with supplements, lifestyle, and diet. Total Gut Balance: Fix Your Microbiome Fast for Complete Digestive Wellness is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Just simply search Total Gut Balance book to find it. The book will be shipped and released on December 24th.

I can't stop thinking about, what are you eating now on a day to day basis? What does a typical day look like for you, now that you have some of this insight?

Ben Goodwin: Oh, my God. Well, I am on the road a lot, which is a big problem. I was just traveling for three weeks straight. So my day is going to be a little bit weirder than a lot of other people's days. I have some of my favorite go-tos. I like to make green waffles, which have arugula or spinach, and then actually oat flour and eggs, so it's a really clean waffle you can make at home. And then I might cook a couple eggs, or put some sauerkraut on the side with that, or eat a couple walnuts. It's actually really good, because between the eggs and walnuts and maybe put a little ghee on the waffle, it's really fatty and delicious, and it's low-sugar, it's really satisfying first thing in the morning.

If I'm feeling a little more adventurous, I have this oatmeal that I make, which has bone broth and seaweed and sesame seeds, and all this crazy stuff. But I typically find that just really making sure you have a high-fiber, high-fat, high-protein, low-sugar breakfast is just so crazy important, or first meal of the day.

I also do a good amount of intermittent fasting, which actually is also good for your microbiome. It's good to restrict food on your body certain times of the day, and also for microbiome, just to make it a little bit lean and mean, give it times when it's got less to eat, so it has to be more efficient, and then you feed it with a really nutritionally-diverse, fiber-rich, nutrient-rich first meal, and that usually gets me totally sorted out.

Andrea Wien: All right, I love it. I like that some of those answers were not as generic as some things that we hear, so it's good to hear how some people can be a little bit more adventurous also, so thanks.

Ben Goodwin: I think another thing that people really underestimate is their spice cabinet. I think we really think a lot of times, like, of just, okay, spices just makes things have a taste. But what do you think taste is? Taste is basically derived from the compounds that are in the ingredients. I think people are really underestimating the importance of having a really big spice cabinet and using lots of spices. I think that's something that I really... because you throw a couple different, you know, you throw a seasoning mix, and you throw some garlic, and you throw some pink rock salt, and some black better, and some curry powder, whatever, in some of your food, and all the sudden, you've just added like 15 new ingredients, depending on your mixture, which have a bunch of properties to them. There is volatile compounds, and you're actually adding quite a bit to your nutritional diversity, and you're oftentimes getting really useful antioxidants or other kind of important nutrients.

So that's another thing that has been a big thing for me personally, is really building up a robust spice cabinet, and using a lot of spices on my food.

Andrea Wien: I love that. Yeah. When I travel to other countries, I was in Morocco recently, India, Italy, Spain, I always try to bring back the local spices. Because one, they're so much fresher than what you could get here in the grocery store, obviously, if you can only get what's here, there's some great brands that I also like. But to get it from the source is always such a treat for me.

Ben Goodwin: Yeah. That sounds like an amazing travel schedule. Maybe I just need to not have a company, and I could head all over the place. That sounds great.

Andrea Wien: Well, to be fair, that was over the last couple of years, not all at once.

Ben Goodwin: Oh, okay.

Andrea Wien: Yeah.

Ben Goodwin: No, fair enough. Yeah, I mean, even different cuisines. Like, I think sometimes Indian food is overcooked, and you can get low or high quality, but different cuisines from different countries, you're going to get spices, and obviously a skillful application of the spices, and that's going to add a lot of new stuff. So I always think about it, maybe I think about it a little too much. I certainly think about it more than the average person. But every time I'm trying some new flavor that's a byproduct of some spices or whatever, I'm excited, because it's a new thing that my body, my microbiome and my body are going to get to eat, which, and I have no idea what kind of outcome is going to come out of it, but it's super important, and people should think about this stuff a lot more.

Andrea Wien: That's actually a great segue. So as more of these prebiotic, probiotic products are coming out, how should people be thinking about the formulations of these? What should they be looking out for in a product? What should they potentially be avoiding?

Ben Goodwin: Looking at a lot of the data, this major article just came, and I don't want to throw any other products under the bus, per se. But there was just a major article, really just a scathing review in the New York Times recently on kind of the lack of clinical data behind kombucha, and actually, it was so scathing that I actually went back to PubMed and I looked online to try to actually validate the article and see if it was true, in terms of, okay, is there really clinical evidence? And there's only been one randomized clinical trial on kombucha, and it was really not well-executive.

There's definitely a deficit right now in the digestive health beverage space. It's drinking vinegar, and it's kombucha, and I guess there's bone broth, which I'm a bit more into. But really the goal of Olipop is to try to bring in the part of the equation that is more universally helpful. Even with probiotics, there's a lot of good information that can be quite useful, but then there's so many different types of microbiomes, and without some element of personalization to the formulation, there's now concerns about how effective they're going to be for your average healthy person, and they're really trying to find out more data on that.

So our goal at Olipop is to say, all right, we really feel quite strongly that starting with the beverage set, but then potentially moving into other areas as we go, there needs to be kind of fiber, prebiotic nutritional diversity capacity in the consumer packaged goods space. And really, there should be as much of that on the shelf as there are around fermented foods, because they really go... or probiotics, because they really go hand in hand, if you're going to use both of them. Or for some people, just having a dietary intervention will actually be the most effective way to assist with their dietary or potentially microbiome issues.

So, we're excited about that. But our concern is that we help to build out that category that it'll help to incentivize other companies to look at it kind of as a trend. And when I'm speaking publicly, I'm always lambasting trend-chasers, it always really drives me crazy for people to be like, "Okay, prebiotics are hot now, so I'm going to go find a product that I can technically label as a prebiotic, and I'll slap it in my product, and I'll slap the badge on the label, and then go from there." And unfortunately, that means that there's a range of different product quality and formulation quality that hits the shelf. And for your average consumer that is just reading for the word prebiotic, or badges or whatever, they end up kind of getting the short end of the stick, because it's not necessarily the most optimal formulation.

But what I really recommend people look for is, like, how many different sources of prebiotics are they using? If you go to the back of a package that says it's a prebiotic, and it just has chicory in the product, I don't recommend it. Chicory, inulin, chicory oligosaccharides, there are versions of chicory... and we use chicory in our product, it's just that it's not the only thing we use. So there is some good clinical evidence behind chicory, and chicory inulin, but if all the different manufacturers kind of take this same approach, and they go to just put chicory inulin in their product, and then that's all you get as your prebiotic input, I think you're going to be missing out on a lot of available opportunities.

And also, there's the issue, specifically with chicory, and inulin broadly, that if you consume too much too quickly, and your body's not used to it, it will give you gas and bloating. And the last thing we want is to have people trying to come into this prebiotic and fiber space, which is a really useful area, and it's a really ripe area for products and for a new category to kind of spring up, and then they accidentally eat like three or four different things in a day that have chicory powder in it, and then they get gas, and then they get turned off from the whole category, because they're not excited about getting gas every time that they try to get healthy.

So, the biggest caution I would have is just look at the originality of the formula. Are they bringing novel stuff in that definitely has verified prebiotics in it, or definitely adds to your dietary fiber, but maybe is something you wouldn't eat all the time? You know, it's something that's not normally in your diet, or it's not something that's in all the other products, or it's a nice complicated mixture. I think that's really important. Obviously, it goes without saying that especially if it's something that you're hoping to be experiential, like a beverage or a food item, hopefully it's tasty. That's a good thing to be looking for, because you really want something that you can reliably integrate into your lifestyle, if you're kind of... you know, I got this one fiber powder that's out on the market, I won't obviously say the name of the company, but it's actually a really good formula. You mix it with water and you drink it.

But oh my God, I could never drink that every day. And I am obsessed with this kind of stuff, and I'm just like, it's got these chia seeds, and they gelatinize, and it's got... it's like drinking silt. Chalky, dirt, silk, and I just cannot put myself through that every day. So I think there's an aspect to trying to get something that is enjoyable.

And I think the last one is really just, watch out for ingredients that, for example, with Olipop, we're a pretty low-calorie, low-sugar product. We're less than three grams of sugar per can, obviously versus 40 to 50 grams for a regular soda. Calories hover around 35. Net carbs are around four. So it's a pretty low-calorie product, and that's great, and I think a lot of other companies are going to be trying to bring these to the market might try to take a similar approach.

But I've seen companies come out with digestive health claims or whatever, but then they stick erythritol or xylitol in the product, which I just would, you know, a third of the population has sensitivity to polyols, it's technically a FODMAP that's really irritating for a lot of people's digestive tracts. It's not particularly useful for your microbiome, your microbiome does not know what to do with sugar alcohols.

So it's just another layer of concern. Just take a look for other ingredients in the product that might end up being counter to your digestive health goals, or your digestive health experience. And erythritol's a common one, and xylitol's a somewhat common one. But there are other ones. Even Stevia, which we use, there are forms of Stevia where it's not necessarily conclusive, but there are forms of Stevia that they suspect might not actually be that great for your microbiome. So we actually did a lot of extra work and research to find an extract that actually has evidence showing that it's neutral for your microbiome. So you get the flavor that you're looking for, and the sweetness that you're looking for, but there's not a big question mark over whether or not it's actually hurting your microbiome outcome.

So I think those would be the three top things I would recommend to consumers, is originality and diversity of formulation; two, it's got to taste good, something you can really integrate into your lifestyle on a daily basis, hopefully like a pleasurable consumption experience; and then just make sure there's no competing ingredients in the product that might actually be harmful for your digestive or microbiome health.

Andrea Wien: Yeah. I think that first point, too, is so important. It's one of the reasons I love your product so much, is because when you look at the ingredient label, it's stuff that you're not getting anywhere else. I'm not getting those ingredients. I can't even really go buy them at the grocery store unless I really have a specialty store, perhaps, or I'm going online. And so to be able to get that in something that does taste good, and has this research behind it, is so impressive to me. It's one of the reasons that I like your product so much. So we appreciate that you're doing that for all of us.

Ben Goodwin: Thank you so much. One of the things that I get so excited about, now that we've been in market for a year, and we ship to like 48 out of the 50 states, and we really started to have a nice, active conversation with our consumers, especially on social media, is there's people who are like, "Yeah, I just got back from my dietician, or my nutritionist, and she literally recommended I consume half of the ingredients that are in this product."

So now, not having to go to the store and buy capsule supplement, or some weird powder that I mix into my drink, my water or my smoothie, but I get to consume this stuff in effectively a soda, sparkling soda-style format, it's pretty exciting for them. And that's great for me to hear, because if we're in alignment with what nutritionists and dieticians are already recommending to their customers, that just makes it a lot easier for us, and easier for them, and hopefully allows us to continue to have a platform to chat to people around.

Andrea Wien: Absolutely. Okay, so last question here. You mentioned gas, bloating, the liver damage, potentially, with some of the formulations that maybe, of kombucha, that maybe aren't being done correctly.

Ben Goodwin: There are two clinical trials I found that brought that up as a concern.

Andrea Wien: Okay.

Ben Goodwin: I think they were in animal models, but there were compounds being produced from the basically breaking down of the kombucha that were of concern.

Andrea Wien: Okay. If someone wanted to find... is that a PubMed study that we could link to? Or do you know how to find that information?

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, I can send them over to you.

Andrea Wien: That'd be great.

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, I can do that.

Andrea Wien: We can link to those in the show notes, of course. But say someone's listening to this, and they haven't really started to integrate some of these things into their diet. What are the signs that they're going too fast? Would it be that gas and bloating? And how do you recommend someone start to add some of these prebiotic, probiotic formulations into their lives?

Ben Goodwin: I think the one piece of good news about the gas and bloating is that it does back off eventually, or at least it should back off eventually. It just, for your average person who's trying to get into it, they're not going to have the patience to be walking around for weeks or months with gas and bloating. So I think that's kind of your personal comfort, and obviously the social components of that are not irrelevant.

I think, if you're coming at it from the product, or the consumer packaged good, or the supplement side, obviously just do your research. Is this a reputable company? Are they kind of using reputable processes? Have they had any third-party testing? If you're dealing with a probiotic, do they have third-party testing that the probiotics actually get to where they need to get to in the digestive tract?

We do know that most probiotics, or maybe no probiotics are actually grafting. So your best hope on the probiotic side is that you're taking a probiotic, it's helping out for 24 to 72 hours, and then it's kind of getting flushed out of the system.

That is useful to some people, if they have a deficit in certain strains, there are instances where that could be useful. Again, there's not a lot of data that it's super useful in healthy adults, but certain people with specific digestive distress, or bowel-related disease, there's evidence that it could be helpful for them, certainly.

On the prebiotic fiber side, obviously, feel free to drink some Olipop. I think other than that, it's just actually take a look at the fiber levels in the products that you're consuming, and then set a goal for yourself around how much fiber you want to consume. Or do a little research, and, like, sweet potatoes are really high in fiber. So maybe switch over to sweet potato instead of having a russet or a Yukon Gold, or one of the starchier, more hybridized foods. It's really, you want to increase your fiber and prebiotics, the two big things that kill off fiber and prebiotics are more hybridized foods and more processed foods. So, unless they're specifically processed to bring up the fiber and prebiotics, most processing takes away from fiber and prebiotics.

If you're getting a lot of nutritional diversity in your diet, and you're kind of selecting in that way, and you're doing your research around the supplements and product goods you're consuming, you should broadly be good. If you get too much discomfort, then, cool, back off a little bit. And it's always a good idea to check in with a registered dietician or a nutritionist, especially if you can find one that has a good reputation. Medical doctors have their place too. Some of them have more nutritional knowledge than others. Unfortunately, a lot of medical doctors don't get a lot of nutritional training, so they kind of have very basic advice, which for some people will be useful, but others who are really looking to overhaul their system might want to find a qualified practitioner that actually does focus more specifically on diet. So if you are having less than ideal results as you're trying to switch over, you can have a professional help you through that process.

But anything that creates too much change too quickly is probably... creates some discomfort at some stage. But have a bit of faith that if you're broadly consuming stuff in the right direction, you're going to get past it.

One of the reasons for that is certain foods you're eating might feed what's called primary fermenters. So a first selection of microorganisms that do a good job of breaking down your food, and because of what you're feeding them, they're going to produce a new type of metabolite on a larger scale than your body is used to. So then there's these secondary fermenters, and these tertiary fermenters, and these layers of microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. And they have to, the populations of those microorganisms have to grow to catch up with the metabolite of your primary fermenters.

So, unless there's adequate levels of the subspecies, there might be periods of some amounts of discomfort. It's actually pretty amazing. I was just at a conference recently where I was listening to a gentleman talk about the microbial composition of... microbiome composition of different super-athletes. There are actually people who are really, really athletic actually have higher levels of bacteria, for example, that break down lactic acid, and other byproducts of exercise. It's amazing how life works. It's like the body is its own terrain. It's almost like it's its own contained planet. And if you create any kind of food source consistently enough, internally or through the food you eat, eventually you're going to develop bacteria or microorganisms that are going to capitalize on that opportunity and break it down, which really, really interesting stuff.

But the same thing is true for your diet. You just kind of take slow, steady steps. If you're having trouble with it, consult really a qualified nutritional practitioner, and you'll get to where you need to be over time. But there's the three things I can't just really recommend enough, are adequate fiber, again, hunter-gatherers get 100 to 200 grams a day, which is unrealistic for your average person. But it's still something to think about. And they get like 130-plus grams of prebiotics a day as well, as a part of that. So again, unrealistic for your average person, but worth considering. And they get a lot of different nutritional diversity. Looking at the different indigenous groups as well, typically, their diets, there's not a lot of dairy in indigenous hunter-gatherers. People of European descent are a little more oriented to be able to break down dairy, so that's useful. That's probably more of an option for those groups. But for other groups, there really isn't a ton of dairy.

And typically, they're eating about 70 to 90% plant foods, and 10 to 30% animal foods, so meats and tissues and bone marrows and stuff like that. So if your goal is to try to find something that's more natural for humans, those are really key concepts to look at, and roughly model your diet around as a starting place, and then doing that with a good nutritional practitioner to make sure you're safe.

Andrea Wien: Do you have a realistic kind of range for fiber intake for the average American?

Ben Goodwin: Yeah, they are consuming about 10 to 15 grams, according to the FDA. The FDA recommends 28 grams a day, the World Health Organization recommends 30 to 40. I mean, personally, I try to get at least 40 to 50, which even that, I would hope I could increase from there. So I'm in a little bit of a tricky territory, because I'm not technically qualified to be making nutritional recommendations. But that's what I aim for. And if I got more than that, I'd be happy with it.

Andrea Wien: All right. Ben, every time we talk to you, it's so interesting. I'm really excited to keep up with the clinical trial work that you're doing, so hopefully we can have you back on in the spring to talk about those results. But as always, thank you so much for the time.

Ben Goodwin: Absolutely, Andrea. Thanks so much for having me on.

Andrea Wien: Thanks for listening to the Microbiome Report. This episode is powered by Total Gut Balance, a book by Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum that's now available for Amazon pre-order. Don't forget to check out the show notes for this episode. You can head to, again, biome is B-I-O-H-M, and click on podcast. Until next time I'm Andrea Wien.


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