To drink or not to drink? That’s the health-conscious question we’re asking about so many of our beverages these days.
By now, you probably know that sugar-laden sodas and juices are out, coffee is perfectly fine in moderation, and water should be everyone’s ride or die when it comes to calorie-free thirst quenching. But where does that leave the beverage hybrid that is sparkling water?
While the bubbly stuff is often considered a healthy alternative to soda, some worry that sparkling water isn’t as hydrating as still water and can negatively impact your bone density and cause tooth decay.
Those concerns haven’t seemed to cause seltzer sales to fizzle out though. In 2018, the carbonated water industry grew by 13% to reach an estimated $2.2 billion value. Can all those LaCroix lovers really be wrong?
To help settle these water wars, Anne Linge, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at the Nutrition Clinic at University of Washington Medical Center-Roosevelt, steps in to pour on the nutritional knowledge.
Is sparkling water as healthy as still water?
“The bottom line is that these sparkling waters do not cause any type of harm,” Linge says. “They’re fine to drink as long as they don’t contain added sugar.”
While you may be celebrating the good news by pouring some bubbly (water, that is), it’s important to pay attention to that last part about no added sugars. That’s because some carbonated waters have artificial sweeteners that are just as unhealthy as the stuff found in soda.
“When people tell me they’re drinking bubbly water, I always ask, ‘Have you read the label? Do you know if it contains an artificial sweetener?’” Linge says.
If your preferred brand of sparkling water is flavored with natural fruits or essential oils, though, that’s perfectly OK in Linge’s book.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are different types of carbonated waters, each with different ingredients. Some brands of flavored sparkling water can include caffeine, citric acid and added sugars. Other carbonated waters like club soda and tonic water may have sodium or sweeteners. Seltzer, on the other hand, has nothing but water and carbon dioxide bubbles.
Whatever you prefer, the key is to make sure you know what the ingredients are before you take a sip.
Does carbonated water hydrate as well as regular water?
While you don’t exactly see athletes chugging cans of sparkling water on the sidelines, carbonated water actually holds its own when compared to still water.
“Both of them hydrate equally well,” Linge notes.
In fact, researchers have put this exact hydration conundrum to the test. They asked participants in one study to drink either a liter of regular water, sparkling water or some other beverage like milk, juice, soda or a sports drink. After four hours, researchers measured everyone’s urine output and found there was no difference in the hydration status of those who drank carbonated water versus still water.
In some cases, Linge says, sparkling water may even help you stay better hydrated than you might with still water.
“Some people don’t like regular water, so sparkling water is a great alternative and can actually encourage them to drink more liquid,” she explains.
Can sparkling water affect bone density?
Breathe easy, seltzer fans.
“There has been some concern in the past that the acidity in carbonated water can promote osteoporosis,” Linge explains. “While soda is associated with low bone density, it’s not the same with carbonated water.”
Does carbonated water lead to tooth decay?
The research is a little less positive when it comes to sparkling water and dental health.
In one study of flavored sparkling waters, researchers found that the fizzy stuff can weaken the enamel on your teeth, likely due to citric acid contained in the fruit flavoring. But according to Linge, this isn’t as bad as it may seem.
“When we talk about teeth, adding carbon dioxide to water and sugar in a sweetened carbonated beverage can promote tooth decay,” she says. “But that’s not the same thing as a sparkling water that doesn’t have the added sugar.”
In fact, a different study found that any dental erosion from carbonated water was still considered “very low.” For comparison, soft drinks and orange juice are 100 times more corrosive than any sparkling water.
Can sparkling water cause tummy troubles?
Not to burst your bubbles, sparkling water enthusiasts, but the answer is maybe.
“If people have gastrointestinal issues like IBS, they may want to stay away from sparkling water,” Linge says. “Because of the fact that it is carbonated, it can cause gas and bloating in some people.”
That said, if you sip seltzer and feel totally fine, you’re free to drink away.
If you do experience any digestion issues, though, consider flavoring still water instead to get the best of both worlds. Linge suggests adding frozen fruit, herbs or a splash of juice to regular drinking water to create your own infused flavors.
“As far as drinking still water versus sparkling water, the bottom line is that you can drink either,” she says. “There’s no reason why tap water can’t be as refreshing as sparkling water or vice versa. They’re both something that people can feel good about drinking.”
Guess the water wars are officially over.