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What You Need To Know About Sparkling Water

Updated: Jan 28



Water and carbon are two of the most fundamental components of our being, so how did they become so confusing? I’m asked on a weekly basis whether sparkling water is a healthy choice. “I heard it can make you gain weight? Isn’t it bad for digestion? Does it destroy your teeth? Is it bad for your bones?”


What is sparkling water?

Sparkling (carbonated) water is water that has been put under pressure to infuse it with carbon dioxide (the bubbles).

  • Seltzer = water + carbon dioxide

  • Club soda = water + carbon dioxide + sodium (often sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda, or other mineral salts)

  • Tonic water = water + carbon dioxide + quinine (a bitter compound from the bark of the cinchona tree) + (almost always) a sweetener

Is it hydrating? As hydrating as regular water?

Plain sparkling water (without added sugar) is absolutely hydrating and a good alternative when you want to switch things up from regular water. There are other reasons to keep intake to a limit, but being dehydrating, or “less hydrating” than regular water, is not one of them.


How does it impact digestion and gut health?

This one depends:


While it won’t cause major digestive issues on its own, if you’re prone to excessive belching, acid reflux (GERD), bloating, and gas, the bubbles in sparkling water can aggravate those symptoms, so you may want to limit or avoid it. Drinking it through a straw can further increase gas and bloating.


Interestingly, a (very) small study found that sparkling water actually improved constipation, more so than regular water. I haven’t tested this out clinically.


Some of the confusion around sparkling water and digestion stems from the artificial sweeteners that are often used to flavor them, which can definitely cause digestive upset, diarrhea, and upset the balance of intestinal bacteria (the gut microbiome). Artificially sweetened drinks have also been found in animal studies to cause cravings for sweet, high-calorie foods. Aspartame, a common artificial sweetener used in diet drinks, was found in a rodent study to actually damage a part of the brain that tells the animal when to stop eating. There is no shortage of health concerns around artificial sweeteners, ranging from a higher risk of certain cancers and gut inflammation to cardiovascular disease and kidney disease, though doubts about the evidence will never cease. I say why risk it…then again I once had a client who spent a good part of our sessions lecturing me on why Diet Mountain Dew should be considered a health food…I digress.


How does it impact your teeth?

Carbonated water is more acidic than flat water. Carbon dioxide is converted to carbonic acid when it mixes with saliva, making the environment in your mouth more acidic. While it’s not nearly (think >100x less) acidic and erosive as soda or fruit juice, it’s still more erosive than regular water, and more so if there’s any added citrus. One way to enjoy it while protecting your teeth is to drink it with a meal — when you eat, your mouth produces more saliva, which can help neutralize acids on the surface of your teeth.


Another tip is to wait at least 30 minutes after your last carbonated drink before brushing your teeth to give your enamel a chance to remineralize and re-harden; the acidity softens your enamel, this break helps protect your teeth from abrasives.


What about bone health?

Plain sparkling water is not detrimental for bone health. The real issue is soda (the Coke/Pepsi kind of soda, not club soda), which has phosphoric acid that leads to a loss of calcium from bones, and added sugar which is known to increase the risk of osteoporosis.


Should I drink it if I'm trying to lose weight?

This is probably the most complicated one to answer; if I had to choose, I would say that it’s good overall. Hydration is key for proper detoxification, and fat cells are a major storage site for toxins. If drinking sparkling water helps you to stay well-hydrated (drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces of water daily), then I think there’s more benefit than risk. And if you’re used to drinking soda regularly, unsweetened sparkling water is a much healthier alternative.


One concern around sparkling water and weight is that a small animal and human study showed that ghrelin levels — the hunger hormone — go up in response to consuming even plain carbonated water, which could lead to overeating. Why would that happen? The researchers in these studies speculated that, because the carbon dioxide “bubbles” create pressure in the stomach, the stomach responds to that pressure as if it were food; your body thinks it’s consumed actual food, but it receives little to no calories or nutrients, so your body produces a hormone to make you seek out the food it now thinks it’s missing. Again, a simple solution for this would be to drink sparkling water with meals rather than by itself.


And, of course, there’s a lot more to metabolism and weight than whether or not you’re drinking sparkling water. That said, if you’re trying to lose weight and you drink a lot of sparkling water, experiment with drinking less and see if it helps.


Any drink with an added sweetener, including artificial sweeteners and I suspect even sugar-less natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit, can lead to weight gain, either through calories directly (if sweetened) or by increasing sugar cravings and appetite.


Sparkling Water Ingredient Guide

​Enjoy

Caution

Avoid

Carbonated water


Fresh juice (check “Sugars”, aim for <5g per serving)


Glass bottle

Natural flavors


Citric acid - can make the drink more acidic (adding your own lemon or lime slices/juice would have the same effect); usually made from GMO corn in the US and processed using mold - caution for those with mold sensitivity/allergy as well as yeast or fungal issues


Malic acid - similar concerns as citric acid but generally seems safer


Sodium - if you have high blood pressure, be aware that each can of club soda has about 100-200mg of sodium - not an issue if you’re drinking 1-2 per day, but if it’s your main source of hydration, be aware that it can add up


Natural no-sugar sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit - as noted, these can still enhance sugar cravings if you tend toward them, but are otherwise fine


Aluminum cans - Aluminum is a toxin that can accumulate in the body and raise risk of dementia, among other health issues. I have seen levels of aluminum decrease in blood and urine tests when canned drinks and foods are avoided or reduced for a period of time. Opt for glass bottles when possible.

Added sugar or high fructose corn syrup


Chemical preservatives like sorbates and benzoates (e.g., potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate) - when mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), form benzene, a known human carcinogen. Avoid.


Artificial colors (e.g., red 40)


Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose)

So, is sparkling water healthy?

My short answer is: 1-2 glasses (or 1-2 cans’ worth, but see my note above about aluminum) daily of unsweetened, with no added flavors or artificial sweeteners, is perfectly fine for most people. It’s ideal to drink it with meals rather than by itself.


Best options:

  • Mountain Valley Sparkling Water

  • Saratoga

  • Pelligrino (glass bottle)

  • Perrier (glass bottle, unflavored - their flavored waters contain “natural flavors” and I haven’t been able to find more information about them)


One of the cleanest canned options is Spindrift, just be mindful of the aluminum note above.


LaCroix had some bad press about their “natural flavors” in 2018, and while the lawsuit was dropped in 2020, the actual source of those flavors remains unclear. The same goes for all of the brands that have tried to replicate LaCroix’s success that also simply list “natural flavors” without any further explanation, like PepsiCo’s Bubbly drinks, and Coca-Cola’s Dasani Sparkling, Smartwater Sparkling and Topo Chico (I’m referring to the flavored versions of these, although a separate issue arose in recent years about other chemicals in even unflavored Topo Chico — good article on how much credence to give that here).


Check out my instagram post on more ways to hydrate if you’re tired of plain water.


What’s your favorite way to hydrate?


References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4324883/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10802387/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sweeteners-time-to-rethink-your-choices-2019022215967

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11211319

https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/is-carbonated-water-healthy

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/zero-weight-loss-from-zero-calorie-drinks-say-it-aint-so-2021032222204

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