Whether you have a dedicated LaCroix obsession or sip on the occasional bubbly drink with your dinner, you're familiar with sparkling water's refreshing profile. Often hailed as a healthier alternative to soda and more satisfying than plain water, sparkling water — and carbonated water in general — has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. But as brands like LaCroix and Perrier continue to reach new heights in popularity, more people are wondering: Is sparkling water bad for you in any way, and could it replace your regular water intake?
Before getting into any drawbacks or benefits, of course, it's important to know what exactly sparkling water is. According to Yezaz Ghouri, MD, a gastroenterologist within the University of Missouri Health Care system, carbonated water is simply water (H2O) that's been infused with carbon dioxide gas (CO2) under high pressure. This process creates a "fizzy" drink that can come in several different forms, including seltzer, club soda, sparkling mineral water and tonic water.
What differentiates these types of drinks depends on several factors, such as their carbonation methods, water sources and most importantly, added ingredients. Some brands of sparkling water may contain extra additives to improve their taste, including sodium, artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents — all of which can contribute to a negative effect on your health, especially in the long run.
Whichever type of fizzy water is your favorite, though, you're bound to wonder: Could drinking this beverage be healthier for me in any way? Luckily, Good Housekeeping quizzed experts about the impacts of sparkling water on your health — including its effects on your digestion, teeth and bones. If you're debating whether to sip or skip a can of bubbly the next time you're craving a little fizz, here's what you should know.
What are the benefits of carbonated water?
Here's the best news: While sparkling water is carbonated, it still has the same hydrating effects as still water. "Sparkling water is just as hydrating as regular water and contributes to your daily water intake," says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian for the Good Housekeeping Institute. "If you’re bored of regular tap water, incorporating sparkling water into your routine can change things up and help you hit your daily water quota."
Additionally, most sparkling waters can also be a much healthier alternative to soft drinks, as long as it doesn't contain any sweeteners or added sugars — which is something you'll need to check for via the nutrition facts label. If you've found a product that's free of major amounts of sugar, sodium or artificial flavoring, craving "fizz" on its own isn't harmful for most, as it's not only hydrating but also typically contains less sugar and calories than soda.
Three ways carbonated water can impact your health:
Too much of anything can be bad for your health, and the same is true for sparkling waters, too. Though drinking a can or two a day should generally be okay, Dr. Ghouri warns against making sparkling water an outwardly excessive habit — or completely foregoing flat water for fizzy water exclusively. "I don't think I would put a limit on it per se, but anything in moderation is better than going out of control," he says.
Here's how drinking an increased amount of sparkling water may impact a few aspects of your health, according to experts:
Your digestive wellbeing
Since sparkling water contains CO2 gas, the bubbles in this fizzy drink can cause burping, bloating and other gas symptoms. Some sparkling water brands may also contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose, warns Dr. Ghouri, which may cause diarrhea and even alter your gut microbiome. Because of this, Dr. Ghouri recommends staying away from carbonated water if you suffer from gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), particularly if you experience diarrhea as a recurring symptom. Carbonated beverages can also trigger heartburn, according to officials at the Mayo Clinic — which means it might be best to avoid excess carbonation if you have a history of acid reflux too.
Interestingly, conflicting research has previously suggested that sparkling water could actually improve digestion in some individuals, including a 2002 study that found that drinking carbonated water relieved constipation in people with chronic digestive issues.
One of the biggest concerns about sparkling water is its effect on dental health, as the carbonation process introduces carbonic acid into the water — a substance that can potentially erode the enamel on your teeth. "The more the carbonation, the more carbon dioxide mixes with water on high pressure to form carbonic acid — and that decreases the pH of the solution, meaning makes it more acidic," explains Dr. Ghouri.
Since carbonated water is slightly more acidic than regular water, it can potentially have more harmful effects on your teeth — but even so, says Dr. Ghouri, the risk of damage is still fairly low. "Is it a bit more damaging than regular water? Probably... because you are exposing your teeth to an acidic solution. But the risk is really minimal," he says.
The American Dental Association says that sparkling water is "generally fine" for your teeth, provided that there's no added sugars or other additives. Even more, research published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation in 2001 suggested that sparkling mineral water was a hundred times less damaging to your teeth than a sugary soft drink.
Another common concern is that the acidity in carbonated water is harmful to bone health, and can even lead to bone fractures and conditions like osteoporosis. This association, however, seems to stem from research that showed that cola soft drinks — and not other carbonated beverages — may be linked with lower bone mineral density. (This may be due to the phosophoric acid found in colas, which is not present in most carbonated drinks.) Thankfully, research hasn't shown that sparkling water negatively affects bone health at this time.
The bottom line:
All in all, there isn't major evidence that plain sparkling water — carbonated beverages with no added sugar or other ingredients — has harmful effects on your health. The exception may be for those with existing gastrointestinal problems, as it may adversely impact your digestive tract. But a glass of plain carbonated water is just as hydrating as regular water, and can even be a fantastic alternative to sugary sodas.
You should always be mindful of any added ingredients in sparkling waters, especially sugar, artificial sweeteners and sodium, all of which can potentially have harmful effects on your body. Different brands will vary in the amount of added ingredients, too, so it's always best to check the nutrition label. "When choosing a sparkling water, try to prioritize unsweetened varieties with no added sugar," Sassos recommends. "Some brands use a splash of actual fruit juice for flavor which is perfectly fine and won’t contribute any added sugar content."
If you're ever in doubt, though, you can never go wrong with turning to the safest and healthiest choice: regular still water. "Water — just plain old water — is the best form of hydration," says Dr. Ghouri. "It's really important to reiterate that."
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