Written by: Julie Tang, MS, RDN, CNSC
Have you walked down the grocery aisle to come across shelves of sparkling water? It’s hard not to notice the craze for sparkling water. Nowadays, they can be found in most stores and restaurants. With today’s growing demand for healthier food and beverage choices, sparkling water has become the hottest beverage especially among millennials and Gen Z.
By now, we know the frequent consumption of sugary drinks has been linked to adverse health outcomes such as dental problems, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. For this reason, consumers are looking for healthy alternatives to soda and juice and sparkling water meets that criteria. It provides the crisp, bubbly goodness without the added sugars, artificial colors, or calories. And the fact that there is often an incredible variety of flavors, it is definitely an added bonus for consumers who are looking for great-tasting, bold aromas to excite their taste buds.
Many of us love sparkling water, but what is it exactly?
Sparkling water is also known as carbonated water. It is simply water that has been infused with carbon dioxide gas under pressure to create the fizz. Sparkling water is an umbrella term to describe waters that have become carbonated. Not all sparkling waters are created equal. In fact, there are different types of them:
Club soda is carbonated water with a few added minerals including sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, and potassium sulfate. It’s unflavored, but often have a taste of minerals in them. Examples of club soda include Canada Dry and Schweppes.
Sparkling mineral water
Mineral water is carbonated water containing dissolved minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Unlike club soda, these minerals occur naturally from spring water and go through a filtration process. The carbonation of this water can be natural or artificially induced. Examples of sparkling mineral water include Perrier, San Pellegrino, and Topo Chico.
Seltzer water is water with carbonation. They do not contain additives like sugar or sodium. Their natural flavor is neutral and manufacturers may include natural flavors to them. Examples of seltzer water include La Croix, Spindrift, and bubbly.
Tonic water has the most additives compared to the other sparkling waters. In addition to carbonation, it is added with sugar, citric acid, preservatives, and quinine for flavoring. Examples of tonic water include Canada Dry tonic water and Schweppes tonic water. Due to the additives, it can be comparable to soda and often less healthy compared to other sparkling waters.
Several studies have shown that sparkling water is just hydrating as water. Does this mean we can skip water altogether? Not necessarily. While sparkling water can contribute to our daily fluid needs and it can be a healthy alternative to sugar and juice, keep in mind that it does provide some acidity, and most studies that have concluded sparkling water is safe to consume only looked at moderate consumption of it. More studies are needed to evaluate long term or more frequent consumption of sparkling water to further understand its effect on the body. For this reason, health experts recommend plain water to remain as the main source of hydration.
To understand the relationship between acidity and alkalinity in our body, our body maintains a healthy balance between the two. This is measured by the pH level on a scale from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic or alkaline. A normal body pH level is 7.40. When creating water with fizz, the reaction of carbon dioxide and water causes it to be slightly acidic with an average pH of 4.5.
Should we be concerned about the acidity of sparkling water on our teeth?
Prior to ingestion, sparkling water comes in contact with our teeth. There is the common question of whether the acidity increases the weakening of enamel and teeth erosion. According to the American Dental Association, compared to carbonated soft drinks such as sodas that have a pH level of less than 4.0, the level of acid in most sparkling waters does not pose a threat to our teeth. More research is needed in this area, however, currently, available knowledge suggests that it is safe to have sparkling water as long as it is not the main source of hydration.
Moreover, regardless of what we eat or drink, for a healthy individual, our kidneys and lungs work hard to remove excess carbon dioxide in the body to help maintain the blood at a pH of 7.35–7.45. By drinking a beverage that is slightly acidic such as sparkling water, it does not make the body more acidic.
Does it affect bone health?
Soda consumption, particularly those with the addition of phosphorus, has been linked to lower bone density. The 2006 Framingham Osteoporosis Study conducted by researchers at Tuft University examined the relationship between bone density and fizzy drinks (1). The findings revealed that women who drank carbonated cola drinks three times a week had hip bones with a lower average bone mineral density. It is thought that the phosphoric acid in cola may have been blocking calcium absorption which affected bone mineral density.
Other carbonated drinks including sparkling water were looked at and they found that consumption of sparkling water did not result in a lower average bone mineral density. Sparkling water does not contain phosphorous or phosphoric acid. Additional studies looking at sparkling water have also shown similar findings that there have not been adverse effects on bone health.
There is no evidence to suggest that sparkling water is harmful to our health. To make sure the sparkling water you choose is healthy, check that it has zero calories, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and sodium. It is best to look for those with natural flavoring or you can even add fresh or frozen fruit to add to the taste. Today’s sparkling water consumption continues to grow and it is showing no signs of slowing down soon, so enjoy the fizzy beverage, but do so in moderation, and don’t forget to drink plain water as your main source of hydration.
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- Tucker, K.L., Morita, K., Qiao, N., Hannan, M.T., Cupples, L.A., and Kiel, D.P. Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Oct;84(4):936-42.