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Although I don’t drink much soda (or, as they call it where I grew up, “pop”), I do enjoy drinking sparkling, or carbonated, water and often recommend it as a healthful alternative to soda. But several of you have written with concerns that drinking carbonated water might be bad for you.
Is Carbonated Water Bad for You?
Sure enough, I did a quick Internet search and found several websites warning that drinking carbonated water will leech calcium from your bones, causing osteoporosis. Others claimed that carbonated beverages can harm the enamel on your teeth, irritate your stomach, or even cause cancer. Let’s sort fact from the fiction.
Does Carbonated Water Leech Calcium from Your Bones?
Soda consumption—particularly cola consumption—has been linked to lower bone mineral density. However, it’s pretty clear that it has nothing to do with the carbonation itself. Researchers had one group of women drink one liter of still water every day while another group drank a liter of carbonated water. After eight weeks, the researchers could detect no difference between the groups when it came to markers for bone turnover.
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So I do what I can to stay hydrated, opting for coconut or orange seltzer instead.
Yesterday, though, someone scared me with this little factoid: “Seltzer or carbonated water depletes calcium.” I wanted to take that at face value, but I of course had to find out for myself.
The truth about seltzer? While much of what we call seltzer isn’t water’s equivalent (tonic water and club soda usually have added minerals or sugars in small amounts), there’s no hard evidence to show that carbonation itself harms bone health. The confusion about this is common, though.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic and other health establishments believe the confusion stems from a study that found a connection between carbonated cola drinks and bone mineral density.
That same connection wasn’t found in non-cola drinks, so seltzer can’t rightly be qualified as a calcium-sucking monster.
Which is great news for me.
What’s your healthy habit? Has anyone hinted it wasn’t so healthy? Share your story in a comment!
Wait. Hold on. Could the rumors be true? Is sparkling water bad for you in some way? Given its recent explosion in popularity, the backlash against sparkling water was inevitable. “It ruins your teeth. It wrecks your digestion. It’s bad for your bones,” according to the Internet and people airing their unsolicited opinions. But, OK, calm down. You don’t actually need to give up sparkling water. Here, a few experts explain why.
- Sparkling water and your teeth
- Sparkling water and your digestion
- WHAT A NUTRITIONIST WANTS YOU TO KNOW
- What’s the difference between seltzer water and sparkling water?
- A healthier water?
- Seltzer with booze
- What Is Sparkling Water Anyway?
- Can I Use It for Hydration?
- Is It Bad for Me in Any Way?
- What About Added Ingredients?
- So Should I Keep Drinking It?
- Can Too Much Sparkling Water Be a Bad Thing?
- Seltzer and Your Health: All Your Questions, Answered
- Everything you need to know about bubbly water and your body
- What’s the difference between seltzer, sparkling water, club soda, and tonic water? Is one better for you than another?
- Is seltzer hydrating or dehydrating?
- Is seltzer bad for your teeth?
- What is the “natural flavoring” in seltzer, and is it bad?
- Why do some seltzers have sodium?
- Is seltzer appetite-suppressing?
- Does seltzer have the same water-quality standards as regular bottled water?
- Can you water a plant with seltzer?
- Can you bathe in seltzer?
- Is it possible to drink too much seltzer?
- Why do some seltzers taste different (besides flavor). Are there different bubble sizes?
- Does seltzer cause kidney stones?
- What is the alcohol in White Claw?
- By the way, doctor: Does carbonated water harm bones?
- Is Seltzer Bad for Your Bones?
- What is seltzer exactly?
- Is seltzer bad for your bone health?
- Are there any other risks to drinking seltzer?
- So are we good to drink seltzer?
Sparkling water and your teeth
“Sparkling water, per se, should not be harmful to teeth,” Augusto Robles, D.D.S., M.S., assistant professor and director of operative dentistry curriculum at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry, tells SELF.
The fear around sparkling water’s effect on teeth comes down to the beverage’s acidity. In 2016, the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) published a study analyzing the pH levels of 379 drinks. Spring water had a pH of 7.4, making it neutral, while various brands of sparkling water had pH values around 5, putting them firmly in acidic territory.
Although the study only tested a couple of sparkling water brands, it underscored what dental experts already knew: Sparkling water is generally more acidic than regular water, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
However, the ADA notes, no research to date has found solid evidence that drinking normal amounts of sparkling water is more harmful to enamel (the hard, outer surface of your teeth) than drinking regular water. (We mean sparkling water without sugar. Added sugar can obviously harm your enamel and cause tooth decay that leads to cavities.)
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should guzzle sparkling water all day, every day. “The pH could be damaging if it is low enough and the consumption frequency is high,” Dr. Robles says. In practice, that could look something like forgoing regular water to exclusively drink a ton of citrus-flavored sparkling water. Yes, the flavor you choose could make a difference.
On top of the natural acidity of sparkling water, citrus-flavored versions contain citric acid, which lowers their pH and increases their potential to affect your teeth, Dr. Robles explains. (Drinks with other flavors can contain other acids, Dr. Robles says, but the JADA study points to citric acid specifically as a big cause of enamel erosion.)
If you’re going to drink citrus-flavored sparkling water, the ADA recommends that you have a serving all at once rather than sipping on it throughout the day so you don’t constantly expose your teeth to acidity.
Beyond that, the ADA recommends drinking fluoridated tap water (if it’s available where you live) in addition to sparkling water. Fluoride is often added to public water systems because it can help strengthen enamel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some helpful tips for how to check if this is true for your local public water system. Some bottled waters also contain fluoride, according to the CDC.
Overall, you can enjoy normal amounts of sparkling water without worrying about your teeth. The one major exception is people who have dry mouth, which happens due to impaired saliva production that can be caused by medical issues like diabetes, lifestyle factors like snoring, and a number of medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids. A lack of saliva plus drinking a lot of sparkling water (especially citrus flavors) may make the mouth an even more acidic environment, Dr. Robles explains. If you have dry mouth, love sparkling water, and worry it’s exacerbating your symptoms, check in with your dentist for guidance.
Sparkling water and your digestion
If you have a healthy digestive system, you generally shouldn’t be nervous about how sparkling water will affect it unless you’re strongly against belching.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Seltzer and other kinds of carbonated waters are wildly popular these days.
It’s a half billion dollar business, but are they good for you?
Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl says that depends.
Sales of carbonated water in the U.S. have doubled over the past five years.
But not all fizzy water is the same… some can be fattening.
“The best bet is to choose something without any sweeteners at all,” Despina Hyde, a registered dietitian advised.
Dietitians say sweeteners are often found in tonic and flavored sparkling waters which can be bad for people who should avoid sugar.
And while bubbly water like seltzer and club soda usually don’t contain calories, they can still be bad for your diet.
“While they still don’t have calories or sugar, they may be affecting our taste buds, our satiety or hunger later in the day,” Hyde said.
Aside from nutritional concerns, experts say carbonated waters can pose a slight risk to people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome because they can cause bloating, and because club soda contains sodium.
But overall most, bubbly water is usually a healthier choice than sugary sodas.
“We’re drinking too many calories and so finding these alternatives is great,” Hyde explained.
Some people also think carbonated water prevents the body from absorbing calcium, which increases the risk of osteoporosis.
But experts say there is no evidence that carbonated water affects bone density.
“Plain seltzer without additional additives can be as hydrating as water,” says Feller. “The CDC lists plain seltzer and water as a smart beverage choice and some research has found that there is no difference with regard to hydration status when a person consumes still or carbonated water without additives.”
You can drink it during exercise, but be mindful
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If seltzer is as hydrating as water, can you drink it when you work out? Yes, Feller says, but it really depends on your carbonation tolerance: “I would suggest that each person see if they are able to tolerate the carbonation during vigorous activity.”
“Having seltzer water can keep a person hydrated however if the carbonation causes gas or bloating it may also cause cramps and can disrupt the persons ability/comfort to exercise,” adds Marinucci. “It is also more filling than plain water so a person may not drink as much as they need if they choose seltzer over plain water.”
From my own experience drinking seltzer in a Pilates class today, I don’t recommend it. The seltzer made me feel like burping and threw off my breathing flow.
Your teeth could suffer, but moderation and washing down with water helps
Seltzer is indeed, harsh on your teeth, but not if you drink it right (and in moderation).
“The problem with seltzer is that it can be acidic,” says Dr. Lee Gause, a dentist who specializes in implant and cosmetic dentistry and founder of Smile Design Manhattan. “Teeth fare better in a neutral or even slightly alkaline solution. Different seltzer brands have different levels of acidity, primarily stemming from both the citric acid that gives seltzers the bubbles and zesty lemony taste. Even unflavored seltzers contain a carbonic acid that gives it its bubbles.”
Over time, that acidity can lead to enamel erosion.
“I have seen a lot of patients whose main cause of erosion was an overly acidic diet from citrus to sodas and lack of regular or alkaline water,” says Dr. Gause. “All of that being said, is safe to consume in appropriate volumes — keep it to once a day with meals, at a maximum, and be sure to wash everything down with standard water.”
Grause also recommends using a straw if you want to be “extra careful”, as this allows the seltzer to bypass your teeth.
When to cut down on seltzer
Dr. Gause recommends skipping the seltzer if you already have an acidic diet, “consuming lots of lemon juice, pomegranate, grapefruits, tomatoes, blueberries, pineapples, apples, corn, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.”
Might I add that these are all foods I eat in great quantity, so I certainly need to cut down. I also have IBS, and the carbonation in seltzer can cause further irritation.
People who have IBS and or a sensitive GI may want to steer clear of carbonated water.
“People who have IBS and or a sensitive GI may want to steer clear of carbonated water,” says Feller, with Marinucci adding, “If someone is experiencing digestive symptoms like feeling gassy/bloated/has a hiatal hernia and continues to consume seltzer with symptoms then that would be considered too much.”
“Also, if a person is using it to fill up and intentionally skip multiple meals/snacks then that is too much because every skipped meals/snacks are missed opportunities to fuel the body with nutrient dense foods,” says Marinucci.
Make your own, so you know what’s in it
Reading labels is always wise, but with seltzer — in particular flavored seltzer — it can be tricky to know exactly what you’re getting. The term “natural flavor” has been a hot debate, with even the FDA calling for more transparency, given that the labeling is vague at best, and doesn’t illuminate the processes that may be involved. Seltzer brands like La Croix, which famously touts no calories, artificial sweeteners or sodium says its flavors are “derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit” boasted on the can. How exactly this happens is a proprietary mystery.
No disrespect to La Croix here (that grapefruit one is my best friend at barbecues, and I love that it’s not too fizzy or too sweet), but if you want to know exactly what’s in your seltzer, make your own at home (I use a SodaStream, but there are other kits out there).
“The simplest ingredients possible is a good rule of thumb,” says Dr. Gause. “You can easily make your own without having to spend on branded water, know exactly where it came from.”
In any event, seltzer is absolutely the best sparkling beverage choice, especially if you’re watching calories or looking to up your hydration.
“For someone who regularly consumes soda, having seltzer water can be an excellent alternative because it is calorie-free, sugar-free and chemical-free,” says Marinucci. “The naturally flavored seltzers may not taste as sweet as regular or diet soda, however in time, a person’s taste buds can adjust and they will actually begin to it. For a little extra natural flavor and nutrition, squeeze some fresh fruit like lemon and enjoy.”
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You may have heard some of the claims made about carbonated beverages. One is that it can rob calcium from bones. Another is that it can erode tooth enamel. Yet another is that it can irritate the stomach. These concerns stem from past studies on the health effects of carbonated soft drinks, also known as sodas or colas. These are drinks that contain chemicals, and artificial or natural sugars.
Studies have indeed linked carbonated soft drinks with lower bone mineral density. But they’ve shown the culprit to be the phosphoric acid in soft drinks, not carbonation. Studies have also indicated that poor bone health may result when soft drinks replace calcium-rich foods, such as milk. Another study showed that tooth erosion is caused by the high acid content in many sodas and not carbonation. Flavored sparkling water may contribute to enamel decay, however. The flavoring agents make the water significantly more acidic, which is what causes the enamel to wear down.
“While soda and other carbonated drinks have been associated with negative health effects, carbonation is not harmful in and of itself,” says Saima Lodhi, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest.
Drinking plain carbonated water has some health benefits, she adds.
Seltzer water can be a wonderful way to stay hydrated — especially if you’re not in the mood for regular water. (iStock)
Seltzer water seems to be making a bit of a comeback with new brands and flavors on the market. But is it actually good for you? And if so, how much is too much?
What’s the difference between seltzer water and sparkling water?
Seltzer and sparkling water differ slightly based on where the carbonation originates from, Dr. Mark Zeidel, chair of the department of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, explained in a statement.
Artificial carbonation is a sign of seltzer or club soda. Naturally occurring bubbles are characteristic of sparkling water.
PATIENT DEVELOPS ‘BLACK HAIRY TONGUE’ FROM MEDICATION
That said, seltzer water can be a wonderful way to stay hydrated — especially if you’re not in the mood for regular water.
“Seltzer can be consumed the same way I would encourage anyone to consume water: in line with their body’s unique needs, which change from day to day,” said Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RDN, a nutrition therapist from New York.
Hollenstein says seltzer isn’t “inherently healthy or unhealthy.”
“For those who have trouble drinking enough water, seltzer might provide that little special texture or flavor that encourages good hydration,” she said. “But drinking it as a way of sidestepping eating or using it to feel full when what you really need is to eat is not a good intention.”
A healthier water?
All seltzer waters on the market aren’t created equally. Read the label to examine the nutrients. Some brands can contain artificial flavoring and added sugar.
Watch out for flavored seltzers, as added sugar also packs on calories and can impact energy consumption.
“Artificial sweeteners can have other effects, such as altered gut bacteria and taste distortion,” Hollenstein added.
Rachel Stahl, a registered dietitian from New York, says to check out the calories before taking a swig.
“Seltzer in its most natural form has zero calories, so if you notice the calories seem high, it’s likely that there is quite a bit of added sugar included,” Stahl said.
It’s important to note that beverages made with seltzer aren’t necessarily “healthy” or even calorie-free.
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“Choose plain seltzer (its most natural form) and avoid any products with additives like added sugar or artificial sweeteners,” Stahl said, adding that plain seltzer can be a great alternative to soda. “For many, it fills the sought-after ‘fizzy fix’ without adding calories and sugar. It also is hydrating.”
Seltzer with booze
Hollenstein and Stahl both agree that seltzer has become popular in recent years. This includes varieties of alcoholic seltzer beverages on the market.
“Like any alcoholic beverage, these can be enjoyed in moderation,” Hollenstein said. “For a reminder of what that actually means, it’s one drink a day for women, two a day for men (often less than what many consider moderate). More than that can have negative health effects.”
Alcoholic seltzers can include an alcoholic content of 4 to 6 percent, Stahl notes.
“There is certainly danger in enjoying alcoholic seltzer regularly,” she said.
Because alcohol can lower our inhibitions, it may negatively affect people’s food and beverage choices, too.
“For instance, it may make people less mindful of portion sizes and less likely to make healthful choices,” Stahl said.
Alcohol also can influence hormones related to satiety and hunger.
“There are also reports that because alcoholic seltzer might not taste alcoholic, it may lead people to drink more than recommended, so it is important to drink in moderation,” Stahl added.
This article first appeared on HealthLine.com.
Take a spin through the nearest grocery store, or rummage through the cooler at any party, and you’re bound to encounter a can of carbonated water. The market, which used to be dominated by LaCroix, Perrier, and San Pellegrino, is home to a robust class of newcomers like Bubly, Spindrift, and Waterloo. And Topo Chico, formerly an under-the-radar classic, has developed a devoted fan base, with familiar flavors like lime and grapefruit, though it’s increasingly sharing shelf space with options like blackberry-cucumber and pear-kiwi.
Most seltzer waters are sugar- and calorie-free, which many people use as a license to chug the stuff like it’s plain old water. As a professional runner, I’m guilty, too. My races this summer have been a cruel mix of hot and humid, and I have yet to find anything as refreshing as a little post-race fizz. But when I found myself four seltzers deep one Sunday at 10 A.M., I couldn’t help but wonder: Was I really hydrating myself? How was the carbonation impacting my recovery? And is there any reason I should limit my seltzer consumption near workouts or in general? I called up Laura McClure, a former Division I runner and a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in exercise and sports nutrition, to help set the record straight.
What Is Sparkling Water Anyway?
Seltzer water, sparkling water, and sparkling mineral water all fall under the carbonated-water umbrella. What differentiates them is their carbonation methods, water sources, and added ingredients (or lack thereof). San Pellegrino and Topo Chico, whose waters come from natural springs containing minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and zinc, are considered sparkling mineral water. Depending on their water source, these can be either naturally or artificially carbonated.
Members of the seltzer family, on the other hand, are derived from regular (rather than mineral) water and then artificially carbonated. Also called sparkling, bubbly, and fizzy water, this category includes LaCroix, Waterloo, and other similar beverages. Artificiality, McClure clarifies, is not inherently bad; in this context, it just means that carbon dioxide has been added to the water under pressure to give it effervescence (as opposed to naturally occurring carbonation found in some mineral springs).
Can I Use It for Hydration?
Here’s the good news: carbonated water hydrates just as well as regular water, says McClure. But before you start filling your water bottles and CamelBaks with Spindrift, keep in mind that sparkling water doesn’t feel the same as flat water—especially while you’re also pushing your body. Effervescence tends to cause gastrointestinal discomfort in the form of bloating, cramps, and a false sense of fullness, none of which are desirable during a workout or race, and all of which can be exacerbated in people with heightened sensitivity and existing digestive-tract conditions. Keep in mind, too, that long and strenuous activities often necessitate fluids with electrolytes and carbohydrates. In those situations, you’re better off sipping more traditional (read: flat) sports drinks.
Is It Bad for Me in Any Way?
Contrary to swirling rumors, McClure says that sparkling water has not been shown to affect bone density. It can, however, erode tooth enamel over time while also causing heartburn because it is more acidic than flat water. The pH depends on the amount of carbonation (the more bubbles, the lower the pH) and varies by brand, but on a pH scale of zero (highly acidic) to fourteen (highly alkaline), most seltzers fall between three and four. Pure water, for context, has a neutral pH of seven, and tooth erosion can occur at levels of four and below. The speed of that erosion depends on your personal drinking habits and the strength of your enamel. To be safe, you can combat a drink’s acidity by eating something at the same time, following sips with plain water, and minimizing tooth exposure by using a straw. In addition, watch out for cans with citric acid, which lowers the drink’s pH even further.
What About Added Ingredients?
Even within the same category, not all bubblies are created equal. The nutrition label says it all, and as with food, the shorter the ingredient list, the better. “Carbonated water, with natural fruit essences if you’re opting for a flavored variety, should be it,” advises McClure. She suggests avoiding sweeteners, sodium, preservatives, and other additives. And as for Bon and Viv, Truly, White Claw, and the rest of the hard-seltzer lineup that’s quickly gaining steam? With roughly 4 to 8 percent alcohol by volume, they’re comparable to beer, says McClure. Even the purest sparkling-water ingredients won’t counteract the dehydrating powers of alcohol.
So Should I Keep Drinking It?
Carbonated water, from this running dietitian’s perspective, is a neutral hydrator for athletes: it’s absolutely better than drinking nothing, on par with flat water when consumed moderately and after working out, and negative when consumed in excess (because of possible tooth erosion), at the wrong time (like before a run), or with unnecessary additives (like sugar and alcohol). “Just like pre-race meals and midrace fluids,” McClure explains, “seltzer affects individuals differently.” So tune in to the way sparkling water makes you feel at different times, and find some flavors you like that have bare-bones ingredients. If you’re going to crush a case a week, after all, you might as well go for the good stuff.
Filed To: NutritionSportsAthletesFood and Drink Lead Photo: Matt Botsford/Unsplash
Can Too Much Sparkling Water Be a Bad Thing?
A view of the Icelandic Glacial sparkling water and Icelandic fizzy lime margarita during a party in Bridgehampton, New York. on Aug. 4, 2018. Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Hearst
As consumer preferences veer toward more natural ingredients in their foods and beverages, diet soda sales are dropping. In place of soda, carbonated waters, like seltzer water, are tingling ever more tongues – Americans are buying three times as much of the stuff as they did a decade ago. And although there are plenty of reasons to give up the artificial sweeteners in diet soda, could all those bubbles be potentially bad for us, too?
First, let’s sip on a bit of carbonated water lingo. Sparkling water is a type of mineral water that’s bottled at the source (think brands like Perrier). The minerals in them are naturally occurring, and the carbonation might be, too, although some manufacturers might add bubbles for more zip. Seltzer water’s biting bubbles are all created artificially, but they have no other added ingredients save for natural flavorings of some sort (which has created intermittent uproar in recent years — as La Croix can tell you).
Then there are the offshoots of carbonated water that have added ingredients. Club soda is seltzer water, but with added minerals and sodium, potentially table salt or even baking soda, both of which reduce acidity and conjure a flavor that for many drinkers is more reminiscent of natural spring water. Tonic water is altogether another entity, typically loaded with high fructose corn syrup and a dash of quinine, making it more reminiscent of soda than seltzer.
All of these waters owe their existence to an 18th-century English preacher named Joseph Priestly who created a technique that forced carbon dioxide into regular flat water. When held under pressure, the bubbles remained indefinitely, until the drinker finally enjoyed the refreshing tingle of carbonation on his or her tongue.
Priestly erroneously touted his revolutionary drink as a way for sailors to beat back the effects of scurvy during long voyages, and even rigged up a portable system that allowed them to create carbonated water on board ships and on demand. Are modern health-conscious consumers mistakenly believing similar health benefits of seltzers and their kin?
Seltzer Water and Tooth Enamel
“There has been concern that carbonated beverages can wear tooth enamel but this effect seems to be more prevalent with sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages (like soda) versus sparkling water or seltzer,” says Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian in Atlanta, in an email interview. “But if you are concerned, you might rinse with plain water or enjoy seltzer with a meal to lessen any potential negative effects on tooth enamel.”
A 2001 study found that sparkling mineral water caused slightly greater dental erosion than still water, but “levels remained low and were of the order of one hundred times less than the comparator soft drinks,” according to the report. And a 2007 study found that flavored sparkling waters could be just as corrosive as orange juice to the teeth. But all the flavored waters in the study contained citric acid, which can be highly erosive.
Moore says beyond those issues, bubbling water is rather innocuous. “The carbonation may cause bloating for some and or feelings of fullness but overall it’s a fine way to hydrate and especially helpful for those who don’t particularly enjoy still or flat water,” she says. And if you’re trying to lose weight by cutting your caloric intake, that feeling of fullness might even be a benefit.
And fizzy water might be a good way to entice you into drinking more H20.
“Seltzer water is a fun and effective way to hydrate, particularly for those who wouldn’t drink water otherwise,” says Moore. “If you have any digestive issues or effects from seltzer water then you might cut back or even steer clear of it. Otherwise, I’d say consider enjoying your seltzer with a meal instead of solo or rinsing with plain water afterwards.”
Seltzer and Your Health: All Your Questions, Answered
Everything you need to know about bubbly water and your body
Maya KrothFollow Dec 4, 2019 · 13 min read
This story is part of The Elemental Guide to Water, a five-part special report on the health benefits of water, the science behind seltzer, the truth about fancy H2O, the safety of tap water, and how much water you really need to drink.
Sparkling mineral water, seltzer, club soda — whatever you call it, carbonated water has permeated the market to the point of canned cocktails and anti-aging face wash. But how does it match up to regular water? Is it healthy for your body (or your skin)? Can you drink too much of it?
Health experts, for their part, aren’t complaining about your insatiable appetite for LaCroix — though they do wonder why nobody can muster as much excitement for tap water, arguably one of civilization’s greatest achievements. (Unless you live in, say, Flint, Newark, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, or Milwaukee.)
Anything that gets people drinking more water is a good thing, says Melissa Majumdar, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Seltzer is absolutely a good choice in moderation,” she says between swigs of a can of bubbly water made by a brand whose name she is not professionally allowed to identify. “We want to consider straight water as the gold standard of hydrating fluids, but a lot of us need some help in having some taste or flavor in our water to help us drink more. That’s where seltzer has gained popularity.”
Herewith, everything you ever wanted to know about sparkling water’s effect on health, wellness, skin — even your ficus.
What’s the difference between seltzer, sparkling water, club soda, and tonic water? Is one better for you than another?
Not all transparent fizzy liquids are created equal. (Just ask poor Crystal Pepsi.) Though these terms are used interchangeably in a way that has muddied the distinctions between them, there are, in fact, distinctions.
The word “seltzer” has its roots in a German spa town called Selters, whose naturally carbonated mineral springs attracted European aristocrats for centuries. Thought to have medicinal properties, water from the springs was also bottled and exported, becoming so popular that over time “Selters water” became a generic term for sparkling water. In the late 1700s, when an English chemist named Joseph Priestley figured out how to artificially carbonate water, that product, through the magic of metathesis, became known as seltzer.
“Sometimes tonic is sweetened, but generally seltzer and sparkling water are not, so they’re a good option for someone trying to step away from soda or juice.”
Тоday, “seltzer” and “sparkling water” are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to any water containing dissolved carbon dioxide gas, or CO2. If you want to get technical about it, seltzer is water that’s been artificially carbonated, while sparkling mineral water describes water that bubbles up from the ground already naturally fizzy and mineral-rich (sometimes extra CO2 is added). Club soda is seltzer with sodium added (up to 95 milligrams per 10-ounce bottle), giving it a salty flavor. Tonic, with its bittersweet tang, is club soda with added quinine (introduced to stave off malaria) and sugar, making it the only beverage of the four to have calories.
“Sometimes tonic is sweetened, but generally seltzer and sparkling water are not, so they’re a good option for someone trying to step away from soda or juice,” Majumdar says.
Since the American Heart Association recommends we consume no more than 25 to 37.5 grams of added sugars each day, tonic, which can have as much as 29 grams of sugar per 10-ounce serving, is the option that comes closest to being “bad for you.” (Though if you’re downing whole cans of tonic water on their own, you may have bigger problems.) If you’re closely watching your salt, sugar, or calorie intake, stick to your favorite brand of Selters instead. (Or, hey, have we mentioned tap water?)
Is seltzer hydrating or dehydrating?
In the immortal words of Cindy Crawford, “Your body is so happy when you drink water.” We all know staying hydrated is important, but why?
“Not being adequately hydrated puts you at risk for kidney stones, headaches, constipation. It can lead to issues with heart health,” Majumdar says. “The majority of our body is fluid, so our cells aren’t in a happy state if we’re not hydrated. It impacts the overall homeostasis of our body.”
Good news: Seltzer water is hydrating — in fact, it’s just as hydrating as tap. “All fluids are hydrating, minus alcohol,” Majumdar says. One thing to consider, though, is how much of it you might feel like drinking. “If we’re exercising, I wouldn’t recommend a seltzer, because the bubbles might make us feel full or bloated, and that might affect how much we’re drinking. So I wouldn’t recommend it for athletes in active exercise, but the fluid is just as hydrating.”
Is seltzer bad for your teeth?
A few years ago, seltzer lovers everywhere were alerted to alarming news that suggested a bubbly habit could cause serious tooth decay. Turns out, reports of the death of tooth enamel from sparkling beverages were greatly exaggerated.
The furor stemmed from the fact that seltzer contains carbonic acid, which gives it a lower pH than regular water. Acidic beverages are a bit harder on tooth enamel, but most seltzers are not acidic enough to have much of an impact. (One study found the effect a little more pronounced with citrus-flavored seltzers — the acidic lemon/lime flavoring brings down the pH even more, making it slightly harsher on teeth.)
Still, seltzer remains a much better friend to dental health than sugary sodas, writes Tyrone Rodriguez, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, in an emailed statement. But he cautions — in a familiar refrain — that we shouldn’t overlook the tap water flowing freely from our faucets, which the authorities have kindly fortified with protective minerals like fluoride (and, in some cases, less desirable things).
“Water with fluoride naturally helps fight cavities, washes away the leftover food that cavity-causing bacteria feast on, and keeps your mouth from becoming dry (which can put you at a higher risk of cavities),” Rodriguez writes.
What is the “natural flavoring” in seltzer, and is it bad?
Last year, a lawsuit against LaCroix alleged that one of the so-called natural flavorings it uses to create iconic tastes like Pomme Bayá was a chemical called linalool, which is also the compound that gives cockroach-killer Raid its irresistible aroma. Turns out these reports, too, were greatly exaggerated.
LaCroix’s parent company denied the charges, and food safety experts don’t seem particularly worried: Linalool occurs naturally in strawberries, pineapples, bananas, and perhaps also Pommes Bayá, whatever they are. Still, it’s hard to say exactly what’s in those “natural essence oils” most brands use to make their products seem so much more enticing than, say, tap water?
“It’s not real clear to me what they’re using,” Majumdar says. “But the FDA is regulating these products under the same standards that they would use for soda.” In other words, whatever’s in there probably isn’t any worse for you than what’s in a Coca-Cola.
Why do some seltzers have sodium?
Along with things like calcium and magnesium, sodium was one of many naturally occurring minerals in the waters at those early European spa resorts. After Joseph Priestley unlocked the secret to artificially carbonating water in an attempt to duplicate what was bubbling up naturally in places like Selters, it wasn’t long before sodium began making its way into man-made fizzy water as well.
“The addition of sodium to the artificial bottled water was an attempt to mimic the original mineral water,” writes Darcy O’Neil, a chemist/bartender and author of Fix the Pumps, a history of soda fountains, in an email to Elemental. The minerals in those waters were thought to have health-restoring powers capable of alleviating conditions like dyspepsia, rheumatism, and gout.
Today, sodium is found in naturally sparkling mineral waters like Vichy Catalan, as well as in manufactured club soda, a term that, incidentally, can be traced back to the time right after Prohibition was repealed, according to Seltzertopia author Barry Joseph. As seltzer was starting to shed its image as a purely medicinal drink, “people went to elegant supper clubs or private clubs they often found ‘seltzer’ had been replaced with the new term ‘club soda,’ even though there was little or no difference between the two,” he writes.
When sodium is added to carbonated water, it can change both the mouthfeel and the taste. “If it has sodium in it, it’s making you thirstier over time, so you’ll want to drink more, and that impacts hydration,” Majumdar says. “If someone’s asking me if they should drink it, it’s a question that needs to be addressed individually.”
It’s true that most Americans are already consuming more than the American Heart Association–recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (1,500 milligrams for those at risk of heart disease and hypertension). But with most sparkling mineral waters and club sodas clocking in well under that mark, most people don’t need to worry about their seltzer intake tipping the scales. In fact, Majumdar notes that anything with 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving can be considered a low-sodium food, so the average can of Canada Dry Club Soda (at 95 milligrams per 10-oz serving) is no cause for concern. (Keep an eye on that Vichy Catalan, though; it has 1,100 milligrams of sodium per liter.)
“If it’s being consumed all day, that can add up to a significant amount of sodium on top of our food,” Majumdar says. But in most cases, sodium in your seltzer has little bearing on your health, so go with whichever bubbly tastes best to you.
Is seltzer appetite-suppressing?
One (dated) 1997 study found that drinking carbonated water changes the distribution of solids and liquids in the stomach but doesn’t alter gastric emptying time, which is a fancy way of saying that drinking seltzer with a meal can increase feelings of satiety. Another newer study of males (both rat and human) suggests the opposite: that the CO2 in carbonated water induces the release of the hormone ghrelin, making people hungrier.
But this debate obscures the conversation we should be having, Majumdar says: “If a client asked me about that, I’d ask why are we trying to drink this to change our appetite? When we’re hungry, we should be eating.”
Does seltzer have the same water-quality standards as regular bottled water?
Here’s where distinguishing seltzer from sparkling water begins to really matter. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers bottled water and seltzer as two different categories of drink, each with its own regulatory standards. The bottled water category includes sparkling mineral water but not club soda, tonic, or manufactured seltzer, all of which are considered soft drinks. This could reveal a regulation gap, says Consumer Reports.
The FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) require bottled water producers to maintain sanitary conditions, protect water sources from bacteria and chemicals, implement quality control processes to make sure the water is safe, and routinely test for contaminants. The agency says it has established CGMPs for carbonated soft drinks as well, though it’s unclear if they are as stringent as those for bottled water. The FDA says only food and color additives that the agency has determined to be safe are allowed to be included in carbonated beverages.
“If the tap water is safe in your area , that’s generally what I recommend, for environmental and financial reasons,” says Majumdar, sounding a little like a broken record at this point.
Can you water a plant with seltzer?
Have you ever cracked open a cold Spindrift, enjoyed a few refreshing sips, and set it down, only to return hours later to find it now flat and insipid? What to do is obvious, or it should be: Dump it into a nearby ficus. But could there be a downside to this seemingly innocuous act?
“My understanding is that seltzer is basically plain water and carbon dioxide, so I don’t believe it would have any impact one way or the other on a plant,” says veteran horticulturist Will Creed, who has 35 years of experience helping people keep their plants alive. “Plants do use carbon dioxide, but they absorb it through their leaves, not really through their roots, so I don’t think adding CO2 to the soil would have any added benefits. On the other hand, I don’t have any reason to believe it would do any damage, primarily because the CO2 evaporates as soon as it’s exposed to the air.”
But, Creed says, you should avoid watering your prized orchid with, say, club soda — or worse, Vichy Catalan — because of its sodium content.
“If somebody poured club soda in their plant once, they don’t need to call poison control or anything. The concern would be over time,” Creed says. “If it’s used regularly, sodium can build up in the soil to toxic levels and burn the roots. Most tropical species of plants are sensitive to sodium in the soil, while plants that come from arid, desertlike regions — cacti and succulents — are more resistant to it.”
What about an alcohol-spiked seltzer like White Claw, I ask? Can I use that to water my rhododendron? “It’s not a good idea,” Creed says.
Can you bathe in seltzer?
People have been hot-tubbing in carbonated water for at least 2,500 years, but the jury’s still out whether those tiny bubbles are truly beneficial for the skin.
“In historical medical reports, diseases like psoriasis or atopic dermatitis have responded to balneotherapy, which refers to the belief that there are therapeutic benefits that come from bathing in natural water sources,” says Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Pasadena, California. “But it’s not clear if those benefits came from the carbonation or the mineral content.”
Washing with carbonated water is trending again these days, thanks to the beauty experts of Korea and Japan, who have long sworn by CO2 face washes and masks to improve blood flow, help the skin retain moisture, and decrease the visual effects of aging.
“The theory behind its benefit is that carbonated water has a pH that is more similar to that of our skin, around 5.5,” Lee says. “This is thought to be more gentle and less drying to our skin than, say, tap water, which is a pH of 7.”
Salicylic and glycolic acid are tried-and-true ingredients in many anti-aging face washes. Could the carbonic acid in seltzer — the thing that gives it that lower pH — possibly confer the same benefits?
“The evidence is very scant, if any,” Lee says. “There could be benefits in terms of exfoliating the skin, or comedolytic effects — that means breaking up blackheads, whiteheads, or other microscopic plugs of the pores — but have not been substantiated by research.”
Is it possible to drink too much seltzer?
“With plain seltzer, it would be a difficult task to drink too much,” Darcy O’Neil writes. “It is about the same as tap water when it comes to health benefits.”
But too much seltzer could, in some cases, cause bloating.
“You’re drinking air, so it can make you bloated, but that effect is temporary,” Majumdar says. “That’s going to be impacted by other factors, too, like how fast you drink it; for women, what time of the month; or what else is going on in that meal.”
Why do some seltzers taste different (besides flavor). Are there different bubble sizes?
“The flavor from seltzer comes from the acidic nature of carbonic acid formed when water and carbon dioxide combine,” O’Neil writes. As for bubble size, that is related to the pressure at which the carbon dioxide in the seltzer water is bottled. Higher pressure = more CO2 = bigger bubbles.
“The actual size of the bubble is not a major contributor to the taste experience,” writes O’Neil, who has been doing “taste science stuff” for more than a decade and says it comes down almost entirely to marketing. “Many things like bottled waters and vodkas are hard to differentiate, even by people who are in those specific industries.”
All of which is to say that White Claw is basically a vodka soda.
Does seltzer cause kidney stones?
“There’s some literature to support an association between kidney stones and carbonated beverages, but we think that’s more related to the phosphoric acid, not the carbonation,” Majumdar says. “Seltzer gets looped into the category because it’s a carbonated beverage, but that I know of.”
Similarly, there’s some evidence that colas — but not seltzers — might have a negative impact on bone health, but “that’s likely more related to the caffeine or the phosphoric acid, not the carbonation itself,” Majumdar adds.
What is the alcohol in White Claw?
Last summer’s smash-hit spiked seltzer brand has been vague about precisely what gives the 5% ABV beverage its boozy punch, other than to call it a “gluten-free alcohol base.” What exactly is that, though?
“It is most likely a high-proof neutral grain spirit made from corn or other grains,” O’Neil writes. “These spirits tend to have a low flavor profile and are similar to vodka. Highly refined grain distillates are gluten-free because gluten is not volatile and won’t pass through the distillation system.”
All of which is to say that White Claw is basically a vodka soda.
In summary: It’s probably just a coincidence that Americans have become obsessed with spending increasing portions of our decreasing disposable incomes on jauntily packaged cans of fizzy water (just as our access to clean tap water appears less secure). But when it comes to your health, there’s nothing wrong with a little seltzer.
This story is part of The Elemental Guide to Water, a five-part special report on the health benefits of water, the science behind seltzer, the truth about fancy H2O, the safety of tap water, and how much water you really need to drink.
Illustrations by Shuhua Xiong
By the way, doctor: Does carbonated water harm bones?
Updated: April 16, 2019Published: January, 2010
Q. I’ve heard that club soda, seltzer water, and sparkling mineral waters rob the bones of calcium. Is this true?
A. Warnings about the harmful effects of carbonated beverages on bone emerge from time to time. The theory is that the phosphoric acid (phosphate) used to enhance flavor in some carbonated beverages can interfere with calcium absorption and result in the loss of calcium from bone. Fortunately, there’s no good evidence that a high phosphate intake affects bone metabolism or bone density.
Still, carbonated beverages have long been associated with low bone density and fractures in adolescent girls. To investigate this association in adults, researchers at Tufts University examined data from 2,500 women and men (ages 49 to 69) involved in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. They assessed dietary intake and measured bone mineral density (BMD) at the spine and hip.
Non-cola carbonated drinks were not associated with low BMD, but cola intake was associated with lower BMD at the hip (though not the spine) in the women, but not in the men. The more cola a woman drank, the lower her BMD. Women who drank more cola didn’t drink less milk, but they did have a lower intake of calcium.
In 2005, the British Journal of Nutrition published the results of a small clinical trial comparing healthy postmenopausal women who drank about one quart of noncarbonated mineral water daily with those who drank the same amount of carbonated mineral water. After eight weeks, blood and urine tests for bone turnover showed no difference between the two groups.
It looks as though drinking seltzer water doesn’t contribute to osteoporosis or increase fracture risk in women. The authors of the cola study suggested that the caffeine in the colas may account for the cola-drinkers’ lower BMD. Other studies have also reported an association between caffeine and lower BMD. In some cases, soft drinks displace calcium-rich beverages, such as milk, and experts think that this, rather than any direct effect of soft drinks on bone, may explain the effect on BMD in adolescent girls.
So feel free to enjoy seltzer water without worrying, but don’t overdo the caffeinated beverages, whether carbonated or not. And if you suspect that by drinking seltzer water, coffee, colas, or other soft drinks you may be reducing your intake of healthy beverages — such as calcium and vitamin D fortified juices and milk. So make sure you get enough calcium through other dietary sources and consider a daily vitamin D supplement.
Image: © bhofack2 | iStock\Getty Images Plus
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Don’t worry about carbonation. Scare stories about its purported detrimental effects continue to pop up, but a number of studies have shown that there’s really no danger. The notion that the carbonation in sodas is bad for bones comes from studies performed in the early 1990s, which suggested that drinking soda, specifically cola, raises the risk of bone fractures among adolescent girls and older women who were former college athletes. No such association was found for non-cola drinks. On its website, the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) states that there is no connection between the carbonation in soft drinks and bone loss and that certain carbonated mineral waters (the ones rich in calcium and those that are more alkaline) have actually been shown to improve bone health.
Soft drinks are bad for teeth, especially in children. But the carbonation isn’t to blame; it’s the high sugar content of these beverages that is responsible for tooth decay, which is now the most common childhood disease – five times more common than asthma, according to the American Dental Association. The latest study on this comes from the School of Dentistry at the University of Birmingham in the UK. A research team there reported that extracted human teeth exposed to flavored sparkling waters showed surface changes indicative of erosion. The researchers note that unflavored sparkling water is unlikely to cause this.
There are no known negative effects of carbonation on the digestive system, and some studies have found that it helps relieve indigestion and constipation. In an Italian study, researchers randomly assigned 21 individuals with both of these complaints to drink at least 1.5 liters daily of either carbonated or tap water for at least 15 days or until the end of a 30-day trial. At the beginning and end of the trial all the participants filled out questionnaires and were given tests to evaluate stomach fullness after eating, gastric emptying (movement of food out of the stomach), gallbladder emptying, and intestinal transit time (how long it takes for what you’ve eaten to travel out of the body). The results showed that drinking the carbonated water improved indigestion, reduced symptoms of constipation and aided gallbladder emptying.
While I’m concerned about the unhealthy amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners and caffeine found in sodas, I have no concerns about the carbonation itself. You can use your new device with no health worries, and you can also feel good that by getting your fizzy water this way, you’re helping to cut back on the environmental impact of all the bottles and cans you might otherwise use. Another bonus: homemade sparkling water costs much less than what you would pay for it at a market.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Is Seltzer Bad for Your Bones?
Whether you’re partial to La Croix, Bubly, Spindrift, or a bevy of other brands, flavored seltzer is everywhere. (Especially spiked seltzer, lest we forget the White Claw shortage of 2019.) From 2012 to 2018, sales of carbonated waters increased 88 percent, according to market research company Euromonitor as reported by Quartz.
Most people are swapping soda for seltzer in an effort to quench their thirst for bubbles without the negative side effects for their health. While seltzer is missing some of the obviously unhealthy qualities of soda (like sky-high sugar content)—is it really void of all the risks?
More specifically, if some soda has been linked to poor bone health, does that mean seltzer could be bad for your bones, too? We asked dietitians to set the record straight.
What is seltzer exactly?
“Seltzer is carbonated water, which is water infused with carbon dioxide and sometimes flavor (generally natural flavor),” says Melissa Majumdar, R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Seltzer is naturally sugar-free and calorie-free, making it a fab option for those trying to kick a soda habit. And, if you’ve heard the rumors that seltzer dehydrates you, that’s wrong:
“Since unflavored seltzer water is simply regular water with added carbon dioxide, it’s just as hydrating as plain water,” confirms Cordialis Msora Kasago, R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “However, due to its effervescent nature, some people tend to fill up quickly when they drink it and therefore drink less water than when they drink simple plain water.” So if bubbly is your only source of water, be sure to drink up.
Is seltzer bad for your bone health?
For starters, let’s talk about why it could be. Soda contains phosphorus, and while research isn’t conclusive yet, studies indicate that it might impact your bone density.
“When phosphorus levels are elevated and calcium levels are low, the body produces a hormone called PTH (parathyroid hormone) to signal the body to send out less calcium through the kidneys, absorb more calcium in the intestines, and borrow calcium from bone,” says Majumdar. “The amount of phosphorus in carbonated drinks like soda shouldn’t impact this feedback cycle, but nonetheless soda has been found to decrease bone mass.”
Good news: If you drink tons of sparkling water, your bones shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
“Unlike other carbonated drinks like soda, seltzer doesn’t contain caffeine or phosphorus, which both have had mixed results when it comes to the impact on bone density,” says Majumdar.
One small study published in the British Journal of Nutrition compared women who drank a quart of carbonated water with women who drank a quart of non-carbonated mineral water for eight weeks, and found that there was no difference in their bone health based on blood and urine tests after the 8-week period.
(In case you’re now worried about your coffee habit, too: Research shows that caffeine may negatively impact calcium absorption, but it’s a small enough amount that it could be “fully offset by as little as 1–2 tablespoons of milk,” according to a 2002 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.)
Are there any other risks to drinking seltzer?
If you’re a selzter-holic, you don’t have to worry about phosphorus messing with your bones—but, unfortunately, your mouth bones (a.k.a. teeth) could be at risk.
“Additives in seltzers like citric acid can impact tooth enamel, the coating on the outside of a tooth that keeps it strong,” says Majumdar. Not to mention, the carbonation itself can play a part: Carbon dioxide reacts with water to create carbolic acid, which may wear away at tooth enamel, according to registered dietitian Carolyn Brown, M.S., R.D., as we reported in Is Your LaCroix Habit Actually Healthy?
The impact on your teeth may actually depend on the brand of seltzer itself. Enamel starts to erode as a drink’s pH level (a measure of how acidic something is) drops below 5.5. A pH analysis of common drink brands in the U.S. by the American Dental Association (ADA) found that, for example, Perrier has a pH level of 5.25, Canada Dry Club Soda has a pH of 5.24, and San Pellegrino Sparkling Water has a pH of 4.96, which are all labeled as “minimally erosive.” (Meanwhile, regular water has a pH between 6.5 and 8.5.)
That said, the analysis shows that juice, soda, sports drinks, tea, and flat, flavored waters have even lower pH levels: Classic Coca-Cola has a pH of 2.37, Powerade flavors dip down to 2.73, Vitamin Water hovers around 3, and Arizona iced tea hits 2.85, just to name a few. The ADA didn’t test any flavored sparkling waters, but it’s possible that those additional ingredients could have an impact on pH levels.
Comparatively speaking, that means seltzer or sparkling water is likely a better option than any of these other drinks, but not as good as regular water, if you’re concerned about your enamel.
So are we good to drink seltzer?
“There is no true limit to drinking seltzer (from a bone-health perspective),” says Majumdar. If you have issues with your tooth enamel, you might want to consult with your dentist or doc, but you likely don’t have much to worry about—except maybe a seltzer belly.
“The amount of seltzer you should drink really depends on how much your stomach can tolerate,” says Msora Kasago. “People who experience gas, bloating, and other signs of stomach discomfort after seltzer water should limit the amount they drink.” (Other than that, there aren’t any digestive repercussions to drinking seltzer, and it might actually be beneficial for digestion.)
- By Emily Shiffer