Looking for a healthier alternative to sugary sodas or energy drinks loaded with caffeine and chemicals? Many people turn to effervescent sparkling water to quench their thirst, but can the carbonation in these “guilt-free” bubbly waters be unhealthy?
Carbonated water — also known as sparkling water, seltzer water, bubbly water or fizzy water — is plain water in which carbon dioxide has been dissolved, creating tiny bubbles. Carbonated water can occur naturally or it can be created artificially with carbon dioxide cartridges or tanks. The process of infusing water with carbon dioxide doesn’t add sugar, sodium, calories or caffeine.
You may have heard rumors about potential health risks from carbonation, including that it robs calcium from bones (leading to osteoporosis), erodes tooth enamel and can irritate the stomach. These concerns initially originated from research that focused on consumption of cola-flavored soft drinks, which contain chemicals, and artificial and natural sugars.
Some of these studies, including one in the Journal of Adolescent Health, did indeed link cola with lower bone mineral density, but showed that it was the phosphoric acid in the soft drinks, not carbonation, that was the culprit. The study also indicated that poor bone health may result if soft drinks replace calcium-rich foods like milk.
A 2001 study in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation showed that tooth erosion is also not caused by carbonation, but by the high acid content in many sodas. Sparkling water with added flavoring may contribute to enamel decay because the flavoring agents make the water significantly more acidic, which is what causes the enamel to wear down.
“While soda and other carbonated beverages 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.
According to Dr. Lodhi, carbonated water may actually have some health benefits.
“Carbonated water is just as efficient at hydrating the body as plain spring or purified water, and can be a nice break from tap water,” says Dr. Lodhi. “Getting your daily dose of water is vital, so if sparkling water helps you drink enough, that is a positive step toward good health.”
If you find that drinking a lot of carbonation can sometimes cause bloating, try balancing your consumption of sparkles with flat water.
Tonic water, club soda and mineral water are all types of carbonated water, but these usually have added sodium, minerals or sweeteners, so it’s important to read the label.
Below is an overview of carbonated water to help you find the one that’s right for you:
Seltzer water is plain water that has been artificially carbonated. If you have a SodaStream or other home carbonation system, and you don’t add flavorings, you are making seltzer.
Similar to seltzer water, club soda is also regular water to which carbon dioxide has been added. However, minerals such as potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate or table salt are added to club soda to enhance the flavor. These alkaline substances are added to carbonated water to neutralize its acidity and mimic the flavor of naturally occurring mineral water.
Tonic water is carbonated, but it is not in the same category as bubbly waters. Unlike other carbonated options, tonic water contains quinine and sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, and often contains botanical blends for flavor, such as citrus zests, lemongrass or spices. Diet tonic water contains artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
Mineral water can refer to either flat or sparkling water from underground springs and contains naturally occurring minerals. Unlike still mineral water such as Evian, sparkling mineral waters including Perrier come from naturally carbonated springs. Since these are bottled at the natural source, they tend to be pricier than seltzer waters.
The term soda water was used to refer to the first commercially available artificially carbonated water in the 18th century. Today, some use soda water interchangeably with seltzer. Others use it synonymously with club soda.
Flavored sparkling water
Some sparkling water comes in fruit flavors. Many of these contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, while others do not and just have an essence of flavor. Read the label to ensure that you are not unintentionally drinking added sweeteners. The flavoring from the fruit may increase the acidity, so these should be avoided for those with a sensitive stomach.