Looking for a healthier alternative to sugary sodas or energy drinks loaded with caffeine and chemicals? Many people turn to drinking sparkling water to quench their thirst. But can drinking carbonated water beverages with all their “guilt-free” bubbly waters ever be unhealthy?
Some carbonated water beverages do have added ingredients that you should watch out for, especially flavored sparkling water drinks. But in its simplest form, carbonated water is plain water that has been carbonated.
Carbonated water can occur naturally, such as mineral water pulled from a spring. It is also created artificially by infusing water with carbon dioxide .
The carbonation process produces those familiar tiny bubbles. It also produces carbonic acid, which is a weak acid that doesn’t make your body more acidic. This acid has given rise to questions about the health effects of carbonated water.
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.
“Carbonated water is just as efficient at hydrating the body as plain spring or purified water. Plus, it 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 drinking a lot of carbonated drinks cause you to feel bloated, try balancing your intake with flat water, she adds.
Tonic water, club soda and mineral water 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 carbonated. If you have a SodaStream or other home carbonation system, and you don’t add flavorings, you are making seltzer.
Like 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 unlike other carbonated options, it contains added sweeteners and flavors.
Mineral water can refer to either flat or sparkling water from underground springs and contains naturally occurring minerals.
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 to refer to seltzer or club soda.
Some sparkling water comes in fruit flavors. Many have added sugar or artificial sweeteners, while others do not and just have an essence of flavor. Read the label to ensure that you are not drinking added sweeteners. The flavoring from the fruit may increase the acidity, so these should be avoided for those with a sensitive stomach.