There is ongoing debate about how healthy carbonated waters are. The market is being flooded with products, sales and advertisements of sparkling water. But are they truly healthy? I explore the science behind the health effects of these fizzy drinks in this article.
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Do You Drink Sparkling Water?
I drink a lot of sparkling water. We go through many cases in a week in our household.
I like the taste. My favorites are peach, mandarin orange, and blueberry pomegranate. I even like plain carbonated water garnished with lemon, lime or raspberries.
So, when I decided to write this post, I was excited to tell you all about the health benefits of sparkling waters. Afterall, I have seen the ads and heard all the hype about the good things in these waters. I knew that there were some health benefits.
So, I set out to scour the medical and science journals to find proof that drinking sparkling water is good for you.
Wow! What I found was extremely interesting. There is so much debate, controversy and even scandal behind sparkling waters. I had to change the direction of this article several times, based on what I uncovered.
Let’s have a look at what I found.
Interesting History of Sparkling Water
Sparkling water is not a new thing. It has been around since the 1700s. Joseph Priestley is credited as the “father of soft drinks” for accidentally discovering the method to carbonate water in 1767. After gaining popularity in England, mass production for sale of these fizzy beverages began in the late 1700s – early 1800s in Europe.
Later, around 1830s, syrups and flavorings were added and soda pop was invented. Gingerale was created in Ireland (1851), and Dr. Pepper (1885) and Coca-Cola (1886) quickly followed in the United States.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that we started to understand the horrible side-effects of soda pop on our health, which are mostly linked to the sugars in these drinks.
The trend today has circled back to zero-calorie, naturally flavored sparkling waters. Brands, such as Nestle Purelife (Nestle – 1998), Bubly (Pepsi – 2018), and AHA (Coca-Cola – 2020), have been coming on the scene in full force. It is predicted to be a multi-billion-dollar trend, as people look for healthier alternatives to soda pop.
But is this new trend truly healthy?
What is Sparkling Water
This seems like a simple concept, doesn’t it? Sparkling water is just carbonated water, is it not? Well, sort of. But it goes much deeper than that.
At it’s very basic, sparkling water is water that is injected with carbon dioxide (CO2) under pressure. This creates that bubble effect which is sometimes referred to as fizzy or seltzer water.
The CO2 that is added acidifies the water when carbonic acid is formed in the process. It is the carbonic acid that gives sparkling water its tasty appeal.
The CO2 can be infused artificially in a machine, such as SodaStream, or factory. Or the CO2 may occur in the water as a result of natural geological processes, usually associated with volcanic activity. Perrier is an example of a naturally carbonated water.
But not all sparkling waters are created equally. There are many differences based on brand, where the water is sourced, carbonation process and what is added to the water.
These differences make it hard to make blanket statements, such as “sparkling water is healthy” or ‘sparkling water is bad for you’.
It also makes it difficult to study these fizzy waters to determine health effects. Hence my struggle when writing this article for you. Some of the science isn’t clear, or even there.
Three Main Types of Sparkling Water
The FDA classifies all carbonated beverages as “soft drinks”. This classification includes many more than just three types of sparkling waters. But, I just want to talk about the three main types that are considered potentially healthy.
Technically soda pop, diet soda and tonic water are types of sparkling water too. However, I am not going to include these sugared and artificially sugared drinks in the discussion below, as they are simply not healthy. They have been proven to be detrimental to health and are linked to such issues as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, liver disease and cancer.
So, lets look at the other main types of ‘healthier’ sparkling water, shall we?
1. Sparkling Water or Seltzer Water
These are all waters that are carbonated but tend not to contain much else. Sometimes natural or artificial flavorings are added.
It is interesting to note that these fancy fizzy waters are usually made from plain old tap water.
Also fascinating to read is the fact that these large companies, such as Nestle, have been involved in many scandals and protests over sourcing of the large quantities of water that they need for production of their products.
2. Club Soda or Soda Water
Club soda and soda water are also carbonated waters, and technically sparkling waters too. But salt is added to neutralize the acid and improve the flavor. The salt that is added depends on the brand and may contain sodium, potassium, bicarbonate or sulfur compounds.
3. Natural Mineral or Spring Water
Natural mineral waters, such as Perrier or San Pellegrino, are sparkling waters from naturalized mineral springs. The bottling process tends to take out some of the natural fizz, so they are usually re-carbonated before bottling.
The natural minerals in the waters usually contain natural salts, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Levels of these minerals depend on where the water is sourced and vary by brand. Harmful elements, such as arsenic, parasites and bacteria, are removed. Flavorings may be added. But the beneficial minerals are left in the water.
For centuries, these minerals have been thought to have healing properties.
Health Effects of Sparkling Water
So, let’s move on now to explore the effects of these carbonated waters on our bodies.
The biggest health benefit of sparkling water is hydration. Studies have shown that we drink more water when it is carbonated.
Taste is subjective, but many of us just don’t like the taste of plain old tap water. The carbonic acid in these waters stimulates the same taste buds as mustard. They are considered by many to taste better than tap water, hence their current popularity.
Staying hydrated by drinking more water, plain or sparkling, is a good thing.
Ability to Swallow
Studies show that the carbonation in sparkling water can stimulate the nerves in our mouth and throat. This can help improve our ability to swallow. Some diseases and, certainly, some cancer treatments can disrupt the ability to swallow.
This is good news for those affected with dysphagia.
Many reputable websites report that sparkling waters help make us feel full and, thus, are good for weight loss. I have read some of the studies that back up these reports.
However, I also came across a few studies that suggest there is no effect on how much we eat. I even found some studies that suggest the opposite.
The science certainly is not clear on this.
I suppose it is all relative. Zero-calorie sparkling water is better than soda or diet soda. But if you are struggling to lose weight, then perhaps stick to plain water and skip anything with carbonation. Bummer, I know!
While rare, there have been reported allergic reactions to sparkling and mineral waters.
A few people may not tolerate the flavorings added. The natural flavorings in these products are usually made from fruit essences. There are also rare reports of allergic reactions to the sulfur component of mineral waters.
If you have an allergy type reaction when drinking any of these products, you should discuss this with your doctor.
Gut health is another tough one. There are some studies and reports that suggest a positive effect. But then there are a few papers that say carbonated beverages are bad for the gastrointestinal system.
Let me briefly summarize what I discovered
Sparkling waters have been reported to decrease constipation rates by as much as 58%. That is a significant percentage. It is a promising side effect for some cancer patients who suffer from this. I certainly did when I had chemo. Had I known then about this beneficial effect, I would have definitely drank more sparkling water.
Drinking carbonated waters is known to help with heart burn and indigestion. Many of the sparkling waters, especially soda and mineral water, contain bicarbonate. This acts as an acid buffer and can help with heart burn and some stomach problems.
However, the effervescence may aggravate inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). So, if you suffer from this, be aware that the fizz in these waters may make your symptoms worse. If this happens, of course, stick to plain, flat water and avoid the bubbles.
Drinking sparkling water may cause gas and bloating in some people.
Scientists admit that there is not enough evidence yet to state if carbonated water has a beneficial, neutral or negative effect on our gastrointestinal system. We just don’t know enough yet.
The carbonic acid in sparkling waters can weaken tooth enamel and interfere with adhesives in dental restorations.
Now, this study came to this conclusion by soaking teeth for 15 minutes. I highly doubt you will be swishing your drink around in your mouth that long. But you may weaken your teeth if you drink a lot of carbonated water. Brushing your teeth after you drink will help.
Sodium & Blood Pressure
As we have already discussed, mineral and soda waters contain sodium. You may need to take this into account if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. Discuss this with your doctor.
That said, this study found that the ingestion of a high sodium containing mineral water had no effect on blood pressure, which is one of the reasons for a sodium-restricted diet.
Another study looked at sodium-rich carbonated mineral water in older women. They found that these beverages had a positive effect of preventing heart disease and metabolic syndrome in these women.
However, if you need to watch your sodium levels, look for low or no sodium sparkling waters. There are plenty of tasty ones on the market. Or make your own with a carbonation unit, such as SodaStream.
I read a few non-scientific articles on the internet that claim that drinking carbonated beverages leads to bone loss over time. However, when I searched through the science, I didn’t find that this was the case.
A few scientific reviews claimed that there was no effect on bone density from drinking carbonated water. In fact, I found a few articles that claimed an increase in bone strength with mineral waters, at least in chickens. That makes sense to me because mineral waters can contain calcium and magnesium which strengthen bone.
Those ‘carbonated beverages’ that are being blamed for bone loss are the sodas containing caffeine and phosphorus, such as colas. Drinking a lot of these carbonated beverages has been linked to poor bone health, as they interfere with bone calcium. But it is not the fizz that does this.
During the carbonation process, carbonic acid forms in the water. This lowers the pH and makes the water more acid. Pure water is neutral and has a pH of 7. The pH of tap water varies by location. But sparkling waters tend to have pH ranges of 3 to 4.
Some think that this may also cause your blood to become acidic too. This is a myth.
Your body has an amazing capacity to handle the acidity of foods. There are plenty of acidic foods that are healthy; oranges and tomatoes come to mind. And our stomach acid that digests these foods is quite acidic.
Our blood has a huge buffering capacity to neutralize these acids and keep our blood at a constant pH. So, it can handle the acidity from sparkling water very easily. It won’t make your blood acidic.
Sparkling Water and Cancer
I specifically searched for good scientific information about carbonated waters and cancer. There isn’t much out there.
What I did find was the information I just told you. Cancer patients can experience side effects of cancer and the treatments, such as heartburn, trouble swallowing and constipation. There is evidence that fizzy water can help with these issues.
And staying hydrated is the number one healthy thing you can do as a cancer patient. I hated the taste of tap water when I was going through chemo. But I could tolerate sparkling water. So, if you can’t drink flat water, then perhaps try drinking sparkling water.
Drink Sparkling Water in Moderation
As you can see, the topic of sparkling water on our health is a complex one. While carbonated beverages are not new, the science studying the health effects is relatively new. It will be interesting to watch what scientists come up with as the research progresses.
Until we know more, enjoy a sparkling glass or two, knowing that you are, at least, hydrating your body.