As of 2016, sales of sparkling water in the United States rose 42 percent since 2011 — a huge jump for just a five-year time span. (1) Bubbles are fun to play with, and a lot of people think it’s also pretty delightful to have bubbles in their water. While the carbonated version of water has gained popularity, people don’t exactly know where sparkling water — also commonly called carbonated water, club soda, seltzer, seltzer water, soda water, fizzy water or mineral water — stands in regard to health. Is it similar to alkaline water or something different entirely?
With products like SodaStream that make it so easy to make carbonated water at home, a lot of people are even replacing their normal water intake with a large amount of the bubbly version. But wait, is sparkling water healthy? Is carbonation bad for you? The short answer to both questions: It depends. Let’s dive in to this fizzy beverage and find out how healthy it is (or isn’t)!
What Is Sparkling Water? Types of Sparkling Water
What is sparkling water? Sparkling water is a variation on water, which is a clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid. Sparkling water is infused with carbon dioxide, which causes it to be sparkling or bubbly. The “sparkle” of sparkling water can occur naturally or be man-made. If you were wondering what is soda water, it’s yet another name used for carbonated water or sparkling water.
The most natural form of sparkling water is sparkling mineral water, which not only naturally contains minerals, but also can be naturally carbonated. This refreshing and effervescent liquid comes straight from the source: a naturally occurring mineral spring. The sparkle can result from gases that are naturally occurring in the water. However, not all sparkling mineral water is naturally sparkling, and many mineral water companies also add carbon dioxide to the water to make it bubbly.
An example of man-made sparkling water or seltzer water is what comes out of the newly popular soda maker devices that inject water with carbon dioxide. If you own a carbonated water maker, then you already know how to make carbonated water at home with the push of a button. There’s flavored sparkling water too, which has additional ingredients (sometimes natural, but other times, artificial and unhealthy).
What is seltzer water? Seltzer water is basically the man-made or artificially created version of sparkling water. Seltzer is simply water plus carbon dioxide. Seltzer water is said to have come on the scene as a cheaper alternative to sparkling mineral water. (2)
If you’re wondering about club soda vs. seltzer, club soda has more added to it compared to seltzer and has more of a taste. What is club soda? Club soda typically contains what is referred to as “mineral-like ingredients,” including sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, potassium sulfate and disodium phosphate. (3) For anyone looking to keep sodium intake down, it’s important to note that club soda contains sodium, but seltzer is typically sodium-free.
Is Sparkling Water Healthy? Benefits of Carbonated Water
Is sparkling water healthy? That’s a good question. As is the case with a lot of foods and drinks, sparkling water can be healthy if you choose the right type. The best variety of sparkling water is the mineral-rich kind, which is called sparkling mineral water. Many experts say that sparkling water can be just as hydrating as regular water, however the bubbles can make it harder to drink as much of the bubbly variety.
If you’re debating between seltzer water vs. club soda, I would say choose neither! Opt for sparkling mineral water instead because that way you not only get water, but valuable minerals as well. The kind of sparkling water you absolutely want to stay away from is one that contains artificial flavors, colors and/or additives.
Is carbonated water good for you? In some cases, the bubbly stuff has been shown to have some benefits to human health. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways that sparkling water can be helpful.
1. Rich in Health-Promoting Minerals
If you choose a sparkling mineral water, you can add a variety of minerals to your diet as you quench your thirst. Natural mineral waters can be defined as those “originated from an aquifer or underground reservoir, spring from one or more natural or bore sources and have specific hygienic features and, eventually, healthy properties.” (4) The Food and Drug Administration also has its own definition, which is “water containing not less than 250 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids (TDS), coming from a source at one or more bore holes or springs, originating from a geologically and physically protected underground water source.” (5)
What this all boils down to is that sparkling mineral water must come from a natural source and naturally contain minerals. Depending on the source, the type and amount of minerals can vary. The awesome thing about mineral waters is that their minerals are said to be more easily absorbable than the minerals found in food since food minerals are attached to complex molecules while the minerals exist as free ions in mineral water. Examples of vital minerals found in sparkling mineral water include magnesium, calcium and potassium.
2. Blood Sugar Management
A study published in 2015 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine linked consumption of bicarbonate-rich mineral water with improved glycemic control. The study’s 19 healthy subjects drank either 500 milliliters of commercially available tap water or bicarbonate-rich mineral water daily. Researchers observed that compared to tap water drinkers, the mineral water drinkers experienced a significant decline in serum glycoalbumin levels.(7) This is significant since glycoalbumin levels are used as a marker of glycemic control.
3. Healthier Alternative to Soda
If you’re currently sipping on some diet soda, I would much rather see you drinking sparkling water. As long as the sparkling water doesn’t have any unhealthy additives, it wins every time if you’re considering sparkling water vs. soda. Soda is either loaded with insulin-raising sugars or filled with extremely health-hazardous fake sugars like aspartame.
Sugary drinks like soda have scientifically been shown to increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes and other serious chronic health conditions. (8) Opting for a sugar-free, unflavored sparkling mineral water is a much better choice than soda if you care about your health.
4. Help for Dyspepsia and Constipation
One scientific review out of the U.K. published in 2014 analyzed 20 different trials involving 902 subjects with with a central neurological disease like Parkison’s disease or a brain injury, such as a stroke. People with these types of health issues are much more likely to experience constipation compared to the general population. This study made the interesting finding that sparkling water may be helpful to stroke victims suffering from constipation. (9)
Another study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology looked at the effects of carbonated beverages on 21 patients with functional dyspepsia and found that carbonated water improved dyspepsia symptoms as well as constipation and gallbladder emptying. (10)
5. Calms Motion Sickness
This is one of those sparkling water benefits that can really come in handy, especially when you’re on a long trip by car, bus, plane or boat. Motion sickness can really be quite miserable, but carbonated beverages without caffeine are known for their ability to help calm that queasiness. Sipping on some cold, sparkling mineral water can be the perfect beverage to help you feel better quickly. (11)
6. Safer than Tap Water
Tap water toxicity is, unfortunately, a very real problem throughout the world these days. I’m talking about the presence of dangerous toxins in our water supply. A three-year study by the Environmental Working Group published in 2009 revealed 316 chemicals in tap water throughout the United States. (12) Sparkling mineral water, ideally in glass bottles, can make a healthier, safer choice instead of drinking tap water. (Ultimately, the most health conscious and environmentally responsible solution is to filter tap water for any specific contaminants you’re dealing with.)
Dangers of Sparkling Water
Is carbonated water bad for you? Some people believe it can be. For instance, carbonated water has been linked to dental problems. What makes sparkling waters so unfriendly to our mouths? Some experts says it’s the carbonation, which over time can wear at the enamel on teeth and potentially contribute to tooth decay.
Researchers have found that the sensation we experience when we drink a carbonated beverage like sparkling water is due to a reaction that occurs inside our mouths that changes carbon dioxide bubbles into irritating carbonic acid. So that exhilarating “bite” of carbonation is actually chemical rather than physical. (13)
According to Dr. Gene Romo, a Chicago dentist and consumer adviser for the American Dental Association, and Dr. André Ritter, chair of the Department of Operative Dentistry at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, the problem with the carbonic acid found in sparkling water is that it lowers the pH of water, making it more acidic, and one of the things that causes dental erosion is the acid in food and beverages.
However, these doctors do agree that sparkling water is still a much better choice than soda, which is a lot more acidic. They also note that sparkling mineral water contains minerals “that can actually offset some of the potential damage caused by the low pH.” In general, they recommend non-sparkling water over sparkling, but sparkling water definitely wins over high-sugar soda and juices. (14)
Another issue with sparkling water is when companies add health-hazardous additives and sweeteners. Some sparkling water brands have made sparkling water even more popular these days. Flavored sparkling water provides soda drinkers with the fizz they love and comes in a range of fruit flavors. To look on the positive side, naturally flavored sparkling waters without any sweeteners may help break an unhealthy soda addiction. However, the bad news is that these flavorings, including citric and other fruit acids, have been linked to possible enamel teeth erosion.
Again, the pH of flavored sparkling waters is concerning. While tap water’s pH is typically between 6 and 8, the carbonating of water lowers its pH to around a 5. With flavor essences and other additions to sparkling water, the pH can go down even lower, and the lower the pH the more likely it is to be destructive to our teeth. (15)
What does the research say about sparkling water and tooth erosion? Well, one study published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry shows the flavored sparkling waters that seem to be most concerning. The researchers found that the pH levels of the flavored sparkling waters tested were in the same range as cola and orange juice. Plus, the flavored waters also contained citric acid (which is commonly added to flavored sparkling waters for taste), and as the study points out, citric acid has a “particularly high erosive potential.” In general, they found that the flavored sparkling waters had a significantly lower pH than unflavored sparkling mineral waters. (16)
Another study published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation found that flavorless sparkling mineral water was 100 times less offensive to tooth enamel compared to the soft drinks tested. Overall, the researchers conclude that the minerals in sparkling mineral water positively affect any erosion taking place at the tooth surface, and “mineral waters appear to offer a safe alternative to more erosive acidic beverage.” (17)
Carbonated water may increase irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms of bloating and gas due to the release of carbon dioxide in the digestive tract. Carbonated drinks can also be a trigger for constipation and/or diarrhea for some people with digestive health issues like IBS. (18)
Sparkling Water vs. Coconut Water vs. Lemon Water
Is sparkling water as healthy as regular water? High-quality water without carbonation is up there with oxygen when it comes to what us humans need to exist. Sparkling water without unhealthy flavorings and additives can be a healthier alternative to many sodas and fruit drinks, but it by no means is advisable to replace all of your regular flat water consumption with sparkling water.
How does sparkling water compare to other healthy hydrators like coconut water and lemon water? Let’s take a look:
- Sparkling mineral water naturally contains various minerals — most commonly calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
- Coconut water also contains the same electrolyte minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium. It also contains manganese, iron, copper, selenium and some B vitamins.
- Lemon water contains significant amounts of vitamin C as well as potassium, folate, magnesium and other key nutrients.
- Sparkling water is calorie-free and sugar-free.
- Coconut water (with no sugar added) contains around 45 calories and just over six grams of sugar per cup.
- If you create lemon water by adding the juice of half of a lemon to water then you only add around five calories and less than one gram of sugar to the water.
- Coconut water and lemon water have no carbonation.
Depending on your personal preference, all three beverages can be great sources of hydration in moderation when you’re looking for a healthy alternative to plain water.
How to Find and Use Sparkling Water + Sparkling Water Recipes
Compared to seltzer, sparkling mineral water has more of a mineral-rich flavor thanks to the minerals, of course. It is important to read labels if you’re looking to stick with mineral water that is naturally bubbly as opposed to injected with carbon dioxide.
It’s not hard to find sparkling mineral water at grocery stores, convenience stores and health stores. Health stores are often the best resource for natural sparkling mineral water. Just like with regular water, avoid the plastic bottled versions and opt for glass.
You can drink sparkling water just as you would regular water, or you can add it to various recipes.
Here are some truly delicious and refreshing recipes that include sparkling water:
- Watermelon Agua Fresca Recipe
- Rosemary Blueberry Smash Recipe
- Cucumber, Lavender, and Mint Infused Water Recipe
This can get pricey, but some people even cook their vegetables in mineral water claiming it reduces cooking time while helping to maintain their color and nutrients.
Precautions and Side Effects
For people who suffer from digestive issues, such as IBS and GERD, carbonated water may increase unwanted symptoms like burping. If you notice that any type of sparkling water, including sparkling mineral water, increases or brings on any unwanted symptoms, discontinue drinking sparkling water.
- Sparkling water can be another healthy way to meet your daily hydration needs, and the best options of sparkling water are mineral-rich and free of sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and artificial flavors. I would also avoid sparkling waters that contain citric acid or any other acids to be on the safe side when it comes to the health of your teeth. If you want to make your sparkling water more interesting, you can always add healthy flavor and color boosters like fresh fruit and herbs.
- Sparkling water is rich in health-promoting minerals and is healthier than both soda and fluoride-loaded tap water, and it’s beens shown to help with blood sugar management, dyspepsia, constipation and motion sickness.
- However, sparkling water can also wear out tooth enamel due to its carbonation, increase IBS symptoms, trigger constipation and/or diarrhea in some, and it often contains unhealthy additives and sweeteners.
- Plus, while it’s healthier than soda and other artificially flavored beverages, it’s definitely not as healthy as regular, pure water. Like most foods and drinks, I recommend consuming it in moderation and opting for regular water the vast majority of the time.