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Do you love cracking open a can of fizzy, refreshing seltzer water when you need to quench your thirst? With seltzer water becoming more and more popular, it is important to know whether or not this bubbly drink is a healthy habit, or yet another unhealthy addition to your diet.
What is seltzer water?
Seltzer water is simply water that is infused with carbon dioxide. That is why it is often called carbonated water. The addition of carbon dioxide at high pressure forms bubbles, and it creates the fizzy, tart beverage you are likely familiar with.
Seltzer water vs. mineral water, tonic water, and club soda
Seltzer water is similar to, but distinct from, other types of water like mineral water, tonic water, and club soda. While these may all sound like they are basically the same thing, they are not to be confused with each other. Here's a brief breakdown of these other types of sparkly beverages:
- Sparkling mineral water is naturally carbonated, coming from a natural spring or well. It is fizzy, like seltzer water, but it contains minerals like sodium, magnesium, and calcium from its natural source.
- Club soda is carbonated water that has also been infused with various minerals like sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium chloride.
- Tonic water is water mixed with sugar and a substance called quinine, which has a bitter flavor. Tonic water can have about 15 grams of sugar per serving, which is up there with sodas.
As you can see, some of these other types of waters contain other ingredients like sodium and sugar, whereas seltzer water is only water with carbon dioxide in it. If you want a beverage completely free from sugar, calories, and sodium, then seltzer water is your safest bet.
Is acidic seltzer bad for your teeth and bones?
One of the concerns people have about seltzer is that it may harm your dental and bone health.
This is because the process of carbonating water with carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the water. The concern is that the acid in seltzer water could be potentially harmful to your teeth and bones.
But studies show that sparkling water leads to only very low levels of tooth decay, much less compared to more acidic beverages. Seltzer water itself isn't something to be too worried about; it is the sugary carbonated beverages that are the real problem. Sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks like sodas are linked to much higher levels of tooth decay.
Although seltzer water has only minimal effects on tooth enamel, if you are worried at all about the acidic effect you can take extra precautions like drinking it only with a meal, using a straw, rinsing your teeth with regular water afterwards, or limiting your seltzer water intake each day.
So it turns out that your teeth are pretty safe if you drink seltzer water. But what about your bones?
It's a similar situation when we look at the potential threats to bone mineral density. Carbonated water itself isn't the issue.[1,4] The studies that initially suggested that carbonated water may be harmful to bone health were actually looking at dark cola soft drinks, in particular. These cola sodas were linked to poor bone health, likely because of the phosphoric acid they contain.[1,4]
Unsweetened carbonated water isn't the culprit here. If you stay away from sweetened, carbonated sodas and stick with regular seltzer water, you can rest assured these health issues won't be a problem for you.[1,4]
Are there any health benefits of seltzer water?
As you have read above, experts don't believe there are major risks associated with seltzer water. In fact, there can be some benefits to drinking carbonated water.
Here are a few ways seltzer might help:
- Keeps you hydrated. Drinking seltzer water can help ensure you stay well hydrated throughout the day. It's just as good as regular water when it comes to hydration; one study found that when people drank carbonated water, their hydration status was no different than when they drank regular water. And if you don't like plain water and tend not to drink it, then seltzer water might even help you to stay better hydrated.
- Helps with weight loss efforts. When you are trying to lose weight, staying hydrated is very important. If you are thirsty, your body can mistake that as feeling hungry so you might eat more than you need to. Plus, switching out sugary drinks for healthier alternatives like seltzer can also help you to maintain a healthy weight.[2,6]
- Eases constipation and indigestion, improves digestion. Many people find carbonated water to help with their digestion. However, if you have gastrointestinal issues like GERD or IBS you may want to stay away from carbonated water, as it can be problematic for some people with these conditions.[2,7]
- Reduces your intake of other unhealthy beverages. If you drink more seltzer water, it may make it easier for you to cut back on other unhealthy drinks like sodas, sports drinks, or sugary cocktails. The less you drink of sugar-sweetened beverages like these, the better, as they are linked to many serious health concerns like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and more.
How to choose a healthy seltzer water
When you are at the grocery store, it might be confusing to figure out which kind of beverage to buy. Here are some important tips:
- Stay away from club soda or tonic water. These have added sodium and sugar that you don't want in your drink. Stick with regular seltzer water instead.
- Read the label. Some brands add things like artificial sweeteners or other ingredients to their products. Read the label to keep your eye out for unnecessary additives.
- Look for zero calories and zero sugar. A good seltzer shouldn't have calories, and it shouldn't have any sugar. Again, be a label detective to make sure you are choosing a healthy brand.
- Beware of flavoring. Sometimes, seltzer is flavored artificially or contains sugary additives to boost flavor. Choose a brand of sparkling water that is flavored with only natural fruit or essential oils.
- Add your own flavor if you need it. You can add berries, slices of lemon or lime, cucumber, herbs, and other fresh ingredients to plain sparkling water if you are in need of some refreshing flavor. This ensures you know exactly what you are getting in your drink.
The bottom line
There's good news here for all you seltzer water fans out there; you don't have to give up your favorite refreshing, fizzy drink.
While seltzer may be more acidic than plain water, the research shows that you don't have to worry about it negatively affecting your health in any significant way. There is no strong evidence that sparkling water is that harmful to either dental or bone health.
Some people may even benefit from drinking more seltzer water as it can help you stay hydrated, improve digestion, and limit your consumption of other unhealthy drinks.
Ultimately, replacing sodas or other unhealthy sugary beverages with water – plain or sparkling – is a really great choice. The less of those sugary beverages you consume, the better. And if carbonated water can help you do that? Then great. The CDC even recommends sparkling water with a splash of 100% juice as a healthy, fizzy alternative to soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Just make sure to choose true seltzers – simple carbonated water with a touch of all-natural flavor. Stay away from things like tonic water or club soda that can contain a lot of sugar and sodium.
And don't underestimate the power of plain water, too. Try filling up a few large glasses every morning and carrying a reusable water bottle with you at all times so you can stay hydrated.
- Nutrition Source. Water. Harvard School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/water/.
- Weldstead L. Is sparkling water healthy? UChicago Medicine. July 1 2020. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/is-carbonated-water-healthy.
- Parry J, Shaw L, Arnaud MJ, Smith AJ. Investigation of mineral waters and soft drinks in relation to dental erosion. J Oral Rehabil. 2001 Aug;28(8):766-72.
- Cabatoaje, A. Is Sparkling Water Bad For You? UW Medicine Right and Rain. July 11 2019. https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/body/food/sparkling-water.
- Maughan RJ, Watson P, Cordery PA, Walsh NP, Oliver SJ, Dolci A, Rodriguez-Sanchez N, Galloway SD. A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):717-23.
- Rethink Your Drink. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed September 25 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/drinks.html.
- Cuomo R, Grasso R, Sarnelli G, et al. Effects of carbonated water on functional dyspepsia and constipation. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2002 Sep;14(9):991-9.