Over the last decade or so, the carbonated water section at the grocery store has grown from a shelf or two to a whole aisle of options. It's a shift born out of consumer demand, and it's safe to say that sparkling water has become a beverage staple for many people.
For some, a can of sparkling water is just a bubbly, flavored treat — flanked on either end by plenty of regular water. For others, a few cans of sparkling water are perhaps their only chance of getting anywhere close to reaching their daily water goal.
But can sparkling water actually replace regular water?
Nathalie Sessions, wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist Wellness Services says, “Yes, sparkling water is just as healthy as regular water — most of the time.”
Sessions is here to set the record straight when it comes to health myths about sparkling water, as well as share some tips about using it to replace regular water or unhealthy beverages.
Sparkling water vs. club soda vs. tonic water
First things first: We need to clear the air about what we mean when we say sparkling water.
Sparkling water is basically just water with some extra oomph. That oomph you feel when you take a sip is carbon dioxide gas that’s dissolved into the water under pressure (aka, carbonation). Most of the time, there are natural flavors added to sparkling water as well.
Sparkling water is also called seltzer water.
It’s similar to a few other types of carbonated water including club soda, sparkling mineral water and tonic water.
- Club soda is carbonated water that also contains infused minerals, namely salts.
- Sparkling mineral water is naturally carbonated, mineral-containing water that comes from a spring or well. Sometimes, it’s further carbonated by manufacturers.
- Tonic water is carbonated water that contains quinine (a bittering agent), sugar and infused minerals.
When it comes to replacing regular water with a carbonated option, Sessions recommends choosing sparkling water over these other types since most brands usually don’t contain sodium and sugar.
Sparkling water hydrates just as well as regular water
Current evidence suggests that sparkling water hydrates your body just as well as regular water. Admittedly, though, there’s limited research on the topic.
There’s certainly nothing to suggest that the added carbon dioxide prevents your body from absorbing sparkling water any differently than regular water. But some studies suggest that a person will drink less water after exercising if they’re offered sparkling water instead of regular water.
Sparkling water seems to be as healthy as regular water
While a few health myths exist when it comes to sparkling water, most can be disregarded. Interestingly, sparkling water might actually benefit your health, since several studies suggest that it may:
- Reduce the feeling of needing to persistently clear your throat
- Help you feel full for a longer period of time after meals
- Help relieve constipation in some people
- Improve heart health
Sparkling water is both carbonated and slightly acidic, but research shows that it damages your tooth enamel only slightly more than regular water. To mitigate any damage, Sessions says it’s best to drink sparkling waters with food rather than alone. Furthermore, there’s no evidence that the acidity in sparkling water affects bone mineral density.
Overall, there’s currently no proof that sparkling water is bad for your overall health — although research is limited.
Drinking sparkling water is a great way to kick an unhealthy soda habit
It’s no secret that there are plenty of reasons to stop drinking soft drinks. Whether you’re worried about your waistline or your teeth, sparkling water can be a great alternative to a soda packed with sugar that you drink every day — especially if you drink more than one.
Not only is sparkling water calorie-free and offered in a variety of flavors, it causes significantly less damage to tooth enamel than soft drinks.
“Sparkling water can be a great way to help kick a soda habit,” says Sessions. “But, it’s important to choose options free of added sugars and artificial sweeteners — read ingredient lists carefully!”
Watch out for sparkling water brands that sneak in unhealthy additives
Most sparkling water brands don’t contain sodium or sugar, but you’ll need to check the nutrition label to be sure.
In addition, don’t confuse sparkling water with other types of carbonated water — namely tonic water or club soda. Tonic water contains a lot of sugar, and should never be used in place of regular water. Similarly, club soda typically contains more than 70 mg of sodium per can, and shouldn’t be used to replace regular water, either.
Don’t let sparkling water replace beverages containing important vitamins and minerals
While you may be able to substitute sparkling water for some regular water, it shouldn’t replace beverages that you rely on for vitamin D, B vitamins and calcium — such as milk. If you do find yourself grabbing a can of sparkling water instead, be sure to incorporate other foods into your diet that are rich in these vitamins and minerals.
(Related: Which Milk Is the Healthiest?)