Sparkling Water: Benefits, Risks, and Facts
Sparkling water (carbonated water), is a catch-all label for any water infused with carbon dioxide gas. It has varied carbonation levels from lightly effervescent to large, bold bubbles. It is either artificially or naturally carbonated.
Sparkling waters usually have higher mineral content than still waters, especially naturally carbonated brands. It is more acidic than still water because the CO2 converts to carbonic acid. Adding fruits or herbs adds a fresh taste. Some of the best-known sparkling water brands are Perrier, San Pellegrino, Badoit, Gerolsteiner, Vichy Catalan, ROI, Nevas, Hildon sparkling water, Liquid Death sparkling water, LaCroix sparkling water, and Saratoga Sparkling Spring Water.
Sparkling water is popular as a non-alcoholic, zero-calorie beverage in fine dining and daily consumption in regions including southern and eastern Europe, Germany, France, and increasingly Mexico and the United States.
Sparkling water is used for its benefits which include improving digestion, helping with weight management, and assisting with swallowing ability. On the harmful side, sparkling water can cause gas and bloating and if taken in excess it may instigate tooth decay. There are claims that it contributes to calcium loss, but there is no scientific evidence to support this.
Table of Contents
- What Is Sparkling (Carbonated) Water?
- What Are the Benefits of Drinking Sparkling Water?
- 1. Sparkling Water Can Improve Digestion
- 2. Sparkling Water Can Help Weight Management
- 3. Sparkling Water Can Improve Swallowing Ability
- What Are the Potential Harms of Drinking Sparkling Water?
- 1. Sparkling Water Can Cause Tooth Decay
- 2. Sparkling Water Can Cause Gas and Bloating
- 3. Sparkling Water Can Cause Calcium Loss
- How Should You Drink Sparkling (Carbonated) Water?
- How Much Sparkling Water Is Safe for Your Health?
- What Healthy Flavors can be added to Sparkling Water?
- What Are the Best and the Healthiest Sparkling Water Brands?
What Is Sparkling (Carbonated) Water?
Sparkling (carbonated) water is water infused with carbon dioxide gas to create effervescence – that is, bubbles. It can not have anything added to it other than minerals or zero-calorie flavors. Carbonation is naturally occurring or it is artificially added using carbon dioxide tanks or cartridges. The video below from the BBC shows the process of how sparkling water is made when it is being artificially carbonated.
The source of sparkling water, or the process in which it is obtained, affects its specific designation within the sparkling water realm. While there are varying and sometimes confusing differences in definitions, the following are common.
- Sparkling water is a general term for any water infused with carbon dioxide gas regardless of source and mineral composition and with no calories. Other terms used generically include soda water, fizzy water, and carbonated water.
- Sparkling mineral water comes from a natural spring or borehole tapping an aquifer. It is either naturally or artificially carbonated and naturally contains healthy minerals. Only minerals or zero-calorie flavors is added, and the permissibility of even these varies by country. Natural Mineral Water is a legally defined term in the EU and many countries requiring that nothing be added or taken away from the natural state of the water. The only exception is that CO2 is added to make sparkling versions of still waters.
- Seltzer is plain water that is artificially carbonated, and it does not include additional ingredients such as minerals, giving it a flat taste. Because they use a base water stripped of all minerals via reverse osmosis or deionization, the popular sparkling water brand LaCroix fits this definition. However, they choose to define themselves simply as sparkling water and give a different seltzer definition.
- Club soda is like seltzer except that it has added minerals which may include sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and salt. Baking soda is alkaline so it offsets the acidity caused by carbonation.
- Tonic water is actually not a sparkling water because sweeteners and a bitter substance called quinine are added to it.
The taste of sparkling water is influenced by its mineral content. Total mineral content is referred to as Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and is measured in milligrams per liter. Sparkling waters typically have higher TDS levels. The Fine Water Society brand profiles show an average sparkling water TDS of 1887 mg/l, versus still waters averaging 304 mg/l. Higher TDS levels are usually healthier, acting like mineral supplements.
As with mineral supplements, too much is harmful, but the TDS of the vast majority of sparkling waters is unlikely to cause problems. Sparkling waters with a low mineral content taste lighter.
The four most common minerals in sparkling water have varied tastes. Sodium gives a salty taste with Vichy Catalan from Spain being an extreme example with 1097 mg/l. Bicarbonate is mildly salty and neutralizes acidity, with Gerolsteiner from Germany having a very high 1817 mg/l. Magnesium tastes metallic, with ROI from Slovenia one of the highest magnesium waters at 1100 mg/l. And calcium tastes chalky or dairy-like, with Italian Ferrarelle having a heavy amount at 400 mg/l.
Mouthfeel is an important related factor to taste. The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines mouthfeel as “All the rheological and structure (geometrical and surface) attributes of a food product perceptible by means of mechanical, tactile, and where appropriate, visual and auditory receptors”. Simply put, how a particular food feels in one’s mouth, which extends to beverages like sparkling water.
The most important factor influencing mouthfeel in sparkling water is the level of carbonation. The Fine Water Society breaks carbonation levels into four groups: effervescent, light, classic, and bold. Effervescent is extremely light bubbling that can go flat quickly as with Hildon water from the UK. Light has somewhat stronger bubbles, but is less than most people think of with a typical sparkling water, and is found in American Summits spring water in the US. Classic is the feel most people associate with sparkling water, with San Pellegrino from Italy typical. And bold has large, firework-like bubbles, such as with Vichy Catalan from France.
When choosing a sparkling water, to create a more pleasurable mealtime experience, one can follow what the Fine Water Society calls the 75 percent rule. This is where the mouthfeel of a meal is roughly equivalent to the level of carbonation in the water. Heavy dishes pair with big bubbles and light dishes pair with small, mild bubbles. As stated by the Fine Water Society, “Loud, big, bold bubbles overpower subtle dishes, while Still water might be too great a contrast with crispy food.”
Differences in mouthfeel and taste among sparkling mineral water brands exist because the amount and type of minerals from each water source is different. Sparkling mineral water originates underground, usually from a natural spring or well. As noted in an entry in the Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition: water that originates from a natural spring is withdrawn at the source and pumped to the surface. It may be tapped where it organically emerges from the ground. Well water comes from a borehole that was drilled into the ground, and water is withdrawn not from a spring but from an aquifer.
The carbonation type of sparkling water is either artificial or natural. For artificially carbonated water, the Fine Water Society explains that “current carbonation techniques involve pressurizing carbon dioxide before adding it to the water—the pressure increases the amount of carbon dioxide that will dissolve.” When the bottle of sparkling water is open, the carbon dioxide within forms bubbles that were not formerly visible. Almost all artificially carbonated water has 1 to 10 mg/l of carbon dioxide.
Naturally carbonated water usually comes from areas with volcanic activity. A study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found that the chemistry of these water sources is directly related to the quantity and whereabouts of magma within a volcano. In their words, “Groundwater circulates deep within the Earth's crust in volcanic regions, where it is heated by magma to over 200 °C (around 400 °F). This causes it to rise along fractures, bringing dissolved material up toward the surface.” This includes minerals as well as carbon dioxide.
Nearly all naturally carbonated waters lose their carbonation when they are extracted from the ground and go through the bottling process. Producers will add carbon dioxide back into the water before the bottles are capped. The EU Natural Mineral Water Directive and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules stipulate the water must have the same amount of carbon dioxide as when it was initially extracted or else it cannot be called naturally carbonated.
Besides the fact that still water has zero carbonation, there are two other key differences between sparkling and still water. First, Still remains the majority choice for consumers with the Fine Water Society saying 65% of Americans choose it at meals. Though sparkling water is particularly popular in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Second, sparkling water is more acidic. Fine Water Society brand profiles show a median pH of 6 for sparkling waters and 7.5 for still waters. This diagram shows the results of research by Svalbarði of typical pH levels of different water types, with sparkling water showing the lowest average levels of any type.
Despite its lower pH, sparkling water is not as acidic as soft drinks. A 2015 University of Alabama at Birmingham study of locally available brands found soft drinks had a mean pH of 3.1. Sparkling water’s typical pH of 6 is still more acidic than the typical still water’s slightly alkaline 7.5, but it will not alter the pH level of the body as the lungs, kidneys, and digestive system are very effective at managing acidity levels throughout the body and removing surplus acid and carbon dioxide.
What Are Some Nutritional Facts about Sparkling Water?
Some nutritional facts about sparkling water are that even flavored brands have zero calories, and it can contain useful amounts of healthy minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
- ROI sparkling water is one of the most magnesium-rich waters in the world at 1100 mg/l. It has one of the highest bicarbonate contents of any bottled water at 8449 mg/l.
- The 2013-2016 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) discovered a daily average shortfall of 142 mg per day of magnesium for adult men and 121 mg for women. Gerolsteiner sparkling water can fill this gap if women drink 1.1 liters per day and men 1.3 liters.
- The higher magnesium content of German sparkling waters versus the UK correlates with higher German magnesium consumption than the British. A 2013 article in the British Journal of Nutrition showed Germans consume 148 mg more than basic needs daily, and the Fine Water Society shows average sparkling water there has 63 mg/l. In the UK, there is a deficit of 74 mg of magnesium and the average sparkling water has only 7 mg/l.
- The popular LaCroix sparkling water brand is marketed as “naturally essenced sparkling water”. However, it is made from flat, mineral-free reverse osmosis or deionized water, meaning it is actually a seltzer.
What Are the Benefits of Drinking Sparkling Water?
Is sparkling water good for you? The answer is yes, as these are the benefits of drinking sparkling water.
- Sparkling water can improve digestion
- Sparkling water can help weight management
- Sparkling water can improve swallowing ability
Studies published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, the Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal, Journal of Applied Physiology, and Journal of Laryngology and Otology all provide supporting evidence of the above benefits of drinking sparkling water.
1. Sparkling Water Can Improve Digestion
A study from the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that fizzy water provides relief from indigestion (dyspepsia) and constipation and that it even improves the emptying of the gallbladder. During a two-week interval, researchers observed that the study participants drinking sparkling water instead of tap water reduced their symptoms of indigestion by 34% versus tap water, and constipation by 18%.
A separate study that was published in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing found that 40 senior citizens who drank sparkling water instead of tap water had twice as many bowel movements during a two-week interval. Overall, their symptoms of constipation dramatically declined. The chart below displays data from the Korean study, showing the mean frequency of bowel movements per day between the experimental group and control group.
Bicarbonate in numerous sparkling mineral waters is the main cause of improved digestion because it neutralizes gastric acidity according to an article entitled “Natural mineral waters: chemical characteristics and health effects” in the journal Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism.
Bicarbonate is found in all bodily fluids, and the stomach produces it to manage acid-base balances in the body. Drinking sparkling water with high amounts of bicarbonate can lessen the acidity of various foods during the digestive process. Socosani Natural Mineral Water from Peru (1239 mg/l of bicarbonate), Apollinaris sparkling water from Germany (1810 mg/l), and Chateldon sparkling water from France (2075 mg/l) are all good options.
2. Sparkling Water Can Help Weight Management
Sparkling water can help with weight management and even contribute to healthy weight loss. One way drinking water helps you lose weight is that when sparkling water is consumed along with a meal the bubbles keep food in the stomach for longer than still water, according to an article from the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences.
The bubbles in sparkling water assist in regulating the digestive process by extending the sensation of feeling full. This is beneficial because it prompts one to eat less than when consuming still water. Additionally, sparkling water contains zero calories, making it a healthier alternative to soda with more texture than still water.
3. Sparkling Water Can Improve Swallowing Ability
Sparkling water can improve swallowing ability in young adults and the elderly. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology entitled “Brain and behavioral effects of swallowing carbonated water on the human pharyngeal motor system”, 16 individuals regularly swallowed a variety of liquids. Of all the liquids that were consumed, researchers determined that sparkling water demonstrated the best ability to stimulate the nerves that control swallowing.
In a different 2007 study in the Journal of Laryngology and Otology, researchers observed 72 individuals who experienced a repeated urgency to clear their throats. When the individuals drank ice-cold sparkling water, 63% of the participants demonstrated relief from this urgency and the associated symptoms. Both studies suggest that sparkling water has a positive effect on the ability to swallow.
What Are the Potential Harms of Drinking Sparkling Water?
Is sparkling water bad for you? The answer is mixed. These are the potential harms of drinking sparkling water that some people claim.
- Sparkling water can cause tooth decay
- Sparkling water can cause gas and bloating
- Sparkling water can cause calcium loss
The first two have evidence to back them up, but there is no strong evidence to support the claims of calcium loss. Articles and studies by University of Chicago Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Scientific American, and the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases explore the potential harms of drinking sparkling water.
1. Sparkling Water Can Cause Tooth Decay
The mildly acidic nature of sparkling water can affect the enamel on teeth. ccording to an article from University of Chicago Medicine, this acidity should not have a corrosive effect on teeth. Additionally, in regards to sparkling water, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association states that “it would take quite a lot of consumption throughout the day to have damaging effects similar to what we’d see with fruit juice or soda.”
Sparkling water is safest for teeth when drinking it with a meal. This is because the mouth creates more saliva, which assists in neutralizing the acids on the tooth's surface. Drinking sparkling water with a straw skips your teeth altogether. Considering that tap water in many countries contains fluoride, it is beneficial for drinkers of sparkling water to ensure they brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste to make up for the lack of it in their water.
2. Sparkling Water Can Cause Gas and Bloating
Consuming sparkling water has the potential to cause gas and bloating. In a 2009 study from R. Cuomo et al. of the University of Naples Gastroenterology Unit, symptoms related to gastrointestinal discomfort transpired only when individuals drank more than 300 ml of sparkling water. Since fizzy water contains CO2 gas pockets, this gas builds up in the stomach to cause bloating. It is helpful to consume still water in order to test whether sparkling water is the actual source of excess uncomfortable gas.
The correlation between sparkling water and bloating is discussed in further detail in this video by Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Sarah Jackson.
A University of Chicago Medicine article comments that “excessive intake [of sparkling water] can induce gas and bloating, making them uncomfortable.”
3. Sparkling Water Can Cause Calcium Loss
There is speculation that sparkling water can cause calcium loss. According to a Harvard Medical School article, there is not sufficient evidence that phosphoric acid (which is used to add flavor in some sparkling water brands) negatively impacts bone density or bone metabolism. In addition, the article insists that drinking sparkling water does not directly lead to osteoporosis or heightened risk of bone fracture in women.
Another article in Scientific American sheds light on a study where researchers had one group of participants drink one liter of sparkling water per day and another group drink one liter of still water per day. At the end of eight weeks, the researchers discovered no differences between the two groups in regard to markers for bone depreciation.
How Should You Drink Sparkling (Carbonated) Water?
You should drink sparkling (carbonated) water in a way that complements the food and other drinks you are enjoying.
Healthy flavors from fruits and herbs are added to sparkling water. The most flavorful options include pineapple, berries, and peaches. Herbs such as rosemary or mint are added to enhance the tasting experience. In addition, freshly-flavored sparkling water is paired with an aperitif - a drink served before a meal in order to stimulate the appetite. According to the San Pellegrino Water Codex, drinking sparkling water alongside an aperitif assists in digestion and offers diners extra time to look at the menu and converse in an unhurried manner.
To create a more pleasurable mealtime experience while drinking sparkling water, one can follow the 75 perfect rule. This is where the mouthfeel of a meal is roughly equivalent to the level of carbonation in the water. Another option is to follow the 20 percent rule. This is where the main foods in the meal are paired with the mineral content of the sparkling water. For instance, one can try zero-sodium sparkling water with caviar and sparkling water with a high amount of bicarbonate with cheese.
It is helpful to follow a rule of moderation while drinking sparkling water. According to the Mayo Clinic, overconsumption of all water – including sparkling water – is hazardous to one’s health because the kidneys are unable to remove the surplus water from the body. Consuming too much sparkling water can worsen pre-existing medical conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The video by Science Insider explains what happens in your body when you drink too much water.
How Much Sparkling Water Is Safe for Your Health?
Sparkling water in the same quantity you drink of still water is safe for your health so long as you do not have any health conditions which are worsened by carbonation. The ideal amount of fluid consumption per day by healthy individuals is between 2.7 and 3.7 liters per day according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Although this varies by age, level of activity, local climate, and gender, the Mayo Clinic notes that about 20% of this comes from food.
To get an approximate idea of the amount of water to drink each day if exercising versus not exercising, this diagram gives some simple calculations you can use.
Regular consumption of sparkling water can interfere with those who have certain pre-existing medical conditions. It can worsen GERD and have negative effects for individuals who have subpar lung or kidney function because the surplus carbon dioxide takes extra effort by these organs to expel from the body. According to an article from University of Chicago Medicine, “Patients with acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or gas who are drinking mostly carbonated water should switch to non-carbonated beverages, like plain water.”
What Healthy Flavors can be added to Sparkling Water?
Healthy flavors from fruits and herbs can be added to sparkling water. First, choose sparkling water with no added sweeteners. Including fruit pieces – frozen or fresh – can naturally flavor the water. The most flavorful options include pineapple, berries, and peaches. Cucumbers can offer an invigorating taste. Herbs such as rosemary or mint are added and even paired with fruits for an intensified boost.
Substances such as sodium bicarbonate – known as baking soda – and salt can offset the acidity of sparkling water, making it more alkaline. Selecting sparkling brands such as Vichy Catalan, Gerolsteiner, or ROI, which have a higher concentration of sodium bicarbonate, can offer a less acidic tasting experience.
What Are the Best and the Healthiest Sparkling Water Brands?
The following are the best and healthiest sparkling water brands.
- ROI has the highest TDS, magnesium, silica, and calcium content of any widely available sparkling water brand. It is sourced from Rogaška Slatina, Slovenia.
- Vichy Catalan has the highest potassium content at 51 mg/l, and the least acidic pH at 6.82 of any major sparkling water brand. It is known for its bold carbonation with large bubbles. It is sourced from Caldes de Malavella, Spain.
- Santa Vittoria has the lowest sodium of any sparkling water tracked by the Fine Water Society at a mere 0.6 mg/l. It is a spring water from northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains.
- Magnificat has the second-highest silica content of any sparkling fine water at 85 mg/l (just 1 mg/l less than ROI) which is good for the skin, hair, and nails. And it comes from an artesian well on Portugal’s exotic Azores islands.
- Cape Grim sparkling rainwater from Australia has the lowest TDS of any sparkling fine water at just 5 mg/l. Rainwater has virtually no minerals just like iceberg water, so adding artificial carbonation makes it a very rare super-low TDS sparkling water.
- Lauretana sparkling spring water from Italy is the softest sparkling water, with just 3.9 mg/l of minerals that make water hard and are normally high in carbonated water.
- Liquid Death sparkling water is easily the wildest new brand on the market. An American brand sourced from the Austrian Alps and sold in a heavy-metal-themed beer look-alike can. Their mottos include Death to Plastic and Murder your Thirst.
- Waterloo sparkling water is the best mass-market flavored brand. Leading industry trade magazine Bevnet praises them for having the most accurate fruit flavors of any sparkling water.
- Badoit has the healthiest mineral profile of any light, effervescent sparkling water, with high calcium and magnesium levels. It is sourced from Saint-Galmier, France.
- NEVAS is the best sparkling water for celebrations. An elegant bottle and a cork that pops like champagne make it at home at any party. It comes from 2 artesian wells in Schifferstadt, Germany that are blended to produce its flavor profile.
As the sparkling water trend has picked up - particularly in the United States - numerous other brands have become popular. Many include a wide variety of flavored versions and are enjoyed as a replacement for soft drinks. Some of the more prominent sparkling water brands include LaCroix sparkling water, AHA sparkling water, Sparkling Ice, Waterloo Sparkling Water, Bubly sparkling water from PepsiCo, Topo Chico (now owned by Coca-Cola), Nixie Sparkling Water, and private label brands such as Kirkland sparkling water (i.e., Costco sparkling water), Clear American Sparkling Water (i.e., Walmart sparkling water), and Trader Joe’s Sparkling Water.
Does Svalbardi Have Sparkling Water?
Svalbarði does not have sparkling water at present. Sparkling water is fundamentally different from iceberg water in that adding carbonation to a product like Svalbarði requires changing its chemistry by de-aerating it (removing dissolved gasses like oxygen so it can carry CO2) and carbonating it which creates carbonic acid that lowers the pH and sharpens the flavor. This is fundamentally different from tasting 4000-year-old snow preserved as fresh, light, and airy as the day it fell from the sky.
We have perhaps been overly purist as luxury water in not wanting to change any of the physical properties or taste of our pure iceberg water, despite receiving regular requests for a sparkling version. When we do create sparkling Svalbarði, we will make certain that carbonating it will share an extra special element of Svalbard and the Arctic. For now, how we do that will remain a secret, but watch our social media for the eventual announcement.
What Are the Health Benefits of Sparkling Water versus Iceberg Water?
The health benefits of sparkling water versus iceberg water are that while most sparkling water has a healthier high mineral content, iceberg water is purer with lower nitrate levels. High nitrate levels are an indicator of contamination by factors such as fertilizer, sewage, decaying vegetation or animal waste.
Thanks to its source having been protected as ice inside glaciers for up to 4000 years, Svalbarði Polar Iceberg Water has a nitrate level of 0.03 mg/l, while the sparkling waters tracked by the Fine Water society average 2 mg/l and go as high as 10 mg/l, which is the legal limit set by the EPA and FDA. The EPA warns that infants who drink water in excess of the limit may become seriously ill.
The best choice between sparkling water and iceberg water depends upon your health and taste preferences. The taste of iceberg water is light and airy, while sparkling water provides an active bubbling mouthfeel, and frequently a heavier and saltier taste. Iceberg water gives the comfort of extreme purity which few sparkling waters have. While natural source sparkling waters provide an array of healthy minerals.
Great article. Thank you for all of the well researched information. The only issue I have is that Mountain Valley Sparkling Water isn’t mentioned. It is by far the best tasting sparkling water out there!
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