Australians spend millions of dollars per year on sparkling water, but there are a few common myths about the bubbly beverage that don't quite add up. Some say it's bad for your bones, erodes your teeth, and that it might even dehydrate you. If you're worried your favourite fizzy drink is actually unhealthy, here's the mouth-tingling truth. Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Sparkling Water Doesn't Leach Calcium From Your Bones
Neither sparkling water or the carbonation found in many beverages makes your bones weaker. Nobody seems to know where this myth got started, but somewhere along the line people started to believe that carbonation could leach calcium from your bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis. There's no evidence that supports that theory, but there is some evidence that it's other ingredients in cola soft drinks specifically. According to one study, led by Douglas Kiel, MD, at Harvard Medical School, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cola soft drinks were associated with low bone mineral density in older women, but not other carbonated beverages (including sparkling water). The men in the study experienced no changes.
Another study, led by Robert Heaney, MD, at the Creighton University School of Medicine, and also published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, seems to suggest the same thing: carbonation is not the prime suspect when it comes to calcium being leached from bones. The researchers suggest that the problem may actually lie with caffeine and phosphoric acid found in colas — neither of which are found in sparkling water. Your beautiful bone structure is safe from all those bubbles.
Sparkling Water Doesn't Dehydrate You
This myth is a real head-scratcher, but sparkling water does not dehydrate you. Not only is there zero evidence that sparkling water dehydrates you (why would it exactly?), it actually does the exact opposite (surprise!). According to Sarah Bleich, PhD and associate professor in health policy at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, drinking sparkling water is just as hydrating as drinking regular water. The only small catch: you may drink less water per sitting because the carbonation in sparkling water makes it more filling, and that may potentially lower your overall intake of water. So it's OK to have a glass of sparkling water when you're thirsty, just keep in mind that you may need to drink more of it to actually quench your thirst.
That feeling of being full will come in handy, however, if you're looking to lose weight and avoid overeating. A glass of sparkling water with your meal (or right before it) may help you feel full and satisfied faster so you eat less. Not to mention you get a refreshing beverage without adding any extra sugar or calories to your meal.
Sparkling Water Can Damage Your Teeth, But It's Not That Bad
Sparkling water can erode your tooth enamel, but it's not quite as bad as it sounds. The main suspect here is actually a byproduct of the carbonation process itself. To turn boring water into fashionable fizzy water, carbon dioxide gas is forced to dissolve into said water using low temperatures and high pressure. This process creates carbonic acid (dun dun dunnnn), giving most sparkling water an acidity level lower on the pH scale than normal tap water.
They aren't nearly as acidic or corrosive as soft drink, but some flavoured sparkling waters have acidity levels on par with fruit juice. A study led by researcher Catriona Brown at the University of Birmingham, and published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, suggests that a large portion of flavoured sparkling waters have the same corrosive effect on teeth as orange juice (which is known to soften tooth enamel). In their tests, lemon, lime and grapefruit were the most corrosive flavours because they use citric acid for taste in addition to the carbonic acid that is already present.
A different study, however, published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, found that plain mineral water and most flavourless sparkling water do very little damage to teeth. So yes, sparkling water can have an effect on your teeth, but in the worst case scenario, it's no more damaging than fruit juice (minus the sugar which make things worse). As Damien Walmsley, a professor of dentistry at the University of Birmingham, explains to The Atlantic sparkling water presents a theoretical risk of tooth erosion, but the drinks would need to be consumed over a long period of time to have any major effect. Essentially, tooth erosion happens in a controlled lab environment, yes, but under real world conditions it's unlikely you'd drink enough to do any real damage. If you take care of your teeth properly, you don't have much to worry about.
Rules to Remember While You Enjoy Sparkling Water
Sparkling water is perfectly safe to drink on a regular basis as long as you stick to a few basic rules:
- Don't drink sparkling water (or any other carbonated beverages) if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The carbonation might exacerbate your symptoms and cause severe, uncomfortable bloating.
- Read the nutrition label and avoid sparkling water with any added sugar or artificial sweeteners, recommends Despina Hyde, a Registered Dietitian at NYU Langone Medical Center. Sparkling beverages like tonic water and some flavoured sparkling water options will have extra hidden ingredients, even if they claim to have no kilojoules, so keep your eyes peeled.
- Avoid drinking too much sparkling water with high amounts of citric acid added for flavouring if you can help it. Remember, citrus flavoured sparkling waters tend to be the most acidic.
- Save your more acidic sparkling water for mealtimes and drink regular water (or plain sparkling water) in between, says Damien Walmsley, the professor of dentistry at the University of Birmingham.
The bottom line is that plain ol' water will always be a guaranteed safe bet (as long as it's clean). That said, sparkling water is a good alternative to soft drink and other sugary beverages. It's fine to drink whenever you're thirsty, as long as it's not the only thing you drink for the rest of your life.