When it comes to trending beverages in America, LaCroix definitely sits near the top of the list. The sparkling water has become nearly ubiquitous in the last few years, infiltrating grocery stores, bodegas, communal office refrigerators, countless homes and apartments, and more. But what actually is LaCroix? While the label clearly states "naturally flavored sparkling water" with "no sweeteners, no calories, and no sodium," Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, would argue that it's not that simple.
"Let me first jump off my high nutritionist horse and lead with the good: It's absolutely a better option than soda, diet or otherwise," she writes over on Shape. "But if you've already cleaned up your diet, are eating veggies and mainly whole foods, pay attention to ingredient labels, and take your health seriously, here are a few factors to consider." Namely, she wants LaCroix lovers to consider the actual meaning of "natural flavoring," in addition to the carbonation and the BPA found in the cans.
The "natural" flavoring
"There is a lot of confusion over what 'natural flavors' actually means and, in general, I steer very clear [of] foods that include them on the ingredient label," she explains. "These 'natural' flavors are often more similar to 'artificial' ingredients, and can sometimes include preservatives."
As Wired explains in a video titled, "What the hell is in LaCroix?" the FDA defines "natural flavor" as anything a company uses to add flavor to a product, so long as it comes directly from a natural source. "But there's a catch," explains the publication. "Even if, for example, a certain grapefruit flavor is extracted directly from grapefruits, companies can still mix in synthetic additives, like solvents, to make that flavor blend well with the other ingredients. The FDA calls these ingredients 'incidental additives.' Thanks to a lack of policy governing their use, food makers are not required to disclose what they are, or when they're in a product."
Bottom line? Even if there's nothing artificial added, there could be naturally derived additives that can be harmful if you consume too much of them. Unfortunately, there's no way to know for sure.
Brown is also concerned about the carbonation in LaCroix. "Not only are all those bubbles not great for your teeth (carbonation comes from CO2, carbon dioxide, which reacts with water to form carbolic acid, which may wear away tooth enamel) … it also may not be great for your weight." She references a study published in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, which found that rats who had carbonated drinks actually ate more and gained more weight over a six-month period than those who drank flat drinks or plain water.
The carbonated rats actually had more of the appetite-increasing hormone ghrelin in their bodies.
"The thing about LaCroix that scares me the most can actually be found in many packaged products around the supermarket such as other canned beverages or vegetables, and even in your 'healthy' protein powder," explains Brown. And that's BPA-based plastics. This chemical is used to line food and drink cans to protect us from metal contamination, but it's also an endocrine disrupter that can actually seep into the packaged food and drinks.
"While LaCroix and other canned product manufacturers are quick to point out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in food, it's not something I agree with or would suggest to my clients," she writes. Over time, BPA exposure can lead to a host of health issues like thyroid and metabolism problems, irregular periods, changes in your mood, energy or fertility, or even cancer. She recommends purchasing the glass-bottled LaCroix instead.
How much LaCroix you should drink
Brown recommends sticking to a maximum of one or two LaCroix drinks per day, preferably out of a glass bottle instead of a can. For a healthier DIY alternative, she suggests drinking plain sparkling water from a bottle flavored with a slice of lemon, lime, or grapefruit; she loves Topo Chico, Mountain Valley, and Gerolsteiner. "If you cannot live without a little lemon/lime flavor, Spindrift uses real fruit extracts," she concludes.
Head over to Shape for more, and shop healthier alternatives below.