First, we found out that soda is packed with a dizzying amount of sugar; then, we discovered diet soda might be linked to cancer. Now, it appears one brand of so-called "healthy" soda alternatives, Sparkling Ice, isn't as virtuous as it might appear.
Despite marketing efforts to brand Sparkling Ice as a good-for-you beverage, the bubbly drink contains sucralose, an artificial sweetener and sugar substitute (and primary ingredient in Splenda) that some doctors say is worse for you than sugar. In scientific studies, the sweetener has shown to interfere with hormones in the brain that tell you you're full, thus increasing appetite. Studies indicate it could also change gut bacteria in dangerous ways, leading to obesity. Worse still, regular consumption of sucralose has been linked to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and even cancer.
Is this to suggest that you should swear off all brands of sparkling water entirely? No, provided that you sip it in moderation and familiarize yourself with the ingredients (it should be noted, too, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still considers sucralose safe for human consumption). Below, find some of your biggest questions about sparkling water, answered by an expert.
Is Sparkling Water Healthy?
Sparkling water can be part of a healthy diet—provided that the water is free from added sugars and artificial sweeteners, advises Theresa Shank M.S., R.D., L.D.N. Still, people with gastrointestinal disorders are better off getting their hydration from flat water: "If I have people with GI issues such as reflux, I’m going to ask them to avoid carbonated beverages, which will just exacerbate the issue as well as cause cramps and bloating," says Shank. Regardless of preexisting GI issues, a feeling of uncomfortable fullness or excess gas should be considered your cue to step away from the can and switch to something non-carbonated.
Meet the Expert
Theresa Shank M.S., R.D., L.D.N. is a dietitian and nutritional counselor whose focus is nutrition and health communications. She earned a B.S. from West Chester University in Pennsylvania before founding her nutrition clinic, Philly Dietitian, in 2005.
What Ingredients Should I Look out For?
In addition to sweeteners like sucralose, sparkling water packaging often touts "natural" flavors and additives that imply that the drink is healthier or purer than other soft drinks. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers "natural" to mean "nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source)," the FDA hasn't established a regulatory definition of natural, nor does it police the use of the term on product packaging.
It's this ambiguity that caused LaCroix to be sued in 2018 for misleading consumers: Chemical testing found that the brand's sparkling water contains synthetic ingredients that are incongruent with LaCroix's "all natural" labeling; the lawsuit has since been dropped. The takeaway? In the realm of food manufacturing, the term "natural" is open for interpretation—and it's not synonymous with the term organic, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and does need to meet strict criteria to be used, notes Shank.
Which Brands Should I Buy?
As far as nutritional value is concerned, there's no hierarchy among sparkling water brands, as long as the drink is free from added sugars and sweeteners. If you're craving carbonation but don't like the uncertainty of extra additives, Shank advises sipping plain seltzer water instead. "I personally like Perrier, Pellegrino, and Topo Chico," she says. "Flavor it on your own using slices of lime, lemon, or ginger."
Don't confuse seltzer water with club soda, which tends to have added sodium.
Is Regular Water Best?
Because its carbonation causes a feeling of fullness and can lead to GI distress, sparkling water isn't your best choice when hydration is the goal. "You simply won't be able to drink as much," says Shank. Sipping flat water will make it easier for you to reach your RDA of water: "Drink half your body weight in fluid ounces—or at least 64 ounces a day," she advises. "When it's hot out or you're exercising, drink more."