Carbonated, flavored waters have been trending over the past couple of years. But are these bubbly beverages good for you? That depends.
“Water is one of those products that has a bit of a health halo around it,” says Lindsey Wohlford, employee wellness dietitian. “But you do want to check the label, because the product you’re looking at may not be healthy.”
We spoke with Wohlford about what to look for when choosing a carbonated water beverage. Here’s what she had to say.
Avoid added sugar
The first thing Wohlford says to look for on your beverage label: Added sugar.
Consuming beverages with added sugar can lead to weight gain, which raises the risk for several types of cancer.
“Some of the waters out there are labeled as sparkling water, but they’re really more of a tonic water because they do contain sugar,” says Wohlford. “It won’t be as high as soda, but they do still have some sugar or fruit juice, and that means unwanted empty calories.”
Sugar will be listed on the nutrition label in grams, and calories will be listed by serving. Make sure both are zero.
Skip artificial sweeteners
Opting for a beverage that is artificially sweetened may seem like a great way to cut out the sugar. The trade-off is not worth it, though.
“Artificial sweeteners are recognized as safe in the research, but metabolically they can cause some issues,” says Wohlford. “They often lead to is a craving to eat sugars.”
She compares it to a false promise. The taste of sweetness stimulates your body to prepare to receive sugar and calories. That triggers your body’s natural cascade of hormones and enzymes. But the calories never come, and you are left with a craving for something sweet.
Studies show that people who consume artificially sweetened beverages also consume more calories overall and tend to have higher BMIs.
Another pitfall of artificial sweeteners: They ramp up your tolerance for sweetness. The sweetness level of these foods is hundreds to sometimes thousands of times sweeter than sugar.
“So, when you taste something like an apple or a banana, or something that doesn’t have sugar, it’s going to taste awfully bland compared to that food or drink with an artificial sweetener,” says Wohlford. “It sets you up to crave and desire more sugary things.”
Those cravings can lead to poor food choices, excess calories, and unwanted weight gain.
Don’t drink water for nutrients or to change your pH levels
The best way to get nutrients is through food. It’s not necessary to supplement your diet with fortified or high-alkaline waters.
“The purpose should be to quench thirst and to hydrate. These beverages are not an alternative to eating. They are not an alternative to getting any kind of nutrient through your food. So basic is better,” says Wohlford.
In general, these extra nutrients are not harmful. They are mostly there to add a little bit of flavor and “mouthfeel” to the water.
Cancer patients and survivors should talk to their doctor if they are drinking beverages with electrolytes, vitamins or minerals, says Wohlford. Medications can have different interactions, and patients may need to avoid high intakes of certain nutrients.
For water, basic is best
Don’t be afraid. In most cases, tap water is completely safe.
“I know that’s hard to believe,” says Wohlford. “But generally speaking, it is filtered, and it is clean.”
If you are concerned about the safety of your tap water, you can go online to check the current state of your local water supply.
And if it’s bubbles you want, you can buy a home carbonation machine. You’ll save money in the long run, and have more control over the ingredients and flavoring.
But Wohlford says there is no reason to abandon your favorite canned or bottled beverage if you really like it.
“Alternative waters can be a great option, especially if you have trouble drinking enough plain water during the course of the day,” says Wohlford. “The main thing is avoiding sugar, avoiding artificial sweeteners.”