Sparkling or carbonated water is water where carbon dioxide has been dissolved to create tiny bubbles and has been commercially available since at least the 18th Century when the town of Selters, Germany started bottling and shipping its naturally occurring sparkling water. Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804) invented a process to artificially carbonate water and published his findings in 1772 in a paper titled, “Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.” Recently some rumors have surfaced that carbonated water has harmful effects on the body, including that sparkling water will erode tooth enamel, prevent absorption of calcium, and lead to irritable bowel syndrome.
Carbonation of water creates carbonic acid, which gives sparkling water its flavor. Many studies have found that neither carbonation nor carbonic acid has a significant effect on tooth enamel, but that the sugary, acidic colas are the culprit for tooth enamel erosion and tooth decay. Senior clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital, Kristi King, MPH, RDN, agrees, “Usually any tooth erosion comes from beverages that are sugar-sweetened in conjunction with carbonation, which tends to be highly acidic. Carbonated water is not going to be nearly as acidic.”
The rumors about sparkling water preventing the absorption of calcium stems from often poorly reporting study findings that find an association between cola consumption and bone fractures, like the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in May 1994. The Framingham Osteoporosis Study, published in 2006 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that regular intake of cola, but not of noncola carbonated beverages, may contribute to lower bone mineral density (BMD) in women. No evidence exists that occasional use of carbonated beverages, including cola, is detrimental to bone.”
While sparkling water does not lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it can be a trigger for many who already suffer from IBS. However, some people with sensitive stomachs many experience unpleasant symptoms, like increase gas, due to the increase consumption of carbonation or extra air. As King explains, “You are consuming extra carbonation – extra air – so somebody who tends who tends to be very sensitive to changes in their diet should be the lookout. It could cause excessive burping, flatulence and abdominal distention, which could cause a lot of discomfort.”
Most people will not experience these side effects; some may even find that sparkling water helps relieve indigestion and constipation. An Italian study, published in 2002 in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, studied the use of sparkling water to “settle” the stomach. They found that sparkling not only “settled” the stomach but also improved indigestion, reduced symptoms of constipation, and improved gallbladder function.
Sparkling water is a great way to increase your water consumption while satisfying your craving for soda. It is sugar-free, calorie-free, and unlike sodas does not lead to tooth decay, osteoporosis, or IBS. However, sparkling water becomes a less healthy option as sugar, artificial sweeteners and flavors are added. If you want to add some flavor, skip the artificial flavor packets, and try adding a slice of lemon or cucumber, a piece of watermelon, or even some mint leaves!