Sparkling water has skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade, with brands taking the water infused with pressurized CO2 to new heights with added flavor and creative packaging. This year alone, Americans will buy around 821 million gallons of sparkling water, according to data from Beverage Marketing Corp. That’s almost three times as much as in 2008. But recent reports have called into question the ingredients in seemingly healthy sparkling water, claiming the “natural flavors” they contain may be anything but natural.
“Unfortunately, ‘natural flavor’ can be vague and misleading,” explains Parsley Health LA doctor, Jaclyn Tolentino, DO . “There’s always the possibility of harmful additives lurking in a product that has ‘natural flavor’ in the ingredients list.”
In fact, according to the FDA , “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” That’s a lot of potential ingredients hiding in your water. What’s more, if the flavor contains “a solely natural flavor,” it should be labeled just as that flavor, e.g. “strawberry flavor,” according to the FDA’s regulations.
“In general, plain sparkling water is OK to drink,” says Dr. Tolentino. “I advise patients that it is OK, but I recommend getting it from a reputable source.”
That said, there are a few medical conditions that could be problematic with excessive consumption of sparkling water, says Dr. Tolentino. It can exacerbate GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and is not recommended for patients with poor kidney or lung function because the excess CO2 in the water could be more difficult for these individuals to clear from the body.
There is also some research to show it could potentially cause gastric distress and a feeling of fullness or bloating . Drinking sparkling water with a meal can actually delay the time it takes for the stomach to empty food, which can cause GI symptoms, explain Dr. Tolentino.
Scientifically speaking, bubbly water and still water will hydrate you just the same, shows research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition .
But it’s not that simple, says Dr. Tolentino. “The carbonation and mildly acidic nature of sparkling water hits on the sour taste receptors in your mouth—a majority of people have a natural tendency to drink less of a substance that is mildly acidic versus one that is neutral or slightly alkaline in pH.”
As a result, if you only drink sparkling water, you might not be drinking as much water during the day as people who only drink still water.
If you still want to drink bubbly water, Dr. Tolentino says an at-home sparkling water machine may be a better alternative. Making your own carbonated water also helps you avoid drinking out of aluminum cans or plastic bottles, which in excess over time could be harmful to the body. “You can add a splash of lemon or lime directly to your own plain carbonated water rather than risking any harmful additives or questionable ingredients in the can or bottle that you would get from the store,” she says.
It’s a great alternative to sugary beverages, she explains. Sparkling water from a reputable source can also include valuable minerals, like calcium, magnesium, sulfate, sodium, chloride, bicarbonate, so your bubbly fix, done right, may have some benefits after all.
Sara is a content creator who has worked with outlets such as Outside Magazine, Well + Good, Healthline, and Men's Journal, and as a journalist at Shape and Self and publications in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Rome. She is also an ACE-certified personal trainer. She has a degree in communication with concentrated studies in journalism from Villanova University.
Outside of office hours, you can usually find her taking a dance class, trying out the latest fitness craze, or teaching and performing synchronized swimming with The Brooklyn Peaches.