Club soda has been around for years, but only recently have brightly colored bottles of delightfully bubbly water been showing up on store shelves everywhere. Whereas once you were lucky to find Perrier or San Pelligrino, today you'll see not only more brands but a dizzying array of flavors. This rainbow of options available from manufacturers like Hint Fizz and La Croix share space with their more staid, old-world counterparts, giving sparkling water imbibers everywhere a reason to rejoice.
But, with this rise in popularity comes more than a few questions about this not-so-new drink, and whether it’s as healthy as companies try to make you think it is. These are good questions, but before we answer them, let’s get down to one of the most important questions – what exactly should you call it?
Club soda, seltzer and sparkling water, oh my!
There are a lot of names for carbonated water, leaving many to wonder what’s the difference between seltzer and soda? While some brands stick to the standard epithet, ‘carbonated water,’ most companies go with something a little more interesting, like club soda, seltzer or sparkling water.
Essentially, they’re all the same thing. If you really want to get into it, sparkling water and club soda often have trace amounts of minerals added to the water for flavor, and often one of those ingredients is salt. Seltzer, however, is constrained to just carbon dioxide and water.
What about mineral water?
Mineral water is a slightly different beast, as it contains a variety of, often, naturally-infused minerals. Mineral water comes both in still and sparkling forms, with some of those sparkling waters attaining the fizz via natural means.
A side note about tonic water
Though it sports the same clarity as club soda, tonic water is actually closer in nature to soda than it is to sparkling water. Its distinctive flavor comes from quinine, which was originally added for health reasons (namely, to fight malaria). But what many people don’t realize is that it's also jam-packed with almost as much sugar as a cola or other soda. Yikes!
The stimulating taste of sparkling water
Water doesn’t have taste, unless it’s mineral water, and neither does carbon dioxide, so that leaves many non-fizzy-water-drinking folks wondering what the big deal is. Part of the attraction to sparkling water is the stimulating feel of those bubbles in your mouth. But there’s even more to it than that. The combination of carbon dioxide and water creates carbonic acid, which gives fizzy water a bit of a zing.
The myths around sparkling water
Carbonic acid is also the root of one of the greatest rumors regarding the drawbacks of carbonated water: that it will dissolve the enamel of your teeth and eat away at your bones. At least for teeth, this is technically true, though much less so than most rumor-mill ruminators would have you believe. Sparkling water has a pH (a common measurement of acidity) of 3-4. That makes it slightly acidic, but no more so than most fruit juices.
However, if you are talking about sweetened, carbonated water, the story changes drastically. It’s thought that by adding sugar to carbonated water, you can do much more damage to your teeth. That’s because the bacteria in your mouth combines with all that sugar to create acid. Add that to the carbonic acid, and the acids used for flavoring sodas, and it quickly becomes a recipe for poor oral health.
As for the bone-deteriorating rumor, there’s no evidence that carbonation will negatively affect bones. This rumor once again stems from the effects of drink sugary sodas. While studies have found a link between soda and low bone mineral density, more research is needed in this area.
What’s hiding in that seltzer water?
Sure, seltzer’s clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of unhealthy ingredients. While sparkling water seems to be without drawbacks, some companies just can’t let a good thing be a good thing. The first and most important ingredient to look out for is sugar. Add sugar to your sparkling water and you might as well opt for a soda. Some artifical sweetners can be just as bad, so be careful there, as well.
Otherwise, typical additions, like natural flavorings and minerals are healthy. Just be aware, adding citrus flavoring may increase the acidity of your drink, making it that much harder on your teeth. So if you struggle with cavities, perhaps look for something without lemon or lime flavoring.
The benefits of sparkling water
The greatest benefit of sparkling water is that it is water, and water is essential for good health. So, if sparkling water encourages you to gulp down more H20, keep your fridge and pantry well-stocked!
There are a variety of other potential health benefits of sparkling water, but there hasn’t been enough research for solid conculsions. Sparkling water may:
- Be good for digestion
- Increase feelings of fullness
- Relieve constipation
- Be good for heart health
Enjoy drinking sparkling water with…
Sparkling water has a lot going for it despite its rather short ingredient list. But for those who aren’t as enamored by effervescence, it also makes a great base for considerably more complex beverages.
For those looking for more from their sparkling water, try adding in some:
- Fruit juices, like orange juice or cranberry juice
- Herbs or vegetables, like mint, basil or cucumber
- A combination of fruits and herbs (orange juice with mint and club soda is great, as is raspberry and basil with blueberries, or lemon and lavender)
If you’re a baker and want to get a little wild, consider switching still water for carbonated water in your dough. It’s supposed to make quite a light, fluffy dough!
Ready to break out the bubbly! Here are a few sparkling waters to try...