I often get asked the question, “Is sparkling or carbonated water better or worse for you than still water?”  The answer you will find on the Internet is that carbonated water isn’t necessarily any better or worse for you from a nutritional standpoint than still water.  However, after studying nutrition and health for many years from both a western and eastern perspective, and knowing it is a complicated field very much based on individuality, I found this answer to be too simplistic. So, I decided to look further and here’s what I discovered.

Firstly, it’s important to note that for this article, “still” is being defined as filtered water either from your personal source at home or bottled. It does not refer to tap water, unless you know that your tap is of good quality. Secondly, let’s distinguish between the various types of sparkling or carbonated waters on the market. The most commonly consumed carbonated or “fizzy” waters are natural sparkling mineral water, club soda or soda water, seltzer water, and tonic water.

  • Natural Sparkling Mineral Water: Mineral water typically is water that naturally includes a host of minerals. Generally it is not carbonated either naturally or artificially. Certain rare geological conditions, such as volcanic activity, can produce naturally carbonated water. These waters typically contain a host of minerals, including mineral salts, elements, or gases. These carbonated waters have historically thought to have therapeutic properties.  Today, most mineral waters are carbonated at the factories, often times with added carbonation to create a more bubbly effect.
  • Seltzer water: Seltzer is basically fresh water with added carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Club soda (Soda water): Club soda differs from Seltzer in that is contains salt in the form of table salt, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, or disodium phosphate, depending on the bottler. For people with high blood pressure, this could make a major difference.
  • Tonic water: Tonic water is a carbonated beverage that also contains quinine and sugar (to balance the bitterness of the quinine. Quinine is a substance produced by the bark of the cinchona tree, a South American native.  It has historically been used to treat malaria, and more recently Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).  This should be drunk sparingly, as tonic has known side effects such as hearing loss and tinnitus (both of which I coincidentally got after drinking tonic water daily for my RLS).

So now that the differences are clarified, is carbonated water good for you?  Almost every site you visit or resource you consult will disagree. For instance, some will say that carbonation can help alleviate upset stomach and constipation; others will say that carbonated water does nothing more for your body than make you belch. Still others say that carbonated beverages cause gas in the digestive tract. In fact, some people find it irritates their digestive tract over time.

All carbonated water is very acidic. This is why it is commonly heard that drinking carbonated beverages increases your risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, and dental decay.  Your body requires an alkaline state, or around a pH of 7. When the pH of the body becomes too acidic, your body seeks balance and in order to do so, it will give up alkaline minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium.  As a result you may experience low energy, fatigue, excess weight, poor digestion, aches and pains, or be more at risk for osteoporosis, dull hair, brittle nails and other symptoms because the calcium source is the bones – resulting in low bone density.

Coming from an eastern perspective, your kidneys are responsible for regulating the pH in the blood and maintaining fluid and mineral balance (in addition to eliminating waste water).  Therefore, weak kidneys create weak bones.  When the body is in a highly acidic state, waste acids can’t be flushed efficiently from the body causing mineral loss from the bones.  The kidneys are forced to deal with the acidic wastes in order to restore our body’s critical pH health balance, rather than eliminating.

Also, for those who understand eastern medicine, sparkling water has an enormous amount of yang qi or “moving energy,” imparted to it and moves through the body much faster, so can create a yin-yang imbalance.

Furthermore, the carbonation also affects the lungs, which are responsible for detoxification and expelling carbon dioxide – that which the body considers a toxin. It is believed that carbonated drinks with carbon dioxide are introducing more toxins into the body giving the lungs more CO2 to expel.

But the most prevalent question regarding carbonated water is “does it dehydrate?”  It is very difficult to find a thorough explanation on this. Eastern practitioners will say a decisive “yes”, but I haven’t gotten a clear explanation of why.  In my opinion, carbonated water is dehydrating because it fills you up faster and you may not realize you are thirsty until you are dehydrated – which is often the case.  However, there is also the theory that carbonated water contains a higher sodium content, which in turn can lead to dehydration if taken in large quantities.

Water is crucial to your body – it delivers nutrients to cells and carries away waste, acts as your body’s cooling system, moving heat to the skin surface where it evaporates away in sweat and breath, lubricates joints, softens skin, and makes muscles work more smoothly. Every organ in your body will be affected if you are dehydrated.  Personally, until it is proven without a doubt that carbonated water does not cause dehydration, I’d rather stick with still water, which is the ultimate hydrator, for my main beverage.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a Perrier or other sparkling waters from time to time.

Despite all my research, I do have to mention that while it seems to be the agreement that carbonated water leeches vital minerals from your bones, it is important to note that observational studies have shown that the correlation of carbonated beverages and increased bone fracture to be negligible.  Still, it is best not to drink carbonated waters in large quantities.

On another note, carbonated water is the major and defining component of most soft drinks, and soft drinks have been proven to cause dental erosion and osteoporosis. Soft drinks lower calcium levels and increase phosphate levels in the blood, creating a recipe for calcium loss from the bones.  In fact, research shows that soft drinks cause tooth decay at a rate of several hundred times that of regular sparkling water.  So, if you are drinking carbonated water to replace soda, this is a step in the right direction – but I encourage you to drink enough still water as well to make sure your body is properly nourished.

My conclusions?

1.      Drink water – and plenty of it, especially in summertime when we need more nourishment.

2.      If you do drink carbonated water, drink plenty of still as well. Alternate your glasses.

3.      Carbonated water is a great substitute for soda, but your ultimate goal should be to make water your main beverage.

4.      If you refuse to give it up and continue to drink large amounts of carbonated water, then get your bones and blood tested on a regular basis to make sure you are not deficient in any vital minerals.