Healthy or Not: Are All Carbonated Drinks Bad for You?
Soda is linked to a heightened risk for diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. Research shows diet soda isn't much better and is actually attributed to similar health risks.
But are carbonated drinks bad for you because of the carbonation itself? From sparkling water to carbonated juice, there are plenty of options when it comes to carbonated drinks. The good news is, you don't have to say no to all of them if you're sticking to a healthy diet.
Let's look at the effect carbonation has and which drinks are truly unhealthy carbonated beverages.
How Does Carbonation Change a Drink?
When pressurized, carbon dioxide gas dissolves in water and becomes carbonic acid. Once the pressure is removed, such as when you open a can of soda or a bottle of sparkling water, the drink becomes fizzy, with the carbon dioxide gas escaping as bubbles.
Does Carbonation Affect the pH?
The acidity or pH of the drinks you consume is important. Too much acidity over time is a major risk factor for chronic inflammatory diseases.
While the resulting effect of carbon dioxide in liquid is carbonic acid, it doesn't make the drink acidic. However, acidic ingredients are often added to carbonated drinks, such as sugar or artificial flavoring, which make the drink acidic.
Drinks high in acidity are fine in moderation, but it's important to drink water with a pH of 7 or higher.
What About Hydration?
The Sparkling Gray Zone
If you're trying to kick a bad soda habit, a cold can or glass of sparkling water can be helpful, especially when sweetened with sugar-free flavors. However, you can easily tread into unhealthy territory. With deceptive marketing tricks, "healthy alternatives" aren't always what they seem.
When Natural Flavors Are Bad
Like any flavored water, it depends on the flavoring compounds that are added to create the final product. One of the most common flavors used is citric acid: a tart, sour taste that combines well with sweet flavors. Citric acid is technically a natural flavor because it's processed from citrus fruits. As such, companies like LaCroix and can label their sparkling flavored water "natural."
Unfortunately, that doesn't make it healthy. Since citric acid lands between 3 and 6 on the pH scale, adding it to neutral pH water makes it acidic. Tonic water, a bitter-tasting soft drink containing quinine, also contains citric acid and has a very low pH of just 2.5 as a result. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends drinking water suppliers keep their water supply at a pH between 6.5 and 8.5, which is difficult to achieve for makers of flavored water, whether it's carbonated or flat.
Don't Forget the Sodium Content
Minerals are often added to sparkling water to improve its flavor without adding calories or unhealthy ingredients. Sparkling mineral water, depending on the brand, can have around 30 mg of sodium per 12 oz serving. Commonly used for mixing drinks, club soda has about 75 mg of sodium in a 12 oz serving. Dietary guidelines recommend limiting your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day, so you wouldn't want to use sparkling mineral water or club soda as a replacement for regular water.
Healthier Carbonated Drinks—Is Sparkling Water Healthy?
For a cold, refreshing drink, there are some healthy carbonated options you can turn to.
Priced in the ballpark of $75 to $200 per unit, a carbonator takes up less space on the kitchen counter than a coffee pot. If you want to make your own pH-balanced carbonated drinks, one way is to carbonate water and use your own fresh additives.
Whether you make or buy, here are the healthiest carbonated drinks:
Sparkling Alkaline Water
As its name suggests, sparkling alkaline water is sparkling water that is alkaline in pH, which makes it healthier for you. Normal water is around 7 on the pH scale, whereas alkaline water is typically at 8 or 9. The alkalinity is established by the minerals added, which also have an antioxidizing effect. While there isn't a lot of research that's been done on the benefits of alkaline water, it's shown to reduce acidity, which is linked to inflammation and disease.
If you enjoy iced tea, chances are you'll like sparkling tea. These are often sweetened with artificial sweeteners or sugar, but some brands avoid sweetening the natural tea flavors, and others use natural sweeteners like honey instead of processed ones.
Some sparkling teas are made with beneficial botanical extracts such as brain-boosting nootropics or herbs for digestive aid. Kombucha is tea that has been fermented, and, as a result, contains beneficial bacteria. In addition to regular kombucha tea, you'll find carbonated kombucha at most grocery stores.
If you're making your own fizzy drink with a carbonator, you can make sparkling lemonade. After carbonating cold water, sweeten it with a natural sweetener like agave nectar or raw honey. Then add fresh-squeezed lemon juice to the mixture.
The Many Faces of Fizzy Drinks
No, not all carbonated drinks are bad for your health. That said, it's not so easy to find carbonated drinks without unhealthy ingredients that are added for taste. Besides the obvious addition of sugar to drinks like soda, also watch for acidic additives disguised as natural flavors. If you're into bubbly water, look to alkaline options or craft your own fizzy drinks with a carbonator.