Is Seltzer Water Really Bad For You?

Seltzer — plain seltzer, flavored seltzer and even spiked seltzer — is all the rage these days. Brands like LaCroix and Polar have dozens of fruity, sweet flavors that provide an inexpensive and tasty alternative to sugary soft drinks.

These beverages don't contain the sugars present in most sodas, and some types have as few as two ingredients listed on the label. Seltzer water, in its purest form, contains just carbonated water and natural flavors. But are these carbonated beverages as healthy as they seem? What effect does carbonated water really have on your body, calories or not? Here's everything you should know about seltzer water and your health.

Check the ingredients

Food labels can be confusing. Is the product you're purchasing actually just seltzer water, or is it something else? Some sparkling, non-sugar-sweetened beverages disguise themselves as healthy alternatives but actually aren't much different. Some zero-calorie carbonated drinks are loaded with the same artificial sweeteners and chemicals present in diet soda — and those might not be so innocent. To be sure, check the label before buying. What do the ingredients say? If it's truly natural seltzer water, it should have just two ingredients listed: carbonated water and natural flavors.

What about sodium?

Some zero-calorie drinks such as diet soda and diet iced tea may be low on calories and sugar, but aren't skimping on sodium. A can of Diet Coke contains 40 milligrams of sodium, for example. A Diet Pepsi contains 35 milligrams. But that sodium comes from other ingredients in these drinks — not from the carbonation itself. Seltzer waters are sodium-free. "If you're hooked on soda or dislike the plainness of water, seltzer water is a great option," says registered dietitian nutritionist Emily Tills. "It is naturally calorie and sodium free."

Can it replace water?

Say you're truly a seltzer water addict. Can this sparkling drink hydrate effectively enough to replace water? "Seltzer water does 'count' as fluids toward your daily hydration requirements," says registered dietitian and owner of Equilibriyum LLC, Liz Wyosnick. If you're not sure how much water you really need each day, here's what nutritionists advise. "But in the hierarchy of fluids, plain, filtered flat water is the best, hands down. I often encourage people to add cut-up, fresh fruit, or fresh herbs (mint, basil, etc.) to give a hint of fun and flavor." 

Seltzer and your digestion

Wyosnick rates plain water as a smarter choice compared to seltzer water mainly due to digestion concerns. "Carbonation should be something to consider for the health (and ease) of your digestion," Wyosnick says. "Carbonation adds more bubbles (i.e., gas), to a system already prone to gas expansion. If you are prone to bloating, gas, loose stools, or even constipation, daily intake of seltzer water may not be the best thing for you." In fact, decreasing intake of carbonated beverages of any kind — including plain seltzer water — has resulted in improved digestive health in her clients over time, Wyosnick explains. "I typically encourage eliminating it during a time of significant distress, and thereafter enjoying it every once in a while."

Seltzer and your teeth

Though the carbonation doesn't affect the sodium or calories in seltzer water, it may have some other implications in terms of your dental health. "Seltzer water is made fizzy by having carbonic acid dissolved in it," explains Dr. Boryana Nikolova, owner and head dentist of 92 Dental in England. "This carbonic acid is not hugely acidic (it usually has a PH of 4, about the same as root beer or apple juice). However, if your teeth are exposed to such a weak acid very regularly, over time it can scour your enamel." Scoured enamel can cause tooth sensitivity and an increased likelihood that teeth will chip or cause cavities, Nikolova explained. But a seltzer or two per day, or every now and then, is probably not going to do any damage. The dental dilemmas really only become a concern when you seriously overdo it. "I drink seltzer water fairly regularly myself," Nikolova says. By contrast, though, here are some foods and drinks dentists won't touch.

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