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Get the truth behind the fizz.

Sodas, sports drinks, iced teas and juices can be loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners. So, if you’re looking for something healthier, you might turn to sparkling water — the fizzy, sugar-free alternative to sodas.

With lower- to no-calorie seltzers, seltzers with antioxidants and even some made to taste just like our favorite sodas, it’s hard to deny the appeal of these bubbly beverages. But are they actually healthy?

What is sparkling water?

Sparkling water, also called seltzer, is made by infusing carbon dioxide into regular water. Adding sodium carbonate helps water absorb carbon dioxide, and it’s the source of the name “soda water.”

Seltzer is a good steppingstone if you like the fizz and flavor of soda but don’t want the calories. It’s helped many people cut sugar from their diets to improve their health. But remember that there’s such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”

“Sparkling water is free from sugar and artificial sweeteners commonly found in sodas, but some ingredients can be bad for your teeth and gums if you drink it too much,” says Grace Guerrier, MD, internal medicine doctor at Geisinger.

When is seltzer “bad” for you?

The process of adding carbon dioxide to water creates carbonic acid, which increases the acidity of the drink and lowers the pH level, compared to tap water. Over time, drinking a lot of sparkling water may erode the enamel of your teeth.

In addition to carbonic acid, some sparkling waters include citric acid to give the beverage its lemon or lime flavor. This can further increase the acidity and lower the pH level.

“You’d have to drink a lot of seltzer water to see negative effects like damage to your enamel,” says Dr. Guerrier. “But you’ll want to avoid seltzers that have sugars, as the combination of sugar and carbonation can lead to dental decay.”

Tip: Love the lemon or lime flavor but want to protect your teeth? Try adding your own lemon or lime slice to plain seltzer. It’s a less acidic way to give your water a little bit of flavor. 

And remember that not all clear, fizzy beverages are created equal. Some drinks that look like seltzer and boast “zero calories” are packed with artificial sweeteners, so always check your labels to find the healthiest option.

Seltzer shouldn’t be your only source of H2O

While seltzer is certainly healthier than soda and other sugary drinks, you should refrain from completely replacing your flat bottled or tap water with seltzer.

“If you’re going to sip on a beverage all day, it’s better to drink regular water than sparkling water because of the added acidity,” says Dr. Guerrier. “You should make seltzer an occasional treat, like only during meals.” Generally, one or two cans a day is fine.

The bottom line is, most of these drinks are much healthier than a cola, but they’re not quite as healthy as drinking plain water. “So, treat yourself occasionally but remember that you can always rely on plain water as a healthy way to hydrate,” says Dr. Guerrier.

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Meet Grace Guerrier, MD
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