Oh, sparkling water, the healthy beverage of choice for recovering soda addicts, how we love you. Whether plain or mixed with a little juice, carbonated water provides (almost) all of the bubbly fun of soda. But you have to wonder if it comes with soda’s risks.
Soda, after all, has been linked with lower bone-mineral density, a condition that can eventually lead to osteoporosis—a big reason why a lot of health conscious people have vowed to quit drinking it. So, is carbonated water just as bad for our bones as soda is? The short answer: There is no proof that your Pellegrino or Perrier is bad for your bones.
Back in 2006, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a Tufts University study that linked cola consumption to calcium loss. During the study researchers assessed the bone-mineral density in the spines and hips of 2,500 men and women, then asked the subjects about their dietary habits. After adjusting for a number of variables, the researchers found a link between the consumption of cola and diet cola and much lower bone mass density in women’s hips. The lower bone-mineral density was linked only to cola—that is, brown-colored sodas like Coke and Pepsi—however, other sodas didn’t seem to cause a problem.
The fact that the results were specific to cola suggests that carbonation has no ill effect whatsoever on bones, but something else does (although to date, it still isn’t clear what, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation). The Tufts researchers proposed, among other things, that the problem might be the caffeine, and according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation caffeine “appears to decrease calcium absorption by a small amount.” Other experts say it’s not just caffeine, but rather some other cola ingredient all-together, or it could be “the mere fact that soda drinkers drink less milk.” says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and author of The Portion Teller Plan.
But enough about soda—you’re not drinking that stuff anymore, anyway, are you? The bottom line on carbonated water is this: You can enjoy it without worrying that it’ll make you break a hip. In fact, the consensus among health experts is that the only way sparkling water might be bad for you is if you tend to have digestive troubles, such as IBS. Too much bubbly water might cause bloating.
Also, check the label to be sure your sparkling water doesn’t have added sodium as some seltzer and tonic water does. Do make sure you get enough calcium, either through your diet or supplements. (As a bonus, mineral water often has a little calcium in it; if yours does, the label will say so.) And of course, stay away from “processed” sparkling waters that contain sugar, or artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. They may be called water, but they’re more like soda in disguise.