The Truth About Your Sparkling Water Obsession

Illustrated by: Anna Sudit.
We don't do diets. But we still love to eat — and we want to eat well. In her column, How To Eat, Refinery29's favorite intuitive eating coach Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, will help you do just that by answering the food and nutrition questions that really matter. Send yours to heythere@refinery29.com. Get more sound nutrition advice here.

Is it okay to drink seltzer all day? I've heard it messes with digestion and rots your teeth, but I like it so much better than regular water. And it seems fine?

I’ve heard this one, too, but good news for fellow seltzer lovers: There’s actually no real evidence to support any of these claims, which bubble up (heh) every now and then in the news.

In fact, carbonated water may have a beneficial effect on your stomach. One small study found that carbonated water helped alleviate symptoms of indigestion and constipation in people who regularly suffered from these conditions. Of course, the caveat here is that there has been little research on the subject (this is just one study), so if you feel like you constantly have gas or a stomach ache, trust your body and maybe try reducing the seltzer consumption to see if it helps. But if you feel good and it’s not bothering you, sip away — there’s no reason not to.

The same is true of the other enduring myths about seltzer: that it ruins your teeth, or that it reduces bone density, which is another thing I hear sometimes.

Regarding your teeth, this tall tale seems to stem from a 2002 laboratory study that found that when extracted teeth were exposed to flavored seltzer for 30 minutes, there was more erosion in tooth enamel compared to when the teeth were exposed to orange juice, which is very acidic. But another study found that with six consecutive five-minute exposures to sparkling mineral water, damage to tooth enamel was minimal — about 100 times lower than it was with exposure to soft drinks.

Carbonated water may have a beneficial effect on your stomach.

The lesson: We don’t hold seltzer in our mouths for half an hour, so even if you drink five cans of seltzer in a day, your teeth should be just fine. (Especially if you've switched to seltzer in an effort to reduce your soft drink consumption.)

As for any concerns about your bones, the research is pretty clear that, if anything, it’s colas or other types of soda that may affect bone density. Not seltzer. One study compared the effects of different carbonated beverages on bone, using data from 2,500 middle-aged men and women. The study found that colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone density in women (but not in men).

So if your favorite beverage is seltzer, go ahead and sip it throughout the day. It's no big secret that staying hydrated is important — water plays a role in everything from your body's temperature regulation to the way your joints work, and seltzer totally counts. To avoid dehydration, follow your thirst cues just as you would your hunger cues (the "eight glasses a day" rule really isn't in favor anymore). You may have heard the claim that by the time you’re thirsty you’re dehydrated, so you should drink before you feel thirst — but that’s also a myth. If you’re healthy and not elderly, and as long as you’re not exercising vigorously in a hot climate, following your thirst cues is enough to keep you from getting dehydrated. (Elderly folks have a diminished sense of thirst, and athletes in hot climates may lose more fluids than can be replaced by drinking according to thirst, so that’s why these groups may benefit from paying closer attention to their fluid intake.)

One last thing to consider with your seltzer habit: If you’re drinking seltzer to try to suppress your appetite or avoid snacking, stop. Your body needs and asks for snacks between meals, and honoring that need — rather than suppressing it by filling up on bubbly water — is an important part of creating a healthy relationship with food. Otherwise, feel free to fill your fridge with the fizzy stuff — and to ignore any fear-mongering still-water purists.

Christy Harrison is an NYC-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in intuitive eating, eating disorder recovery, and Health at Every Size. She writes about food and nutrition for various publications and hosts Food Psych, a podcast dedicated to improving your relationship with food.
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