When I quit soda a decade ago, I coped by drinking seltzer water with juice. It gave me the sugary fix along with the carbonated rush. Gradually, I removed the fruit juice and opted for the seltzer solo. Over the following three months, I lost at least five pounds and found that my complexion and energy levels had improved. Perhaps this had to do not only with the elimination of all the sugar and sodium I was ingesting with all that ginger ale, but with the amount of water (albeit carbonated) that I had replaced it with. I was downright chugging the stuff all day.
A decade later, I’ve upped my plain water consumption, but come meal times, I’m still hooked on seltzer (typically unflavored, with a wedge of lemon). I probably drink it now more than ever since I quit alcohol (a choice that resulted in shedding another five pounds) and have made seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice my standard order at bars. But, like with all things that seem too good to be true, I have worries about the possible cons of seltzer. I’ve heard that it can ruin your enamel, disrupt digestion and be less hydrating than regular water, for which I often substitute it.
Fueled by my own anxieties about what the heck I’m actually drinking, and hopeful to get the facts straight, I turned to certified nutritionists, registered dietitians and a dentist to explain exactly what seltzer is and what it means for our health.
First things first, let’s establish what seltzer actually is:
“Seltzer water is water that has been infused with carbon dioxide under high pressure, which creates the bubbles,” says Toni Marinucci, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. “In simpler terms, seltzer is carbonated water therefore the ingredients should just read carbonated water. If it is a flavored seltzer then the ingredients should read: carbonated water, natural flavor.”
The difference between seltzer and club soda is mainly sodium
Club soda is also water-based, but it tends to have a lot of other minerals “including sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, potassium sulfate and disodium phosphate,” says Marinucci, adding that these added ingredients, though safe to consume in club soda, “affects the taste slightly [such that] it doesn't taste as ‘clean’ as seltzer water.”
Because of the sodium content, you might want to avoid club soda (and definitely check with a doctor if you have any underlying health issues that call for restricted sodium). “People who are salt-sensitive or being mindful of added salt in their overall diet should be aware of the difference and make an educated choice,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Maya Feller Nutrition, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
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Plain seltzer is as hydrating as water
Good news for us seltzer lovers, this magical tonic (a bit hyperbolic, sure, but certainly how I feel about it) has the same hydrating benefits as plain water — if you drink it plain.
Plain seltzer without additional additives can be as hydrating as water.
“Plain seltzer without additional additives can be as hydrating as water,” says Feller. “The CDC lists plain seltzer and water as a smart beverage choice and some research has found that there is no difference with regard to hydration status when a person consumes still or carbonated water without additives.”
You can drink it during exercise, but be mindful
If seltzer is as hydrating as water, can you drink it when you work out? Yes, Feller says, but it really depends on your carbonation tolerance: “I would suggest that each person see if they are able to tolerate the carbonation during vigorous activity.”
“Having seltzer water can keep a person hydrated however if the carbonation causes gas or bloating it may also cause cramps and can disrupt the persons ability/comfort to exercise,” adds Marinucci. “It is also more filling than plain water so a person may not drink as much as they need if they choose seltzer over plain water.”
From my own experience drinking seltzer in a Pilates class today, I don’t recommend it. The seltzer made me feel like burping and threw off my breathing flow.
Your teeth could suffer, but moderation and washing down with water helps
Seltzer is indeed, harsh on your teeth, but not if you drink it right (and in moderation).
“The problem with seltzer is that it can be acidic,” says Dr. Lee Gause, a dentist who specializes in implant and cosmetic dentistry and founder of Smile Design Manhattan. “Teeth fare better in a neutral or even slightly alkaline solution. Different seltzer brands have different levels of acidity, primarily stemming from both the citric acid that gives seltzers the bubbles and zesty lemony taste. Even unflavored seltzers contain a carbonic acid that gives it its bubbles.”
Over time, that acidity can lead to enamel erosion.
“I have seen a lot of patients whose main cause of erosion was an overly acidic diet from citrus to sodas and lack of regular or alkaline water,” says Dr. Gause. “All of that being said, [seltzer] is safe to consume in appropriate volumes — keep it to once a day with meals, at a maximum, and be sure to wash everything down with standard water.”
Grause also recommends using a straw if you want to be “extra careful”, as this allows the seltzer to bypass your teeth.
When to cut down on seltzer
Dr. Gause recommends skipping the seltzer if you already have an acidic diet, “consuming lots of lemon juice, pomegranate, grapefruits, tomatoes, blueberries, pineapples, apples, corn, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.”
Might I add that these are all foods I eat in great quantity, so I certainly need to cut down. I also have IBS, and the carbonation in seltzer can cause further irritation.
People who have IBS and or a sensitive GI may want to steer clear of carbonated water.
“People who have IBS and or a sensitive GI may want to steer clear of carbonated water,” says Feller, with Marinucci adding, “If someone is experiencing digestive symptoms like feeling gassy/bloated/has a hiatal hernia and continues to consume seltzer with symptoms then that would be considered too much.”
“Also, if a person is using it to fill up and intentionally skip multiple meals/snacks then that is too much because every skipped meals/snacks are missed opportunities to fuel the body with nutrient dense foods,” says Marinucci.
Make your own, so you know what’s in it
Reading labels is always wise, but with seltzer — in particular flavored seltzer — it can be tricky to know exactly what you’re getting. The term “natural flavor” has been a hot debate, with even the FDA calling for more transparency, given that the labeling is vague at best, and doesn’t illuminate the processes that may be involved. Seltzer brands like La Croix, which famously touts no calories, artificial sweeteners or sodium says its flavors are “derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit” boasted on the can. How exactly this happens is a proprietary mystery.
No disrespect to La Croix here (that grapefruit one is my best friend at barbecues, and I love that it’s not too fizzy or too sweet), but if you want to know exactly what’s in your seltzer, make your own at home (I use a SodaStream, but there are other kits out there).
“The simplest ingredients possible is a good rule of thumb,” says Dr. Gause. “You can easily make your own without having to spend on branded water, [and] know exactly where it came from.”
In any event, seltzer is absolutely the best sparkling beverage choice, especially if you’re watching calories or looking to up your hydration.
“For someone who regularly consumes soda, having seltzer water can be an excellent alternative because it is calorie-free, sugar-free and chemical-free,” says Marinucci. “The naturally flavored seltzers may not taste as sweet as regular or diet soda, however in time, a person’s taste buds can adjust and they will actually begin to [like] it. For a little extra natural flavor and nutrition, squeeze some fresh fruit like lemon and enjoy.”
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