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Is carbonated water with natural flavors bad for you?

Some very close friends of mine are absolutely in love with carbonated water. Granted, they’ve never asked about my opinions on its health effects… but you know, I’m not offended that they haven’t asked or anything. Should they have asked me about their regular consumption of this stuff? Or, maybe should read this post? Let’s find out…

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 515 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

Carbonated Water Can Be Acidic

The reason sparkling or carbonated water comes under scrutiny is because it is acidic. Let me take a step back.

The bubbles that you see in carbonated water, or soda for that matter, are made up of carbon dioxide. Drink manufacturers basically force carbon dioxide, a gas, into the water under high pressure. That high pressure pushes the gas into the water, which creates those bubbles… hence the term “carbonated.” The technology isn’t all that complex; most retailers sell machines about the size of a coffee maker that do this very thing.

In a nutshell, it’s this carbon dioxide gas that makes the water acidic. Water itself has a neutral pH, which means it’s not acidic or alkaline. When you add carbon dioxide gas to it, it lowers the pH, making it acidic. For comparison purposes, water’s pH is 7, and seltzer or sparkling water with nothing added has a pH between a 3 or 4. Remember: a lower pH means something is more acidic.

Notice I said “with nothing added”–some products have minerals added. This actually brings the pH back up so that it’s closer to water in its natural state. To compare, brands like San Pellegrino or Perrier that add minerals to their products have a pH closer to 5. Again, water’s pH is 7.

Is the Extra Acidity in Carbonated Water Bad For Us?

There were theories that this extra acidity would increase the chances of developing a stomach ulcer. Not true.

Another theory is that consuming carbonated water might lead to osteoporosis. Not true either.

But it is possible that carbonated water can harm our teeth. The acidity may damage tooth enamel.

Enamel helps protect the integrity of our teeth and prevents our teeth from becoming discolored. Sadly, once you lose enamel, it’s gone forever. I’m talking about carbonated water specifically. It’s a different story when we talk about sodas. The added sugars in soda can accelerate the damage to our teeth. This brings me to another point: added flavors.

Carbonated Water with “Natural Flavors”

Some sparkling water companies add “natural flavors” to their products. The problem is that we don’t know what this really means. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require companies to report each flavor. But if one of these natural flavors happens to be citric acid, that would make the drink more acidic (it is citric acid after all!), which could then lower the pH and cause more damage to tooth enamel.

Luckily, there are ways to prevent damage to tooth enamel. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, here’s what we can do:

  1. After drinking carbonated water, don’t brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes. This is because your enamel may be weaker after consuming this stuff, and brushing your teeth could further damage it.
  2. Consume carbonated water with food. This will help balance out the pH. Along those lines, don’t sip on these waters throughout the day. The more the carbonation comes in contact with our teeth, the more damage it can do to tooth enamel.

Are There Health Benefits to Consuming Carbonated Water?

There’s nothing particularly beneficial about drinking carbonated water, but when swapped out for regular soda, consuming carbonated water is an improvement. And, yes, it can serve to hydrate the body. But I would be careful and not use this as your only means of hydrating. I know plain water doesn’t always taste the best, so it may tempting to want to drink carbonated water instead. But we don’t know how much is too much.

If you need to enhance the flavor of your tap water, add some fresh sliced lemons or limes (don’t worry, they won’t lower the PH of the water that much). Or add some mint leaves, other herbs, or cucumbers–think spa water! Enjoy!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 515 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.