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Sparking water contains plain water that’s been artificially carbonated by adding carbon dioxide under pressure to produce bubbles, whereas sparkling mineral water comes from a natural spring or well and can be naturally or artificially carbonated.bhofack2/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: I prefer flavoured sparkling water over plain water. Is it okay to get most of my water from sparkling water? Is carbonation bad for you?

Visit the grocery store and you’ll notice that the sparkling water section has grown. Besides club soda, Perrier and San Pellegrino, brands such as Bubly, LaCroix and many other carbonated waters are taking up shelf space.

With flavours such as key lime, passion fruit and cherry-pomegranate, bubbly waters are a go-to beverage for many people who find plain water boring, as well as those who want a healthier alternative to sugary soft drinks.

If fizzy water makes up most of your daily water intake, though, you might be wondering if it’s less healthy than regular water. Here’s what to know.

Carbonated waters 101

Carbonated waters – e.g., sparkling water, sparkling mineral water and soda water – differ in their water source, how they’re carbonated and extra ingredients added to them.

Sparking water, such as soda water, Bubly and LaCroix, contains plain water that’s been artificially carbonated by adding carbon dioxide under pressure to produce bubbles. Potassium and sodium salts may be added to mimic the flavour of natural mineral waters.

Sparkling mineral water comes from a natural spring or well and can be naturally or artificially carbonated. These beverages contain small amounts of naturally occurring minerals such as calcium, magnesium, chloride, sodium, potassium and sulfates.

Many flavoured sparkling waters contain “natural” flavours, compounds made from plant or animal sources including spices, herbs, plant roots, fruit and vegetables. But natural flavours aren’t that different from man-made artificial flavours.

A single flavour preparation may consist of many ingredients, including synthetic solvents, emulsifiers and preservatives. (This doesn’t mean that natural flavours are bad for you.)

Many flavoured sparkling waters are free of added sugar and sweeteners. Some, though, contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose, while others can have lots of sugar.

Is sparkling water hydrating?

Carbonated water hydrates you just as well as water from the kitchen tap. If you don’t like plain water, choosing sparkling water can help you meet your daily fluid requirements (2.2 litres for women, 3 litres for men).

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I don’t recommend drinking carbonated water to hydrate during sports or a workout. Carbonation can promote a feeling of fullness and prevent you from drinking enough fluid to ward off dehydration.

Plus, sparkling waters, even those that come from mineral springs, don’t provide the electrolytes (e.g., sodium, potassium, chloride) needed to replace what’s lost through sweat during endurance and strenuous exercise.

Bad for teeth, bones, digestion?

You may have heard that drinking carbonated water can erode your teeth or weaken your bones, thanks to its acidity. Carbonating water creates carbonic acid, which does make sparkling water slightly acidic compared to plain water.

But there’s no evidence that drinking plain carbonated water damages teeth. Carbonated waters that contain citric acid and sugar, however, do have the potential to erode tooth enamel.

Research has shown that sparkling mineral waters have the potential to damage tooth enamel only slightly more than still water and 100 times less than sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

The notion that carbonated drinks harm bones likely stems from the Framingham Osteoporosis Study, published in 2006, which found that a regular intake of cola – but not other carbonated beverages – was associated with significantly lower hip bone density in women.

The researchers speculated that cola drinkers were consuming too much phosphoric acid, an additive used to flavour cola drinks that can interfere with calcium absorption, and too little calcium.

Sparkling water can, however, cause digestive upset for some people. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, drinking carbonated water could lead to bloating and gas.

And if you suffer from acid reflux, carbonated beverages could worsen symptoms by increasing pressure in the abdomen, causing the stomach’s acidic contents to flow back into the esophagus.

Bottom line

Plain sparkling water is a calorie-free hydrating beverage. It’s a healthy alternative to sugary pop and fruit juice.

Be sure to read labels. Avoid products with added sugar, artificial sweeteners and preservatives.

To know exactly what’s in your bubbly water (and to save money down the line), consider making your own at home with a sparkling water maker.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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