We’ve already survived finding out that drinking diet soda doesn’t come guilt-free. We’ve processed the gut punch of discovering that fruit juices are sugar bombs. We’re still enduring a decades-long emotional rollercoaster to find out if wine’s health benefits are worth it.
Now it turns out our precious, precious sparkling water might not be perfect, either. A study, conducted mainly on rats and some humans, has found that even unsweetened, sodium-free, calorie-free bubbly water may promote weight gain. It’s carbonated rain on our parade.
The study that’s upsetting health kicks everywhere
The study, published in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, conducted two experiments — one in humans, one in rats — regarding:
- regular carbonated soda
- diet carbonated soda
- degassed regular soda
In the rats, researchers found that carbonation increased appetitive levels but didn’t affect satiety levels. They repeated this experiment in a group of 20 healthy 18- to 24-year-old men, but added an extra beverage: carbonated water.
The human study found that any type of carbonated beverage significantly increased ghrelin levels.
Yes, even our beloved plain carbonated water. Those who drank plain carbonated water had ghrelin levels six times higher than those drinking regular water. They had three times higher ghrelin levels than those drinking degassed sodas.
Wait, what’s ghrelin?
Ghrelin is commonly known as the “hunger hormone.” It’s released primarily by the stomach and intestines and stimulates your appetite.
Ghrelin rises when the stomach is empty and falls when you’re full, but levels can also be affected by lots of other factors. Studies have shown that lack of sleep, stress, and extreme dieting can make ghrelin levels rise. Exercise, rest, and muscle mass can decrease ghrelin levels.
Generally, when your ghrelin levels are high, you feel hungrier and are more likely to eat more. Scientists believe that this can increase your risk of obesity.
Does this really affect my love affair with LaCroix?
The study certainly found a significant difference in ghrelin levels between men drinking water and men drinking sparkling water. But the study was small, short, and didn’t directly tie LaCroix to weight gain.
The U.K.’s National Health Society also reported that this study has raised points worth exploring. In other words, don’t take this study as the final word. It’s not the end yet.
While findings would need to be replicated before we completely ditch LaCroix, there’s still other factors stacked against this drink, such as their fabulous, naturally-sweet flavors.
At the end of the day, your brain and gut may respond to the sweet taste and react accordingly, causing a craving for something that wasn’t there. If a certain cerise limón flavor reminds you of candy, it could potentially make you crave and seek candy.
This taste-hungry effect can be seen in cases of savory food, too. One study found that enhancing the flavor of savory foods for older adults increased their food intake.
Nevertheless, there’s no direct link that connects LaCroix to weight gain. You can keep drinking sparkling water, but keep these key points in mind:
- Drink it in moderation. Healthy living is all about moderation. If you love LaCroix and it makes you happy, by all means crack one open at the beach or during your next Netflix binge. But don’t use it to replace water.
- Be aware of how much you’re eating while drinking it. Awareness is half the battle. If you know that your hunger hormones might be triggered by your sweet-but-not-actually-sugared sparkling water, opt for a glass of plain water instead.
- Opt for plain, unflavored carbonated water. While LaCroix claims to have natural sweeteners and no added sugar, the perceived “sweetness” could trigger a craving.
- Get plenty of plain old flat water, too. Definitely don’t try to hydrate only with fizzy waters.
- unsweetened tea
- fruit- or vegetable-infused water
- hot or cold tea
These drinks even have some health benefits of their own. Hot or cold tea can be packed with antioxidant properties and may reduce cancer risk and improve heart health. Lemon-infused water can add nutrients to your diet, cut hunger, and aid in digestion.
But remember, regular water is still queen
Let’s face it. Even with these alternatives, the best fluid to put into your body is plain water. If this seems a little dull — especially when you can hear the delightfully hissing bubbles of a carbonated drink nearby — here are a few ways to make water fun:
- Get a nice water bottle or a special cup to drink from.
- Add fun ice cubes or ice shavings.
- Add herbs like mint or basil.
- Squeeze in some lemon or lime juice or infuse your water with any fruit you can think of.
- Add slices of cucumber.
- Try different temperatures.
LaCroix might be free of artificial flavors, sodium, and calories, but this study hints that it likely isn’t as perfect as we thought it to be. So, as loud as that blackberry cucumber can is calling your name, try reaching for plain water or limit your intake.
Sparkling water may be a significantly better beverage option than alcohol, soda, or juice, though. And to that, we say, cheers!
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer who lives in Missoula, Montana with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has appeared in publications that include The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, and Reductress.