Trying to follow a whole food plant-based diet and wondering if you're seltzer habit jibes with your new healthy lifestyle? Here's what you need to know about seltzer, whether or not it's the healthy soda-alternative we've been led to believe, plus which beverages to enjoy on a wfpb diet.
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Seltzer, soda, sparkling water. There’s a bit of confusion over what’s what but we're here to clear things up today.
Seltzer is simply water with pressurized carbon dioxide. It is usually flavored, as it doesn’t have any particular taste unflavored.
Soda is carbonated water with added sweetener, such as cane sugar or high fructose syrup.
Sparkling water is made with natural spring water, and the natural minerals found inside can sometimes give it a natural carbonation; other times, carbon dioxide is added by the manufacturer.
While soda's not included on a wfpb diet, plenty of people turn to seltzer as a healthy alternative to sugar-filled soda, juice, or sports drinks. I mean, it's just water with carbon dioxide, right? Well, sometimes. As is the case with so many other seemingly innocuous foods and drinks, the question of where seltzer is healthy to drink is not a clear yes or no.
Many seltzers are made with sometimes dubious "natural flavors" derived from plants and animals. Wait – but if they're "natural" they must be good to go on a wfpb diet, right? Not always.
Under current government regulations, flavor manufacturers can add synthetic solvents, preservatives, emulsifiers, carriers and other additives to a flavor that qualifies as natural. In addition, unlike food manufacturers, flavor manufacturers are not obligated to disclose the ingredients of their natural flavors, making it tricky for people with allergies to navigate around them.
As an example, aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG), two notoriously controversial ingredients, are both considered natural flavors.
Daily consumption of seltzers can also have detrimental effects for your oral health. According to this study on the pH of beverages, teeth soaked in seltzer water for thirty minutes started to erode the teeth enamel. It was especially harmful to teeth when consumed without food.
That said, when compared to soda, coffee, and energy drinks, researchers found seltzer was least harmful to teeth.
Drinking seltzer is also associated with bladder problems. Why? This urologist points to carbon dioxide as the culprit. It irritates the lining of your bladder, increasing the risk for bladder pain and frequency of urination. This is especially important to know if your have an underlying bladder condition.
The good news is that if you are consuming the majority of your fluids via (flat) water, a little bit of seltzer is unlikely to cause any major issues for your bladder.
Osteoporosis is a condition where bones get less dense and become fragile, and it is usually observed in women nearing menopause. Those who regularly consume carbonated drinks are believed to be more likely to exhibit bone loss compared to those who don’t drink any carbonated drinks.
Although not excessively studied, high phosphorus levels in the body – a common mineral found in carbonated drinks – signal the body to absorb calcium from the bones to neutralize the phosphorus, contributing to gradual bone loss.
When it comes to bubbly beverages and your healthy wfpb diet, it's best to choose sparkling mineral water made with natural spring water over seltzer with"natural flavor" in the ingredient list. And if you have bladder issues, osteopenia or osteoporosis, or issues with teeth enamel, it may be best to avoid sparkling beverages altogether.
If you just love your seltzer though, don't fret. At the end of the day, it's a good option for anyone trying to move away from harmful sodas and other refined sugar beverages. Plus, it can still be hydrating and contribute to your daily eight glasses of water — just try to keep your consumption under 25 percent of your fluid intake for the day.
- Unsweetened non-dairy "milk"
- Herbal teas
- Green tea
- Decaffeinated coffee (and occasionally caffeinated coffee and teas)
- Smoothies (just be sure they're dairy-free and made without refined sugars — here's a healthy vegan smoothie formula to bookmark!)
- In small amounts, seltzer can be part of a wfpb diet but sparkling mineral water is better and regular water is best.
- Seltzer is water with added carbon dioxide, and it is usually sold flavored.
- Seltzer consumption has been associated with teeth enamel corrosion, bladder problems, and may contribute to bone loss.
- The "natural flavors" in some commercially-sold seltzers are not always "natural" and can be harmful.
- Even though seltzer is less harmful than other carbonated drinks, over-drinking should be avoided for optimal health on a wfpb diet (try to keep it at less than 25 percent of your daily fluid intake.)
- Seltzer could be a great transitional drink for people who are new to a wfpb diet and trying to cut down on soda.
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.