Is Flavored Sparkling Water Killing Your Weight-Loss Goals?

Julia Malacoff
by Julia Malacoff
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Is Flavored Sparkling Water Killing Your Weight-Loss Goals?

Take a stroll through the bottled water section of any grocery store, and you’ll notice bottles and bottles of different types of water. Sparkling, flavored, mineral, electrolyte — you name it. And it should be no surprise that 0-calorie flavored sparkling water is an extremely popular choice, whether your goal is to lose weight or simply maintain.

“Dieters are looking for ways to cut calories to promote weight loss,” explains Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. “However, many dieters don’t want to give up their favorite taste and flavors, so they look to these artificially sweetened beverages to ‘sweeten’ their day and feel less deprived.” Plus, some people don’t like the taste (or lack thereof) of water, Goodson adds.

But are these beverages actually good for you, especially if you’re trying to lose weight? Are they akin to diet soda, full of artificial sweeteners? Or do they just make you crave other sweet flavors, sabotaging your healthy eating plans?

Here’s what nutrition experts have to say: 

NATURAL FLAVORING AND ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

Many of these calorie-free beverages utilize “natural flavoring” to add taste. While they’re not artificial sweeteners, it’s not immediately clear what natural flavorings are. Sure, they’re zero calories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re healthy. Some companies use essential oils and fruit extracts, but with the vague label “natural flavoring,” it’s pretty hard to tell what’s actually in them and how they affect us.

Still, beverages that use this type of flavoring are better than conventional soda (or even diet soda). “Some dieters are drinking these beverages in place of soft drinks,” notes Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, registered dietitian and in-house nutrition expert at Betches Media. “By making this swap, soda drinkers are able to get the satisfaction of a refreshing, bubbly drink, without the unnecessary sugar and calories.”

Some versions of calorie-free sparkling water also use artificial sweeteners, which are somewhat controversial. “With artificially sweetened beverages, there are no calories, which can make them a good option for flavor, if you are OK with artificial sweeteners,” says Goodson. The FDA and research supports the idea that they are safe to consume, but many people (including some nutrition pros) are skeptical.

“While I think moderate consumption is OK, the natural sweeteners and no-added sugar could possibly trigger cravings,” Beckerman says. For some people, drinking something sweet, even if it’s sugar-free, can make them crave more sweet flavors ASAP. Still, it ultimately comes down to the individual and what they can handle. As of now, there’s no hard evidence that natural flavorings or artificial sweeteners sabotage your weight-loss plans.

CARBONATION AND WEIGHT GAIN

“One reason why sparkling water is so popular with dieters is because, when compared to plain water, consuming carbonated beverages on an empty stomach is significantly more filling,” Beckerman explains. “This is because the carbonation takes up more space in the stomach, and is said to increase both gastric activity as well as heart rate, which can contribute to feelings of fullness.” Though it’s unlikely to have a major impact on satiety over the course of a day, sparkling water may be enough to prevent unplanned snacking in a pinch, she says.

Those who are against flavored sparkling water often point to research, published in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, which found carbonation might cause weight gain, as a reason to avoid it at all costs. Experts, however, are unconvinced.

“In the study, those who drank carbonated water had ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels six times higher than those drinking regular water, and three times higher than those drinking non-carbonated sodas,” Beckerman notes. That doesn’t sound great for sparkling water. “However, the study didn’t account for external factors that could have influenced weight gain such as an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise,” she says. “The research did not directly tie sparkling water to weight gain.”

Goodson agrees, noting that there is no solid evidence carbonation alone (or at all) causes weight gain. “It’s important to note that lots of things can stimulate hunger and many people that sleep too little, experience stress and yo-yo diet could fall prey to increased hunger.” In other words, there are a lot of things that can cause an increased appetite, and while flavored sparkling water might be one of them, it’s probably less impactful than lifestyle practices that are shown to have a bigger impact.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In the end, it really comes down to how these beverages fit into your diet. “If a bubbly drink helps you drink more fluid and keep your calories low for weight loss, then I believe it can be a part of a healthy eating plan,” Goodson says. “We always want people to drink water, but the recommendation is actually based on fluid consumption, and these fluids can fit.”

It’s a good idea to check in with yourself about how these drinks make you feel, though. “For some people, consumption of fizzy beverages can make them bloated, distended and gassy,” Beckerman points out. “If you experience these side effects, it is important to listen to your body and cut back consumption of carbonated water.”

Recommended alternatives, she says, are unsweetened tea, black coffee or fruit-infused water. “If you want to get some added electrolytes without the bubbles, go for coconut water or watermelon water, but make sure there isn’t any added sugar in the product,” she adds.

About the Author

Julia Malacoff
Julia Malacoff

Julia (@jmalacoff) is a former fashion editor turned health and fitness buff who writes about all things lifestyle—especially workouts and food. Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.

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26 responses to “Is Flavored Sparkling Water Killing Your Weight-Loss Goals?”

  1. RastaFourEye says:

    So in summary, have whatever you like in moderation keeping in mind a balanced nutritional diet.

  2. autumndandelion says:

    The title is a bit melodramatic and sensationalistic. And this is nothing new.

  3. According to most of the available resources artificial sweeteners are mildly effective to for weight loss. But, still it’s a matter of research. I too searching for other dietitians/experts view on this.

  4. myrewyn says:

    Sparkling water is water, with gas. It would defy the laws of physics for it to cause weight gain on its own. Maybe articles about diet and nutrition should be written by someone with a little more credentials than a former fashion editor.

    • Timothy says:

      Wow tough crowd. Let’s be clear, the artificially sweetened water is at the core of the debate here. And if the conclusions are less than crystal clear, surprise! It’s because the SCIENCE isn’t crystal clear. There is NO defacto research that clinically ties artificial sweeteners to weight gain, insulin insensitivity, or even sweet cravings. We have hypotheses applied to study observations (and many of those with super sketchy methodology), that is all.

      I thought it was a well rounded article on the topic that will help people make their own choices. I’ve personally lost 15lbs in the past 45 days (about 8%) while consuming diet drinks almost every day. To each his own.

      • Darcey says:

        I wouldn’t recommend any sweeteners other than Stevia, but good for you! And you are right, this article is good information for keeping tabs on oneself to see if drinking the flavored sparkling water increases the desire for sweets or eating more in general. I found it helpful! I buy Whole Foods Markets lime and lemon sparkling mineral water to be on the safe side of knowing what’s being used for ‘natural flavors.’ I also make pomegranate and acai green tea by cold brewing and they are wonderful thirst quenchers! But I don’t add any sweeteners.

      • James A Tillman says:

        I use to drink Vitamin Water thinking it was healthy. Over time I became incontinent. My bladder acted as if it was inflamed and I had to begin wearing depends. I eliminated the Vitamin Water but also changed my diet to the one described in “The Plant Paradox” and my incontinence disappeared. I am not sure what chemicals may have caused the incontinent but I do know I did not have this condition prior to drinking Vitamin Water. I was drinking about two bottles a day.

  5. Scared says:

    As someone who actually works in soft drink manufactured here in Australia, soda water “sparkling water” is tap water doesn’t matter what brand same crap different labels. The artificial sweetener we use it stevia. I wouldn’t personally touch the flavoured stuff, not what’s in it but what’s done to it which doesn’t make it safe to drink for first 24 – 48 hours.

  6. Catherine Gilliland says:

    There actually IS hard evidence that artificial sweeteners sabotage your weight-loss plans. They damage your gut biome and cause weight gain.

  7. Maria T. Wilcox Ramos says:

    I read the abstract from the article cited from Obesity Research and Clinical Practice. it was a study on rats, so the article’s comment that it doesn’t account for lifestyle differences was meaningless. Perhaps they meant to cite a different study.

  8. K-by-the-sea says:

    It would be helpful if the article also discussed the calcium-leaching effect of carbonated drinks and the potential for escalating osterperosis.

    • msbook says:

      There isn’t such an effect from plain carbonation, although the phosphoric acid in colas and flavored sodas may have such an effect.

    • Christopher Porch says:

      There is not significant evidence to support this theory, so the article shouldn’t discuss this at all.

  9. Leah Keese says:

    So basically, it COULD trigger you to snack, but in and of itself, its fine.

    Look – boiled down a whole page into a single sentence.

  10. Jessica Lovins says:

    This is far fetched and not even true about diet soda.

  11. Bellamas says:

    The billionth article that recommends what you eat to lose weight instead of the better option. Eat less, or even better eat nothing. Fasting for a couple days never hurt anyone. Of course, nutritionists are against it. It is so easy they would be out of a job.

  12. Nick says:

    Clickbait title…check
    More fear mongering over artificial sweeteners…double check
    The reassuring answer everyone wanted…got it

  13. Keytra says:

    This is a garbage article. The research cited is bogus and the bottom line comes down to people’s habits. YOU are in control of your choices. I don’t know why the trend has been to write controversial articles about unsweetened sparkling water. It helps SO many people get off sugary drinks. This is a no-news piece. Why are we trying to shame people for adopting a habit that actually works for them and has no known side effects?

    Sensationalist at best.

  14. JennJ says:

    anyone else flummoxed by WHT “non-carbonated soda” might be? Rather oxymoronic, me thinks.

  15. Sum Toon says:

    After I read this nonsense, I marked email from myfitnesspal@mfp.underarmour.com as spam.

  16. redhd29leo says:

    What a complete waste of time this article is. My gosh is she kidding me? Now WATER is a problem. I have lost 190+lbs and I pretty much drink sparking water exclusively. Granted I do not use the ones with artificial sweetener but some do have essence of fruit, lime. lemon, orange and berry. Sometimes ( hold on to your hats) I add a little crystal light pink lemonade for kicks.I am truly discussed by reading this article it is making my blood boil. As hard as it is to diet, exercise and maintain weight loss, this is the best ridiculous idea she can come up with. Talk about talking out of your rear end. What study has there been on this being an issue for people. The world has finally started to turn away from diet (chemical) sodas and places are offering more sparkling water options and then this is “writer” thinks this is going to help someone. I highly suggest my MY FITNESS PAL look closer at the articles they are promoting on their website and find ones that indeed offer people suggestions to help on their journey.

  17. SaneInAnInsaneWorld says:

    Sorry, guys but when my Nephrologist, Urologist and Rheumatologist ALL advised me to avoid artificial sweeteners in any form including sugar alcohols like they are a plague on man kind and it’s kidneys and liver, I had to teach my taste buds what is tolerable in sweetness for coffee, teas, homemade fruit/vegetable/ herb infused waters and lemon-limeades, I discovered that a simple 15 calorie teaspoon in a cup of coffee and tea took the edge off…. Same with the lemon-limeades. Good luck to any who wish to continue consuming them. I worked myself from sodas to Gatorades to homemade drinks with minimal amount of sugar and for every cup of coffee, tea, or lemon-limeade I match it with water. 6 cups fruit/vegetable/herb infused water to 2 cups each of the others… Life is about moderation.

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