Sparkling water is often considered to be a healthy (and delicious) alternative to sodas and high-sugar drinks, but a new study has made some troubling findings about how healthy sparkling water really is. Spoiler alert: It might not be as good for you as you may think.
Carbonated Beverages Might Make You Hungrier
New research from Birzeit University in Palestine, published in the peer-reviewed journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, suggests that carbonated beverages make you feel hungrier.
How? The carbon dioxide, which gives the drink its fizzy quality, triggers the hormone responsible for hunger, called ghrelin, that is released from the digestive system. The scientists studied the effect of various drinks on rats and also tested their findings on humans.
In rodents, the researchers gave rats four types of drinks — tap water, flat soda, carbonated soda, and diet carbonated soda — and then analyzed blood sugar and cholesterol after six months. They found that rats who had fizzy drinks in addition to their normal diets ate more than subjects who were given water and "flat" colas. The same trend was seen in rats that were given carbonated water, which are the no-calorie alternatives to carbonated beverages.
In humans, 20 healthy male subjects between the ages of 18 and 23 were given one of the four aforementioned drinks an hour after consuming a light breakfast. Those who consumed sparkling water for breakfast had a ghrelin level six times that of those who had still water.
There's No Need to Freak Out Just Yet
If the findings hold up, the conclusion of this study is significant because it's holding carbon dioxide responsible for the health decline associated with carbonated beverages and not sugar. But there are limitations to the research: The human trial only had young male subjects, racial diversity was likely not a variable, and the effect seen in rats might not be the same for humans.
The United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) notes that the findings are "worthy of further research," but are definitely preliminary. "That said, we aren't identical to rodents, so any findings would always need to be validated in human trials," writes the NHS. "Preliminary attempts at validation were made in this study. There are still likely to be many other issues involved with dietary intake and weight gain."
Stay calm and sparkling water on.