Food

What's the Healthiest Sparkling Water?

We're hooked on flavored sparkling water.... But what are we really drinking?

Let's be real: sometimes we reach for sparkling water to make everyday life feel just a little bit swankier. We also do it for our health. For those of us who struggle with drinking enough water, it's refreshing bubbles and flavors are an enjoyable incentive to hydrate. And since sweetened beverages, like traditional sodas, contribute to chronic conditions like diabetes (1), sparkling water offers a satisfying CDC-recommended substitute for sugary drinks (2). Sparkling water is basically H2O with jazz hands, so there's no way it can be bad, right? As it turns out, there are a few things to watch out for. We're diving deep with sparkling water to help support your health and environment (and your bubble habit).

Let's Talk About Natural and Artificial Flavors...

You've probably seen common ingredients like fruit juice, natural flavors, or artificial flavors in your favorite fizzy water brands. Fruit juice is pretty self-explanatory, but what do we know about the rest?

Natural flavors. According to the FDA, a natural flavor must come from non-synthetic source, such as spices, fruits or vegetables (3). However, the rest of the solution carrying the flavor may still contain synthetic additives as preservatives or solvents (which just means substances used to dissolve other things). These additives like propylene glycol are considered "Generally Recognized as Safe" by the FDA, and some like ethyl formate form naturally in plants (5). But safety studies are ongoing for some of these approved chemicals. For example, recent research has shown methyl paraben acts as an endocrine disruptor in mice and contributes to obesity (6). Organic products have higher standards for natural flavors – the National Organic Program only allows natural flavors if "not produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservatives" (7). Organic flavors must be used in organic products if commercially available (7) and comply with USDA organic regulations – including that 95% of the flavor must be certified organic (8).

Artificial flavors. Yep, you guessed it – unlike natural flavors, artificial flavors need not derive directly from natural sources like those listed above (3). Instead they are chemically synthesized. This doesn't actually mean that the main flavor's chemical structure differs from that of the natural flavor. As University of Minnesota food science professor Gary Reineccius explains, "there is little substantive difference in the chemical compositions of natural and artificial flavorings…the distinction in flavorings comes from the source of these identical chemicals" (9). But the kicker again comes from the additional synthetic chemicals allowed to accompany the flavor. Some of these originally occur in nature (such as butyl phenylacetate, found in fruits), while others are totally synthetic and potentially problematic (like phenylethyl benzoate, which is "toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.")

Bonus round: what is "naturally essenced"? This is its own category used in particular by LaCroix products. Its true meaning is still unknown, as LaCroix has not disclosed this information publicly. What we do know, according to their website, is that "all LaCroix flavors are derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit...there are no sugars or artificial ingredients." Furthermore, Business Insider clarifies that "essence is created by heating items such as fruit and vegetable skins, rinds, and remnants at high temperatures, producing vapors. These vapors are condensed and then sold by the barrel."

Bottom line: though natural and artificial flavors are chemically similar, they both come with long lists of potential additives that may be detrimental to our health and environment . When in doubt, stick with what you know is good – like real fruit juice – or opt for brands with organic ingredients and flavors.

How to Sparkle from the Inside Out

Sparkling water containers matter just as much for our health and environment as the inside ingredients. The lining of aluminium cans contain BPA and similar chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors with the potential to cause hormonal and reproductive harm. While these chemicals are less likely to leach into beverages like sparkling water than more acidic beverages, we don't like to make a habit of drinking from cans. Sparkling water beverages also often come in plastic. Microplastics can also end up with your bubbles – a study in 2018 showed that microplastics contaminated 93% of plastic water bottles (10). The research world is still seeking to understand the health implications of microplastics, but given what we already know, we say it's better to play it safe and avoid plastic bottles as much as possible in the meantime. Reducing plastic use is even more important for environmental health now that international governments have stopped buying recycling products from the US (cities in the US are throwing away formerly recyclable types of plastic because they can't afford to recycle, as reported by The Atlantic). Your choice of carbonated beverage is that much better for our health and environment when it doesn't come with plastic!

Simple Solutions for Keeping Your Sparkle Alive

1) Choose glass over plastic containers if buying carbonated beverages from the store

2) Check out the ingredients of your current brands and *gasp* consider trying a new one (we know you're dying for a new pandemic adventure). Try brands with fruit juice flavoring (Iike Spindrift) or organic natural flavors to be extra safe in avoiding sneaky synthetic additives.

3) Consider DIY! You can easily make your own sparkling water at home and have total control over what goes in it, including water quality and flavor choice. SodaStream's Aqua Fizz water carbonating machine uses glass bottles. Or if you're on a budget, consider a more basic model and transfer your newly carbonated water over to glass carafes for storage, or just quickly consume it (not a problem for us!). They also have organic flavoring options and a carbon dioxide cylinder exchange program to reduce waste. You could also experiment with adding your own fruit juice flavor concoctions – the possibilities are endless.

Stay fizzy, my friends.


Resources:

(1)https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html

(2)https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/drinks.html

(3)https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=20a79c9179f3c43d5b514f5f13c06d7b&mc=true&node=se21.2.101_122&rgn=div8

(4)https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=c3057692e430edc601fcb3e3352fed1c&mc=true&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title21/21cfr184_main_02.tpl

(5)https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=e5c407d421f852bcf58b25fd5c700a4d&mc=true&node=se21.3.184_11295&rgn=div8

(6) https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s13679-017-0240-4.pdf

(7)https://ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/OrganicFlavorsPracticalGuidance_OrganicTradeAssociation.pdf

(8)https://www.qai-inc.com/media/docs/qai_guide_for_natural_flavors_in_organic_products.pdf

(9) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-difference-be-2002-07-29/

(10)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6141690/

As childcare facilities and schools gear up for reopening, water quality is another area that can be affected by COVID-19 closures. Water stagnation in closed or sparsely used school facilities can lead to buildup of harmful pathogens and contaminants. This is a toolkit that is an easy to understand guide to best and safe practices for water quality when reopening childcare providers and schools during COVID-19. The toolkit has summaries of best practices from the CDC, EPA, and others water quality experts in one place.

If you are a parent who is concerned about safe drinking water when schools are reopened, please download our toolkit to send to your childcare provider or school administrator. Or if you work as a childcare provider or at a school, we have made this resource for you. We hope that it is helpful.

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If you've ever wondered why you get fluoride treatments at the dentist and if fluoride that is added to drinking water is safe, then this article will answer all your questions. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. In the early 1900s, a pair of dentists discovered that fluoride helps prevent cavities and in 1945 cities started fluoridating their drinking water (6). Since then, fluoride has been added to toothpastes and mouthwashes, in addition to drinking water. Read on as we break down the science on the pros and cons of fluoride in drinking water, toothpaste, and more.

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Life

Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.

Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.

1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times

Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).

2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference

Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.

3. Life jackets are way better than floaties

Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)

4. Teach children swimming and water safety

Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).

5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability

Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).

Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives

We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).

With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!


References

1. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/15/drowning031519

2. https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

3. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

4. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Submersion-Report-4-29-20.pdf

5. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_media_SafetyBarrierGuidelinesResPools.pdf

6. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/drowning

7. https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/

8.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html

9.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/swim-safety.html

Roundups

The 9 Best Stainless Steel Water Bottles

Our Top picks for an Everyday Water Bottle

Buying bottled water is expensive and not great for health and environmental reasons. Whether you're bringing water on your commute or to the gym, we love stainless steel bottles because they are lightweight and there are tons options. Some are insulated in case you want to add ice or drink something hot in the winter. Options also abound for styles of tops (sports, straw, pour spouts, twist off...etc) and sizes, so there's definitely something out there that will work for you. And of course there are so many colors, so you can find something that expresses your personality and style. We find that have an attractive water bottle definitely helps us remember to hydrate more throughout the day. These 9 stainless steel water bottles are well reviewed, easy to find in store and online, and something that you can bring with you everywhere.

Also, in case you're wondering if you need to get rid of your old plastic reusable water bottle, then check out our advice about how to use them safely.

The 9 Best Stainless Steel Water Bottles

a) Brita b) Contigo c) Corkcicle d) Hydro Flask e) Klean Kanteen f) Simple Modern g) Takeya h) S'well i) Yeti


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

popular

Assume that Bottled Water is Safer than Tap...Think Again!

Testing Finds Arsenic in Bottled Water at Whole Foods

Bottled water is marketed as healthy, pristine, and pure. And people believe this, often paying a premium cost for water that they believe will be healthier than what comes out of the tap. Bottled water is one of the most-sold beverages in the United States — which makes it especially disturbing to think that it may not be so safe after all.

What's So Dangerous About Bottled Water?

Recent studies by the Center for Environmental Health and Consumer Reports have found alarming levels of harmful chemicals in bottled water sold across the country. In June 2019, the Center for Environmental Health tested popular bottled water brands Starkey, owned by Whole Foods, and Peñafiel, owned by Keurig Dr Pepper and found concerning levels of arsenic. These levels are high enough that we believe they require a warning label under California state law Proposition 65, but no such label is in use.

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It's almost the end of summer and time to start thinking about those back-to-school supplies. Backpack, lunch box, pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, NSF/ANSI 53 certified water bottles to filter lead…wait, what was that last one? Yep, many children in this country will be attending school in a state where there is currently no requirement to filter and test school drinking water for lead. Even in states and counties where they do have laws on the books, there are still gaps that need to be addressed to better protect children. So, here is what you need to know and what you can do about it.

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If you've made it here, you probably already know that bottled water isn't great. Plastic in general can also be tough because of the ever popular BPA and it's sister chemicals. So we found the best 7 glass water bottles that are well reviewed and that you can bring with you everywhere. That assures that even if your plastic water bottle is BPA free, you won't have to worry about BPA replacements.

Glass does tend to be a bit more heavy than stainless steel, but sometimes people complain about stainless steel having a taste or not being as easy to wash. We like how with these glass bottles, you can flavor your water or even drink iced tea in them, throw them in the dishwasher and then put water in them without a nagging smell or taste. Some of these brands have different sizes and colors, so poke around to find a size and look that work for you.

Also, in case you're wondering, it's tough to find glass bottles without plastic lids, but if the water isn't constantly touching the lid, a plastic lid usually isn't something to get too worried about. If you have some old plastic reusable water bottles kicking around (who doesn't!) then check out our advice about how to use them safely.


7 Glass Water Bottles

a) Bkr b) Contigo Purity c) Ello Pure d) Lifefactory with Classic Cap e) Purifyou f) Soma g) Takeya


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
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