Artificially carbonated water has been around for two-and-a-half centuries, and there have been conflicting opinions about its impact on our health.
Because the product imitates the effervescence of naturally carbonated spring water (which owes its health properties and its CO2 emissions to the mineral content), sparkling water has widely been associated with physical health. Where CO2 has been artificially added, the health benefits of mineral water are non-applicable.
Carbonated water is traditionally considered to provide effective relief from indigestion, heartburn, and constipation. Many (but not all) studies have produced results that support this theory.
The mildly acidic properties of carbonated water have given rise to concerns about possible tooth erosion, but there’s no evidence at all that sparkling water – which is less acidic than natural fruit juice – does any harm to teeth. Dental decay attributed to fizzy drink is due solely to added sugary flavourings.
The overriding conclusion is, when it comes to still versus sparkling, there’s no real difference.
It’s all just water.
… Or is it?
An English chemist, Joseph Priestley, gets the credit for inventing carbonated water (quite by accident) in 1767. Priestley described his “happiest” discovery in a paper entitled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.
The first person to manufacture carbonated water on a commercial scale was Thomas Henry, an English surgeon and chemist, who built a factory for that purpose in the late 1770s. The product was branded as artificial Pyrmont and Seltzer waters, as it emulated the naturally effervescent mineral waters from Selters and Bad Pyrmont, in Germany.
Johann Jacob Schweppe, a Swiss-German watchmaker and amateur chemist, was the first to find a way to produced bottled carbonated water. The drink soon became very popular, endorsed by notable figures such as Erasmus Darwin (natural philosopher and grandfather of Charles Darwin) and King William IV.
Carbonated water is produced by forcing CO2 gas, at high pressure, into water (H2O) at a low temperature – just above 0°C. The dissolved CO2 becomes carbonic acid (H2CO3), which smells and tastes slightly acidic, although with a pH level of around 4, carbonic acid causes no harm to teeth and is a lot less acidic than stomach acid. To neutralise the drink’s pH level and to mimic the taste profile of naturally effervescent mineral water, it’s common practice to add sodium carbonate – hence the moniker “soda”, common in the US to describe any fizzy drink.
The fizz in naturally effervescent mineral water and in artificially carbonated water is carbon dioxide (CO2) gas escaping from its aqueous solution. At higher temperatures, the bonds in carbonic acid are easily broken, resulting in still water and CO2 gas. That’s why, when pressure is released and temperature raised (in the opening of a can or bottle), the CO2 gas escapes from the solution … effervescing all over the place!
Sparkling water has, for centuries, been a go-to remedy for digestive disorders. Carbonated water has been shown to reduce the growth of bacteria, and it does give you the feeling that things are moving – not the most scientific statement, admittedly, but considering the power of belief, a feeling is often worth a shot!
One of the most reliable and enduring remedies for indigestion or constipation is sodium hydrogen carbonate (NaHCO3), also known as sodium bicarbonate. Dissolved in water, along with an acid, the NaHCO3 reacts with the acid to produce CO2. Drinking the effervescent water is known to provide significant relief from heartburn, dyspepsia, and constipation.
Many studies have shown that carbonated water has a more remedial effect on constipation and dyspepsia than still water, and that sparkling water can improve the swallowing reflex.
Here’s an interesting fact. No other mammal will drink carbonated water. They hate it.
The presence of CO2 usually signals decay and toxins. Biologically, we’re conditioned to avoid CO2. Carbonic acid is detected by sour-sensing taste cells, and on those cells, there’s an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, which triggers pain receptors.
In a 1997 study of our relationship with spicy foods, American psychologist, Paul Rozin, expressed a theory that “people enjoy situations in which their bodies warn them of danger but they know they are really okay”. Other scientists have applied this theory to sparkling water, attributing our love of fizzy drinks to a thrill-seeking nature.
It might be a bit far-fetched to claim that the buzz we get from a glass of chilled sparkling water is comparable to sky diving, white-water rafting, or skiing. But let’s just say that those dare-devils among us who are partial to the occasional scary movie are the same wild guys who head for the sparkling water tap!
You know who you are.
When CO2 is released from solvency, it changes to a gaseous state. The total volume of water and carbon dioxide gas is greater than the total volume of the carbonic acid solution. The more it fizzes, the more space it fills.
A glass of still water won’t change in volume after you’ve ingested it. The water will be somewhat dispersed, of course, but the total volume will be unchanged.
A glass of carbonated water, however, will change in volume. As the CO2 effervesces, it becomes a gas, which takes up more space than it did in solution. The water is dispersed and absorbed, but the carbon dioxide temporarily fills your digestive tract, suppressing feelings of hunger.
If you’re trying to lose weight, take the edge off your appetite by drinking a glass of sparkling water before meals.
You know it makes sense to drink plenty of water. But sometimes you fancy something a little more interesting than just plain water. This is where carbonated water comes into its own.
Pure, chilled water. The ultimate in healthy hydration. With a splash of panache.
You feel slightly naughty, sipping this bubbly nectar at work. A little guilty, even. Dare you slip a slice of lime into the fizz? … That would be the ultimate decadence.
Who’d have thought that staying hydrated at work could be so much fun!