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Sparkling water: Healthy alternative or millennial fad?
As the popularity of sparkling waters grows, many wonder if it represents a fresh turning point or a crisp new snake oil.
- Sparkling waters are en vogue as a healthy, refreshing alternative to soft drinks and alcohol.
- Some claim sparkling water has injurious effects, such as reducing bone mineral density, but research shows such claims are overstated or outright myths.
- Not all sparkling waters are created equal, though. While some are just as hydrating as plain water, others can be unhealthy if not consumed in moderation.
Sparkling waters are the latest in health chic, providing all the fizzy refreshment of a soft drink with none of those wicked calories. Today, Americans drink as much as 170 million gallons of sparkling water each year, and its popularity has surged to the point that The Guardian dubbed it "little short of a religion among millennials."
As with any health food trend, questions of its validly abound. Articles and social media posts have suggested that consuming carbonated beverages could lead to a myriad of ailments such as zapping bones of needed minerals, destroying tooth enamel, inflaming irritable bowel syndrome, promoting weight gain, and (of course) causing cancer.
But we needn't rely on hearsay. There's a fair amount of research to help us figure out whether these drinks are good or bad for our health. Turns out, the answer greatly depends on your bubbly beverage of choice.
Classifying sparkling waters
Calling it "sparkling water" doesn't tell you much about what's inside.
Before we can determine if sparkling waters are salubrious or not, we need to determine what exactly qualifies as a sparkling water.
Carbonated water describes water with carbon dioxide dissolved into it. Carbon dioxide can be introduced through natural processes, or by artificially injecting the gas into water while it is under pressure. The addition of CO₂ gives these beverages their satisfying hiss-pop when opened and characteristic effervescence.
Here are some popular classifications of fizzy waters:
Seltzer water. In its simplest form, seltzer water is water with carbonation. That's it. Seltzers may include natural flavors, but they do not contain additives like sugar or sodium.
Club soda. Club soda has more in common with seltzer than Coca-Cola. These drinks add ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate or potassium sulfate to carbonated water to elicit a minerally taste. They do not contain sugar. Good with scotch but won't do much for red wine stains. (That's an old wives' tale.)
Tonic water. Tonic water, on the other hand, has more in common with soda than seltzer. Its ingredients include sugar, citric acid, preservatives, and quinine for flavoring. Interestingly, quinine was the world's first anti-malarial drug and adds a property to tonic water that makes it glow under a blacklight. Cool party trick, but not for the health conscious.
Mineral water. The Food and Drug Administration defines mineral water as coming from an underground source with a minimum of 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids. These dissolved elements, such as calcium or magnesium, must come from the source and cannot be added later. Carbonation may be induced to make sparkling mineral water.
Like carbonated water, "sparkling water" is an umbrella term for waters that have undergone the carbonation process. While the two are interchangeable, you're much more likely to find bottles of sparkling water on store shelves. Carbonated water just lacks that ballyhoo lyricism and, as such, has mostly been relegated to naming an ingredient rather than a standalone beverage—it's the main ingredient in Pepsi.
Given its catchall nature, "sparkling water" covers an immense range of drinks. La Croix, for example, sells itself as a sparkling water but is a seltzer with natural flavors. Other beverages sporting the label, however, may contain additives like preservatives, sweeteners, food coloring, and even acids or juice concentrates for flavor.
Sparkle without the soda
Sparkling water's noxious effects have been overplayed. Claims that carbonated beverages lead to osteoporosis and other bone diseases stem from a misunderstanding of the research. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that it was cola, not other carbonated beverages, that was associated with lowered bone mineral density in older women, not men.
Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D. and editor in chief of Harvard Women's Health Watch, noted equivalent results in other studies. Cola's caffeine was considered a potential culprit for the lower bone mineral density, but the studies cited a need for further research.
What about irritable bowel syndrome? Carbonated waters have been known to cause gastrointestinal distress in people who are sensitive to carbonation, but they are not a known cause of the syndrome. In fact, one study found that carbonated water can improve indigestion and ease constipation.
Finally, let's consider weight gain. Here, your sparking water of choice matters.
Artificial sweeteners are incredibly poor for your health. Studies of diet soft drinks have linked them to an increased risk of dementia, transforming gut bacteria, and stimulating appetite. An American Heart Association study even found that people "who drank a diet soda every day had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events than those who reported no soda drinking."
Consumers who drink sparkling waters with sodium or artificial sweeteners like those found in diet soda may find a similar increase in appetite and thus weight gain. Drinking sparkling waters without these additives will remove this potential risk.
In fact, an article reviewed by Very Well Senior Medical Advisor Dr. Richard N. Fogoros noted that plain carbonated water is just as hydrating as regular water, and mineral waters with calcium and bicarbonate have been shown to improve hydration during exercise.
At pH levels below the critical pH (generally 5.5) teeth begin to demineralize. While sparkling waters do fall below the critical pH, most are must closer than many other popular beverages, like soda or orange juice.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
There is one criticism of sparkling water that holds true: It has the potential to damage your teeth.
Carbonic acid is a byproduct of the reaction between water and CO₂, meaning any carbonated water, even plain seltzer water, is acidic. Acidic liquids—that is, anything below a 7 on the pH scale—eat away at tooth enamel, opening one up to cavities and other dental nasties. Luckily for sparkle enthusiasts, carbonic acid is relatively weak.
The American Dental Association lists Birmingham, Alabama's, municipal water as having a neutral pH level of 7.2, while sparkling mineral water Perrier has a pH of 5.25. For further comparison, a Starbucks medium roast has a pH of 5.11 and Simply orange juice 3.78. Beverages that incorporate the much more acidic citric acid are even worse. Coca-Cola Classic and Pepsi, for example, have pH levels of 2.37 and 2.39 respectively.
One study comparing the erosive potential of sparkling mineral water to soft drinks found the former nonthreatening by comparison.
"Dissolution levels with all of the mineral waters were very low and for several still waters were undetectable," the researchers wrote. "Sparkling mineral waters showed slightly greater dissolution than still waters, but levels remained low and were of the order of one hundred times less than the comparator soft drinks."
Speaking on the subject, dentist Andrew Swiatowicz noted that the danger seltzer poses for your teeth depends a lot on your oral health history, how much acid and sugar is in your diet, and the amount of fluoride you receive from toothpaste, tap water, and mouth wash.
"For an average, healthy person, carbonated, sugar-free beverages are not going to be a main cavity-causing factor," he told The Atlantic. "If you are at all concerned, you can always dilute the carbonated water with regular water, or even just swish with regular water after."
Sparkling water can be surprisingly good for you, assuming you pick the right one. The fresh raspberries and a mint sprig shouldn't be skipped either.
If you want to bypass these dietary concerns, you could drink only flat, pH-balanced water. After all, you and every organism on Earth evolved to require this life-sustaining substance in some fashion. But this approach, while certainly healthy, feels bland and boring. There's just something people find appealing about a crisp, bubbly drink.
Sure, there are risks, but these risks are no more severe than any other non-water drink and can be mitigated by making careful choices:
- Read the label.
- Drink only seltzers or mineral waters with no additives. The additives of soda water, for example, may not add calories, but they do add sodium. If you're like the average American, you consume roughly 1,000 more milligrams of sodium than recommended a day. Why add to it?
- If you find plain carbonated water to be meh, add your own flavorings. Squeeze in a wedge of lemon, mix in some blended berries, or muddle some fresh herbs. This will ensure you get natural sugars in addition to needed nutrients.
- Drink in moderation. If you're worried about tooth decay, enjoy your sparkling water with a meal or bypass your teeth with a reusable straw.
Not all sparkling waters are created equal, and the zeal for some of its more illustrious name brands can certainly annoy. But as an alternative to a soft drink or evening beer, sparkling water is a health trend that should stay.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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