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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.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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