Could this 'healthy' drink actually be making you feel hungrier?

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Harpers Bazaar UK

Fizzy water has long been heralded as a healthy drink choice. It is water after all, fizzy it may be, but it's still water and healthy right?

Well, this all appeared to be up in the air recently, when headlines circulated suggesting a recent study said that fizzy water could actually be making us hungrier and encouraging us to eat more.

So what did the study say?

Fizzy drinks are mainly considered unhealthy because of their sugar content. But researchers from Birzeit University in Palestine, wanted to find out whether it was actually due to the gasses in the drink rather than the sugar.

In the study, they gave rats tap water, flat water, ordinary soda and diet sugar-free soda. The scientists, who published their study in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, found that when they gave rats fizzy drinks over water they gained weight at a faster rate. This weight gain was because the rat's levels of the hormone that controls hunger, called ghrelin, was elevated.

The researchers then looked at 20 young men to see if the same findings as they found in the rats could apply. They found that the men also had higher levels of the ghrelin hormone. The scientists suggested that these results "implicate a major role for carbon dioxide gas in soft drinks in inducing weight gain and the onset of obesity".

Even though the study didn't test for the effect of fizzy water it has been assumed that because the scientists found it was the gas in the drinks, as opposed to the sugar, making the rats fat – the same could be applied to fizzy water.

How does it work?

The thing is sparkling water contains zero calories, so it is surely highly unlikely it can make you gain weight and lead to obesity.

The author of the study, Professor Stiban, has also actually been quoted as saying his findings were not properly reported in the media – a large amount of headlines said: Fizzy water could make you fat.

"In the media, our findings were not represented accurately," he told the European Federation of Bottled Waters. "We note that in our human tests, sparkling water and other carbonated drinks beverages induced more ghrelin release in the subjects, however, we did not measure obesity or any other aspect pertaining humans. Our study was mainly focused on soft drinks and intertwined roles of carbon dioxide and sugar content in the obesity of rats."

The NHS also point out that this study was only tested in rats and then a very small sample of men – meaning we can't really generalise to all men, let alone women. They also did not examine other unhealthy lifestyle factors which could have led to weight gain. For instance, they say people who drink lots of fizzy drinks might also have an unhealthier general diet and exercise less.

Duane Mellor, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, also looked at the findings for us and said: "We have no evidence in humans so far that fizzy water leads to weight gain as short term effects on a hormone linked to hunger in young adults cannot be stretched to weight gain."

Similarly, Laura Southern, a nutritional therapist at London Food Therapy, says we should start worrying about fizzy sugary drinks much more rather than fizzy water.

"This was a very small study, and we know, from numerous research that it's the sugar and the sweeteners in fizzy drinks [which] are so detrimental to health," she told Cosmopolitan UK.

"Therefore, I would advise limiting fizzy drinks which contain sweeteners and sugar, but not worrying too much about the risks to weight gain of fizzy water."

Photo credit: Elena Pejchinova / Rex Features
Photo credit: Elena Pejchinova / Rex Features

She also adds that for people trying to limit the amount of sugary or sweetened drinks they are having, fizzy water might be a good place to start.

And we definitely shouldn't stop drinking water…

Dr Emma Derbyshire, an advisor to the National Hydration Council, told us we should be drinking approximately two litres of fluid per day. This fluid can come from both food and drinks "including water (still or sparkling), tea, coffee and juices". The council says that 70-80% of the water we consume should be from drinks and 20-30% food.

"Plain water, whether naturally sourced still, sparkling or tap is the healthiest way to hydrate and many of us don't drink enough," she said.

Tom Oliver, a personal trainer and nutritionist, also says that fizzy water isn't any less hydrating than normal water.

"The body is made up of around 60% water and we are constantly losing water by sweat or urine, I would recommend drinking 1.5L a day of still or sparkling water for optimum hydration," he says. Mmm sweat and urine.

He adds that while filtered water will always be the healthier option, "saying fizzy water is a bad option is not correct". Well, that's that then.

Nutritionist Karen Newby also says that, out of everything, her main aim with clients is for them to drink water. So sometimes, if her patients are reluctant to drink enough water, she's happy for them to start with fizzy and gradually introduce tap water.

It actually could be good for your bones

Southern says that there are several health benefits of sparkling water. A study published in 2005 found that, in postmenopausal women, they retained higher levels of calcium after drinking one litre of sparkling water every day.

It could also help with constipation and other digestive issues:

Another study from 2002 found that drinking carbonated water successfully improved indigestion, constipation and gallbladder emptying in patients who had complained about suffering with these issues.

A 2011 study into elderly, stroke patients, who were suffering from constipation, found that they managed to go to the toilet easier (sorry if you're reading this over dinner) and their constipation was reduced after drinking fizzy water.

But be wary if you've got IBS

If you have irritable bowel syndrome, a common condition where sufferers are plagued with cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, nutritional expert Angelique Panagos says fizzy water – and fizzy anything for that matter – could make you feel more bloated.

"Some studies have shown positive effects on digestion and ease symptoms of constipation," she says. "However, people may feel that it can cause bloating, after all there are a lot of bubbles. If you are prone to bloating or suffer from IBS I would recommend that you avoid drinking sparkling water in large quantities."

A report on IBS by Kings College Hospital in London supported this by also recommending avoiding fizzy drinks – including sparkling water – because consuming it can make your problems worse, especially when it comes to bloating.

Also, don't drink too much of the stuff

Panagos says even if you don't have IBS, don't down gallons of fizzy water especially around meal times as it can reduce stomach acid.

Fizzy water also contains sodium (salt). This can be good if you're especially dehydrated but again not in really large quantities.

According to a spokesperson from the National Hydration Council: "The amount of sodium in sparkling water will vary from brand to brand depending on the geology of the land that they come from as the minerals are naturally occurring. The amount of sodium there is in bottled water will be listed on the label."

There is one thing that fizzy water might not be great for…

Mellor says one of the biggest health risks with fizzy water is that the carbonic acid can erode your teeth and wear away the surface enamel.

"Enjoy fizzy water in moderation ideally with a meal," he advises. "But tap water is cheaper and may be better for your teeth."

However, it's also worth noting that it is meant to be 100 times kinder to teeth than sugary carbonated drinks.

All in all, the experts are pretty unified in thinking that fizzy water can't directly lead to weight gain. After all, the drink literally contains zero calories. SO basically, carry on drinking water – which is so important to our health – and don't go overboard on the fizzy, sugary or sweetened drinks. Simple.

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