You can get sparkling water in every flavor under the sun. If you’re careful, the calories are low and so is the sugar. Here’s how to make it even healthier—try sparkling mineral water. Make the right choice, and you’ll be doing your bones and your heart a solid—even if it’s a liquid.
WHAT IS MINERAL WATER?
“Mineral water” is not club soda or seltzer or tap water or spring water that’s had minerals added by a manufacturer. To qualify for the name, the FDA requires a water to contain at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids (read: minerals) from a source “tapped at one or more boreholes or springs, originating from a geologically and physically protected underground water source.” Those minerals (“solids”) must be naturally occurring, meaning the manufacturer can’t add them. While flat (still) mineral waters are common in Europe, in the US, most mineral waters are carbonated, either naturally or with CO2 added or both. (Yes, it’s legit for bottlers to add a little fizz to mineral water.)
We call these “sparkling” mineral waters. And they can be really good for you.
Mineral waters can be quite nutritious. One reason: Our gastrointestinal tracts have an easier time absorbing minerals when they’re dissolved in water, which could make mineral waters a particularly helpful way to supplement. (In one small Italian study, for example, calcium in a sparkling mineral water was absorbed even more efficiently than the calcium in milk.)
Two key beneficial nutrients in these bubbly waters are calcium and magnesium…
• Calcium is needed for strong bones, muscle functions and healthy hearts. Adult daily requirement: 1,000 milligrams (mg) to 1,200 mg.
• Magnesium is key for nerve and muscle function and blood pressure regulation. Adult requirement: 310 mg to 410 mg a day.
Most of us don’t get enough calcium and magnesium in our diets, putting us at risk for osteoporosis and high blood pressure, in addition to muscle cramps, says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University. The other mineral often found in these waters is sodium, she adds, and most of us get much more than we need. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the general population consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, and some groups call for an even lower 1,500 mg. Instead, we average 3,400 mg.
The key, then, to picking a helpful mineral water is finding a brand with a good dose of calcium and magnesium and only a smidgeon of sodium. It’s easy to do—read the labels. (When reading labels, keep in mind that some list minerals by the liter, others by the cup.) Mineral waters from Europe tend to have more minerals than US-sourced brands. Here’s a sparkling sampling…
• Gerolsteiner, from Germany, is a little hard to find, but each liter contains an extraordinary 348 mg of calcium and 108 mg of magnesium—about one-third of the daily requirement for each mineral. It also contains 118 mg of sodium, so it’s not the best choice if you’re sticking to a very-low-sodium diet.
• San Pellegrino, from Italy, is a good choice that’s widely available. (Indeed, one of every nine bottles of sparkling mineral water sold in the US is Pellegrino!) One liter (a little over four cups) contains about 180 mg of calcium and 52 mg of magnesium (in the neighborhood of 15% of the daily requirements for these minerals), and just 33 mg of sodium.
Lower in minerals but still healthy:
• Perrier, from France, is very low in sodium (14 mg per liter) but offers less calcium (145 mg) and essentially no magnesium (4 mg). (Evian, a popular still water also from France, is also low in sodium, calcium and magnesium.)
• Mountain Valley Sparkling Water from Arkansas has, per liter, 68 mg of calcium, which is a modest amount, a mere 8 mg of magnesium…but only 3 mg of sodium, which is good.
Watch out for this one:
• Spain’s Vichy Catalan sparkling mineral water contains very little calcium (33 mg/liter) and magnesium (8 mg/liter) and is loaded with salt—1,133 mg per liter!
Mineral water can be costly, so you may want to drink it instead of tap water only part of the time—or even better, drink it instead of soft drinks. Don’t worry about rumors that carbonated drinks are bad for your bones, either—that’s true of sugar-laden soda, not carbonated water, research finds.
Your choice amongst brands also comes down to taste. You may prefer lower-mineral waters, which have a sweeter, more neutral taste. You won’t be taking in as much calcium and magnesium, but if you drink these instead of sugar-containing soft drinks, sweetened ice tea or even fruit juices, you’re still way ahead of the game.