With the advent of low-calorie drinks and diet sodas, it can be tempting to substitute a bubbly beverage for plain old water. But does a drink’s calorie count tell the whole story?
We’ve all heard that drinking lots of water is good—whether you’re looking to drop a few pounds or not. In fact, according to Medical News Today, water is what keeps us going: “To function properly, all the cells and organs of the body need water. It is also used to lubricate the joints, protect the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, regulate body temperature, and assist the passage of food through the intestines.” Just like a car needs gas and oil changes in order to run smoothly, the human body needs water. However, it’s important to note that some of our water intake comes from other foods and liquids that we consume, and not just from plain water.
As an added bonus to keeping us alive, water can also boost metabolism and even aid with weight loss. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that drinking “500 ml water increased energy expenditure by 24% over the course of 60 minutes after ingestion.” In other words, consuming just 16 ounces of pure water helped subjects burn significantly more calories than they would normally burn while sitting still.
It could be tempting to believe that any zero or low-calorie beverage will provide the same effects. However, the very same study found that subjects who consumed 500 ml of isosmotic saline—or salt water—did not have any noticeable increase in energy expenditure. And when you consider that diet and zero-calorie sodas contain even more salt than isosmotic saline, it’s no surprise that they don’t produce the same calorie-burning results as water. Plus, with all of that salt and carbonation, you’re faced with the potential for increased water retention and bloating that could be avoided by drinking pure water instead.
Additionally, aspartame, the sweetener used to replace sugar in many low and zero-calorie drinks may actually cause weight gain. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital, aspartame interferes with intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP), an enzyme that normally helps prevent obesity by keeping your metabolism functioning properly. In the study, mice that were fed water with a dose of aspartame not only gained more weight than mice drinking regular water, but were found to have higher blood sugar levels as well.
And if that’s not enough, artificial sweeteners may cause sugar cravings that lead to increased sugar intake throughout the day. According to a review of research published by Harvard, “the human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories.
But what about seltzers? With zero calories and only two ingredients, seltzers like La Croix and Schweppes may seem like the perfect option for those not quite willing to give up soda, but who don’t want to fill their bodies with chemicals. Unfortunately, according to a recent article on Healthline titled, “Science Is Coming After Our Precious La Croix with Accusations of Weight Gain,” seltzer may not be the guilt-free goodie we believe it to be. The article refers to a study, published by Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, which found that consuming gaseous beverages led to weight gain in rats and an increase in ghrelin—a hormone that regulates hunger—in humans. Because carbonated beverages impair your ability to recognize when you’re full, they may cause you to overeat and gain weight.
But don’t panic. If you absolutely can’t stand the flavor of water—or lack thereof—there is hope. Instead of purchasing a flavored, low-calorie beverage, you can try infusing your water with natural substitutes like strawberries, lemons, and cucumbers.
In the end, if you’re looking to stay hydrated, lose weight, and keep your calorie count low, your best bet is to stick with good old H2O.