Cans and bottles of carbonated water have become ubiquitous in grocery aisles, restaurants, refrigerators, and even in the hands of children. Available in a rainbow of fruit and other flavors, many people enjoy these sparkling beverages as a calorie-free alternative to sugar-sweetened sodas.
However, many parents wonder if drinking carbonated beverages is recommended for kids. Some people worry that carbonation may not be good for their kids’ teeth, digestion, or nutrition. Other parents gravitate to these drinks to give their children an option for a refreshing, bubbly beverage without the sugar, caffeine, or chemicals common in soda.
Carbonated water can be part of a healthy diet for children—particularly when compared to drinking sugary soda—but less is definitely more, says Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, a pediatric dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Learn more about whether these sparkly beverages are a good choice for your kids.
What Is Carbonated Water?
Generally, carbonated water is water with bubbles. This drink goes by many names, including soda, seltzer, bubbly water, bubble water, fizzy water, and water with gas. It can be purchased in bottles or cans or made at home with a seltzer machine, which is also called a soda maker.
Different carbonated waters have more or less effervescence. They may be plain or infused with a variety of flavorings, salt (sodium), and/or other minerals. Some bubbly water products also have caffeine or other energy- or nutrition-boosting ingredients added to them.
Is Carbonated Water Good for Kids?
Generally, drinking carbonated water has both benefits and drawbacks. The negatives of these drinks may be amplified for little kids, particularly when consumed in large quantities. As a result, many doctors, nutritionists, and dentists recommend avoiding these drinks altogether—or limiting them to an occasional indulgence.
The main plus of carbonated water is really about what it isn’t—a sugary beverage. Sparkling water offers the enjoyment of an effervescent, soda-like drink without the sugar and calories.
This fact matters because sugary drinks, including soda, juice, and sports beverages, are a big driver of the growing obesity epidemic among children. In this context, replacing a sugary beverage with carbonated water can be considered a win.
Impact on Nutrition
Overall, replacing sweetened carbonated beverages, like soda, with unsweetened carbonated water is an improved choice, says Reed. But, remember that sparkling water doesn’t offer nutritional benefits on its own.
A huge potential drawback of serving these drinks to kids is the risk that they will consume them in place of healthier options, such as milk, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
If young children are given carbonated water in place of still water, they also may not develop a taste for plain water, which is important for healthy hydration, warns Dr. Shenkin. Additionally, some carbonated waters are high in sodium.
“If a child drinks large amounts of carbonated water, parents should choose the one with the least amount of sodium,” recommends Reed.
Remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) emphasizes the importance of encouraging kids to choose plain water when thirsty. Ideally, 1- to 3-year-olds should drink 4 cups of water or milk daily, 4- to 8-year-olds need 5 cups daily, and older children require 7 to 8 cups daily.
Impact on Teeth and Bones
Carbonated water is slightly acidic, so overconsumption can leach calcium and lead to bone loss, affecting both the bones and teeth.
This impact can be mitigated by choosing unflavored options, as flavorings like citrus often add even greater acidity, says Dr. Jean Beauchamp, a pediatric dentist in Clarksville, Tennessee, and president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).
“If your child is going to drink flavored carbonated water,” says Dr. Beauchamp, “do it at a meal, as the acidity will get diluted with the food they’re eating.” Additionally, many commercially available beverages, such as sports drinks, also are acidic and potentially harmful to the teeth.
Impact on Digestion
Drinking carbonated beverages can have mixed results on digestion. In some cases, it can settle an upset stomach, and there are even some small studies that have shown carbonated water can help relieve constipation.4 But drinking carbonated water in excess can cause tummy upset, especially in young children.
Additionally, if your child has food allergies look into the source of any flavoring, advises Reed. Often ingredients will be listed on the food label.
But if you’re unsure whether the drink is safe for your food-allergic child, call the company for specific information before giving it to your child.
Opinions are mixed on age and quantity restrictions. But the clear message from experts is to err on limiting intake and holding off on introducing these drinks when possible.
“I find that the longer you hold off on carbonated drinks, the better, as then kids don’t get used to them and later want more unhealthy carbonated drinks,” says Tanya Altmann, MD, a pediatrician who practices in Calabasas, California. “Small sips are fine if a parent really wants [but] many toddlers and young kids think it tastes spicy and don’t even like it.”
Reed recommends that parents “treat carbonated water similar to that of fruit juice” when deciding on appropriate quantities rather than thinking of it as a replacement for water.
“Depending upon age, a child may have 4 to 8 ounces per day,” she says. However, be mindful that many bubble water products contain 12 ounces or more.