Is Your LaCroix Obsession Healthy?
Is LaCroix bad for you? Sparkling waters have faced some controversy but they don't deserve all the shade. Here's a look at whether you should be cracking open a can.
But if you find yourself downing case after case of coconut or lime LaCroix—only to have a friend or Instagram DM doubt the healthfulness of your beverage—you might be wondering: Is LaCroix bad for you?
Here's a look at the science and what's really in your La Croix.
LaCroix vs. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Let's get one thing clear: LaCroix is absolutely healthier than soda or sugar-sweetened beverages like iced tea and lemonade. In fact, the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee published in July 2020 found data that nearly 70 percent of added sugars come from five food categories—one of those being, yep, sweetened beverages. The committee's report stressed that "adverse effects of added sugar, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, may contribute to unhealthy weight gain and obesity-related outcomes." The committee recommended reducing the amount of added sugars in the diet from the current recommendation of 10 percent of total calories down to 6 percent of total calories. (For example, reducing 200 calories to 120 calories in a 2,000-calorie diet.)
According to the LaCroix website, there are no sugars, sweeteners, or artificial ingredients contained in their beverages. As such, it is a zero-sugar beverage. It's a tasty choice if you want to swap out your soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage for a LaCroix to cut back on added sugar. (The same can be said for any sparkling water or seltzer that doesn't have any kind of added sweetener.) So, if you're wondering whether LaCroix is bad for you, but you're choosing between that and soda or juice, you should def choose the sparkling water.
Not to mention, LaCroix and other sparkling waters totally count toward your hydration for the day—and staying hydrated is one of the simplest healthy things you can do for yourself, according to Taylor C. Wallace, Ph.D., C.F.S, F.A.C.N., CEO at Think Healthy Group, certified food scientist, and professor in the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University. In fact, a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that both sparkling and still water offered approximately the same hydration benefit.
LaCroix's Natural Flavoring
The ingredients listed on the LaCroix can read: "only carbonated water, naturally essenced (non-GMO)." The LaCroix website further explains that their natural flavors are derived from natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit used in each of the LaCroix flavors. In other words, the "natural flavors" added come from the natural oils in tangerines, apricots, mango, and all the other flavors of LaCroix.
That said, there's no way to know 100 percent exactly what's being used to create each flavor of LaCroix since the full ingredients aren't disclosed. The term "natural flavor" or "natural flavoring" is defined as a product that "contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional," according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, there are a lot of possibilities in what they could use to flavor the drinks.
Some folks may be concerned that the intense flavors in LaCroix can make you crave the product and expect flavor of a similar magnitude every time you grab a drink—meaning, after drinking tons of those Pamplemousse-flavored bubbly waters, it might seem that normal water just won't cut it anymore. That's a valid concern. However according to Wallace, "there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to suggest that natural or artificial flavors make you crave more, like when your sugar rush subsides." If you do find yourself becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the natural flavors of fresh fruit or regular water, it might be worth looking at your consumption of flavored beverages like LaCroix and reevaluating your hydration habits.
What About the Carbonation?
Some research suggests that carbonated beverages may cause tooth enamel to wear away. However, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), sparkling water is generally fine for your teeth. One study that looked at the effect of regular water and sparkling water on tooth enamel found that both had the same effect, according to the ADA.
Some background: Dental erosion is can happen in acidic (lower pH) environments. It's true that carbonated water is slightly more acidic than regular water, but it has a higher (read: safer) pH than most sugary drinks. In a 2016 report on the pH of beverages in the U.S., the ADA reported that bottled waters and one municipal water source had pHs between 5 and 7, and Perrier carbonated mineral water had a pH of 5.25—all labeled as minimally erosive to enamel (they didn't test LaCroix specifically). That's compared to sodas and juices, many of which presented pH levels between 2 and 3 (much more acidic than even carbonated water) and are labeled as erosive or extremely erosive. (See: ACV Might Be Ruining Your Teeth)
That said, if the sparkling water is citrus-flavored, then it can have higher acidity levels and increase the risk of damage to your enamel. Even so, the ADA maintains that it's "far better for your teeth than sugary drinks." They recommend that if you do plan to enjoy a citrus-flavored sparkling beverage to do so in one sitting or with meals, so that way you aren't sipping it throughout the day and exposing teeth over and over again to the slightly higher levels of acid it contains.
What about carbonation and weight gain? One study published in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice found that rats that had carbonated drinks ate more and gained more weight over a six-month period than those that drank flat drinks or plain water. Those rats also had more of the appetite-increasing hormone ghrelin, which signals your body to eat more, which can explain the weight gain. In the same study, they report that in a parallel study done on 20 healthy men, the levels of ghrelin hormone were increased upon drinking carbonated beverages compared to controls. That said, researchers argue that the relationship between ghrelin and food intake and weight gain is complex and that (like many things in the scientific community) there's still a lot we don't know.
Alternatively, sparkling water may actually help with weight loss, as research shows that carbon dioxide can help suppress appetite by increasing the feeling of fullness. And on that note, it's important to know that drinking carbonated beverages may also lead to bloating, since they can cause gas buildup in your digestive system, as Mike Roussell, Ph.D. previously wrote in Shape.
For now, there really isn't enough evidence to make a solid statement as to whether sparkling water may lead to weight gain or weight loss, but it can certainly help replace sugar-sweetened beverages in the diet.
How About BPA?
BPA (bisphenol-A) is a synthetic compound found in many plastics, such as in water bottles and food containers and in the lining of cans. BPA-based plastics are used to line food and drink cans to protect against metal contamination, but these endocrine disruptors bring on a host of health problems on their own—especially because some studies show that BPA can seep from packaging into food and drinks. BPA is thought to be similar to estrogen and may have the ability to disrupt the function of other hormones in the body, and possibly negatively impact the brain.
That being said, the research on the dangers of BPA is mixed. In November 2014, the FDA conducted a safety assessment of BPA and stated that the levels currently occurring in food and canned beverages are perfectly safe. Whereas the state of California, for example, includes BPA in its Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals that are "known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm."
The good news: you likely don't need to worry about BPA in your LaCroix anymore. According to the brand's website, as of April 2019, all their beverages are now produced in cans without BPA liners. If you're drinking other brands of seltzers or sparkling waters, it might be worth double-checking the status of their cans (or opting for glass) if you're concerned about BPA.
The Bottom Line
So is LaCroix bad for you? It can definitely be part of your healthy eating plan, and when compared to other beverages, comes out pretty clean.
But in terms of how much LaCroix is too much? It's not a black and white answer of bad or good—you should be looking at the totality of your diet and drink habit as a whole. Then, if you do choose to drink LaCroix, it's probably a good idea to max out at one or two cans a day—because, when in doubt, keeping things in moderation is always a good choice.