You Love Sparkling Water. Your Sensitive Stomach? Not So Much


If youโ€™re one of the estimated 25 to 45 million people in the United States dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)โ€”two in three of whom are femaleโ€”youโ€™re likely game to make a few tiny tweaks to alleviate your worst symptoms. Maybe youโ€™re not at the stage for a full-blown elimination diet and instead are privy to potential dietary triggers that cause flare-ups. Some foods and drinks are commonly associated with IBS symptoms like gas and bloating (including quite tragically, my beloved caffeine-rich coffee and sulfurous foods like onions and cabbage). Others may be akin to a sheep in wolfโ€™s clothing, secretly contributing to your digestive discomfortโ€”and one such item may be none other than sparkling water.

Ahead, discover the connection between sparkling water and digestive distress, as explained by Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RDN, of East Coast Health in Brooklyn, NY. Plus: creative ways to keep sparkling water in your diet but minimize any unfriendly impact.

Does sparkling water cause IBS and digestive issues?

โ€œThere is some evidence to suggest that drinking sparkling water is associated with some types of IBS,โ€ says Pasquariello. For instance, a 2012 study in the journal BMC Gastroenterology notes that a higher intake of carbonated beverages was associated with diarrhea-predominant IBS (aka IBS-D). However, that doesnโ€™t mean that your bubbly bevs are actually causing your flare-ups. It remains unclear what exactly causes IBS to begin with, but contributing factors may include nervous system dysregulation, gut imbalances, stress, infections, and the strength of muscle contractions in the intestinal walls.

โ€œIt’s highly unlikely that sparkling drinks could cause IBS or other GI conditions; but the reason that some feel their GI symptoms are exacerbated when they drink sparkling water comes down primarily to bloating and gas,โ€ says Pasquariello. These two symptoms are common for people dealing with IBS, as well as those who have mild digestive sensitivities every so often. โ€œAnything that exacerbates these symptoms isn’t going to make your overarching distress any better,โ€ the dietitian continues. โ€œPlus, when your bloating and gas symptoms worsen, it can trigger anxiety around your condition as a whole, which as we know also impacts digestion.โ€

โ€œIt’s highly unlikely that sparkling drinks could cause IBS or other GI conditions; but the reason that some feel their GI symptoms are exacerbated when they drink sparkling water comes down primarily to bloating and gas,โ€ says Pasquariello.

Simply put, sparkling water might exacerbate digestive issues (including IBS), but itโ€™s not inevitable. If you drink sparkling water often, itโ€™s best to keep tabs on if and how your sips are contributing to any symptoms. A food diary will come in handy to notice patterns and will help you decide if itโ€™s best to reduce your intake.

However, as Kirsten Jackson, RD, previously told Well+Good, itโ€™s ideal to lay off the bubbly when youโ€™re anticipating (or in the midst of) an IBS flare-up, even if you can typically tolerate sparkling water just fine. โ€œIn these situations, the body can go into a fight-or-flight mode, meaning that the gut is more sensitive. So it makes sense to avoid all common IBS triggers during this time,โ€ she explained.

Itโ€™s ideal to lay off the bubbly when youโ€™re anticipating (or in the midst of) an IBS flare-up, even if you can typically tolerate sparkling water just fine. โ€œIn these situations, the body can go into a fight-or-flight mode, meaning that the gut is more sensitive. So it makes sense to avoid all common IBS triggers during this time.” โ€”Kirsten Jackson, RD

How to make your sparkling water habit more stomach-friendly

I know, I know: It can definitely be easier said than done to put the kibosh on sparkling water if you find it oh-so-palatable (or for some, borderline addictive). If itโ€™s regularly in your hydration rotation and you canโ€™t bear to part with it completelyโ€”bloating and gas, be damnedโ€”Pasquariello offers a few parting tips so you can still enjoy sparkling water in moderation without triggering excess distress.

1. Prioritize water

โ€œMaintaining proper hydration is so important for those with digestive issues. Drinking enough water ensures we can absorb the nutrients from our food, softens our digested food to help prevent constipation, and prevents cramps and abdominal pain,โ€ Pasquariello shares.

That said, she reminds us that flat water and sparkling water alike count towards our hydration needs. If youโ€™re not sipping enough throughout the day, your digestive system is likely to let you know in some undesired ways. โ€œAnd keep in mind that sparkling water is still typically less acidic than something like soda or fruit juice (including orange juice and tomato juice), so it’s a better option,โ€ she adds.

2. Mix flat and sparkling water

Of course, if your hydration game is on point and you do discover that sparkling water may trigger bloating or gas, itโ€™s important to make necessary adjustments. But if you simply canโ€™t quit popping open a chilled can of sparkling water, Pasquariello suggests finding creative ways to reduce your intake and thus its impact.

โ€œA few things you can do are combine carbonated water with still waterโ€”thus lessening the overall concentration of carbonation by โ€˜flatteningโ€™ the water a bitโ€”or swapping every other cup of carbonated water for still water,โ€ she shares. If you find plain old H2O too plain for your liking, she recommends infusing your water for peak flavor and fun. (IMO, you canโ€™t go wrong with cucumber, lemon, and mintโ€”or fresh berries with basil or rosemary.)

Note: If your tummy is super sensitive, youโ€™ll probably want to bypass citrus fruits. โ€œAdding something like lemon or orange juice will make your water significantly more acidic, and diluting acidity can be helpful,โ€ Pasquariello notes.

3. Opt for less acidic sparkling water

On the topic of acidity, your sensitive stomach may fare better with less acidic varieties of sparkling water from different brands, which can also vary by flavor. (Bonus: Minimizing your intake of highly acidic drinks is also smart to stave off erosion of tooth enamel.) โ€œThere are some handy charts online comparing the pH levels for different brands,โ€ Pasquariello says. โ€œIf you notice distress with certain beverages or brands, it’s usually best to take some time off from them so that you can assess if that’s the exacerbating factor, or if it might be another part of your diet or lifestyle,โ€ she concludes.





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