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May 31, 2017

Infrequently Asked Questions: What's the difference between club soda, seltzer and all the rest?

Plus, what's going on with those Bai waters?

Perhaps you've been taunted at Acme by the army of seltzers and tonics in the beverage aisle, or lured in at Wawa by the ever-popular (and recently Dr. Pepper-purchased) fruity bubbles of Bai water.

But what's the difference between them all? They all boast one essential ingredient, after all: water. 

RELATED: You'll never drink diet soda again after reading this

Eager for an answer, we reached out to Emily Rubin, a registered dietician with Jefferson Health's Gastroenterology and Hepatology division.

What is the difference between seltzer water, tonic, mineral water and sparkling water? They blend together at the grocery store.

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Right, so seltzer basically is just water that's been carbonated. No sodium, calories or sugar – nothing in it, they take regular water and carbonate it. 

Sparkling water is similar, but sometimes they add a flavoring to it. Basically, it has carbon dioxide that they add to it and it just makes it sparkling, and sometimes they add – so, the LaCroix is a sparkling water. There's Ice, and Sam's Club and Walgreen's have their own – they add a bit of flavoring and might have a small percentage of artificial sweetener in them, but there's no sodium, or calories or sugar in it. 

The mineral water comes from minerals in the ground. Fancier ones, like Perrier, have low sodium. Some have small percentages of calcium – maybe 7 percent, which is a quarter a glass of milk, to give you an idea of what it contains. Tonic is also carbonated, but they add sugar to it. Diet tonic has no calories, while regular tonic has about 130 calories in a 12-ounce glass; it's almost equivalent to a Pepsi, which might be 150 calories – a little fewer calories. And it has corn syrup in it.

Some of the waters advertise fruit flavors and seemingly accomplish these complicated flavors without adding anything, if you look at the labels. How does that work?

LaCroix – the ingredients are carbonated water and natural flavoring. Zero of everything. I don't know what they're advertising there – essential oils or something. But looking at an FDA-regulated label, it has two ingredients in it and no nutritional anything. Zero calories, sodium, fat, carbs, protein.

That's the mystery.

Exactly. I don't know if there's natural flavoring – natural grapefruit, natural cherry, etc. But it's just a flavoring that doesn't add any nutritional benefit.

And the Bai water? That's popular lately and advertises as antioxidant-heavy. But it looks like they just throw in some tea extract and some Vitamin C and call it a day.

Exactly. So, the Bai – which is very popular and expensive – with that one they add a little Vitamin C to it, about 25 percent, or the equivalent to a quarter of an orange. It's a small percentage. They also add sugar alcohol – Erythritol. Sugar alcohol.

That's a more slowly digesting carb that bypasses digestion, but [the sugar alcohol] can cause digestive discomfort with bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea. But this particular sugar alcohol isn't the same as what's put in sugar-free gum or candy.

Still, people with sensitive stomachs – it has 7 grams per can, which is a lot. Usually with sugar alcohol, about 10 grams bothers the stomach. With this one, they say it's about 20. People with GI issues, it may bother them – especially if they have more than one [Bai water].

The other thing is "natural caffeine," and that's always a red flag in my world. Caffeine, when added to a product, people may digest that differently than something like coffee. They might, for example, get heart palpitations. It's a very small amount ... this is 45 mg, but it's the whole idea that it's caffeine added to a beverage where it's not naturally found. It's nature's caffeine – whatever that means.

What does the coffeefruit do in the Bai label?

That's part of coffeefruit extract, an extract that's supposed to be "anti-inflammatory" or "antioxidant." That's 70 mg of extract. If you took that in pill form, it would be much worse. Taking it in a liquid, there are fewer side effects. But again, you don't know enough about all these added extracts, minerals, herbs.

What's the verdict on Bai?

The deal with all these: A) It's really hard to tell patients to drink 8 cups of water when someone says "I can't stand water." And obviously, you don't want to push diet beverages because they have artificial sweeteners – the benefit of a lot of these beverages is the artificial sweetener is next to nothing or a small percentage, compared to diet soda. That's a positive. These are all good substitutions for drinking diet soda. That's a benefit. You can drink this beverage, I just wouldn't drink six a day. One or two, max. The other thing is with carbonated beverages: Two things: carbonation can agitate people who have heartburn, and sometimes too much carbonation can be a little bubbly and cause you to bloat. But that's only with people who have GI discomfort.

So maybe the idea there is to even be more conscious even with other alternatives, like the club sodas and such, and not just look at what's in the nutrition label. If you're prone to discomfort from carbonation.

Some of those things could aggravate you if you're symptomatic to carbonated beverages. It's not just soda, but anything that's carbonated. If you find you have reflux and get a whole lot of symptoms from drinking all these beverages, they're not the best option. If you have reflux or bloating, instead of drinking it right away, let it sit for a little while open, and then the bubbles go down a bit. Some of the carbonation goes away. And using a straw with carbonated beverages can cause more gas and bloating.

The trend here seems to be that people are trying to kill two birds with one stone trying to drink water and get nutrients. I guess because people think they need to drink water anyway. Is there something faulty about that logic? Can you get those nutrients?

None of these beverages have any amount of nutrients that meet your recommended daily allowances. There's not enough. Four or five of those Bai drinks, maybe, but they have so much other stuff in them that I wouldn't recommend that. All these will do is fill your recommendation of water. It gives you a substitution for water with a little carbonation and flavoring.

And mineral waters, are they the same thing as Pellegrino and Topo Chico?


And the other thing is people spend a lot of money on them because they're made from minerals from the ground. And most people don't drink tonic water; they figure club soda and seltzer will be similar and seltzer has a little less of a salty taste. A lot of it is based on flavor as well. I think LaCroix has a little less – compared to Sam's Club or Walgreen's, there's a little more of an aspartame [taste to those], whereas LaCroix and Seagram's are just carbonated water and natural flavoring.

People who don't want any artificial sweeteners, then LaCroix might be the best one, or Seagram's. If you want more taste, it's the Bai water. Or the other one is the Ice one – they add B12 to that one. You get such a small percentage, though. You won't get very much unless you drink a whole lot of it. And if you eat one small orange you'll get more Vitamin C than with this one Bai drink.