Investigating everyone’s favorite sparkling beverage.
Welcome to the Glad You Asked series, a shame-free zone where we tackle topics you’re too embarrassed to ask even your BFF about. Don’t worry, we gotchu.
Everyone knows you should drink eight glasses of water every day. Everyone also knows LaCroix is sweet, sweet nectar sent to grocery store shelves by the beverage gods. But what we don’t know is if drinking LaCroix gets us any closer to that eight-glasses goal.
So on behalf of every LaCroix-guzzling millennial, I took it upon myself to find out once and for all: Does LaCroix really count as water?
I started my investigation where any tech startup employee’s work begins: the LaCroix fridge.
After I had one to drink (Pamplemousse) and one to study (Lemon), I got down to the nutrition facts.
LaCroix has zero grams of sugar, zero grams of sodium and zero calories. In fact, it only has two ingredients: carbonated water and “natural flavor.”
Registered dietitian Erin Palinski tells Glamour that despite the bubbles, sparkling water absolutely counts toward your water intake.
“Sparkling water contains no calories/sugar and is caffeine-free, making it a great way to hydrate,” she says.
*PHEW* So at least the six cans stacked on my desk count for something. But is it…healthy? Take another gulp and we’ll dive deeper, examining each ingredient.
First, carbonated water
To make water fizz, distributors pressurize carbon dioxide gas and dissolve it into water. This is the basis of all confusingly similar beverages like seltzer water, sparkling water, club soda and soda water.
But no matter what the label says, all of these beverages contain carbonic acid, which can wear down tooth enamel.
This is true for all carbonated beverages, but the severity of degradation depends on the pH of the beverage in question. So what’s the pH of LaCroix? According to its website:
“The pH level of LaCroix varies by flavor and is less acidic than traditional soft drinks, 100% juice and juice drinks, and other typical beverages without the calories!”
That explanation isn’t particularly helpful, but knowing that LaCroix’s pH levels are less damaging than soda is encouraging.
But what about that “natural flavor”?
To once again quote the LaCroix website:
“The flavors are derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit used in each of our LaCroix flavors. There are no sugars or artificial ingredients contained in, nor added to, these extracted flavors.”
So that settles it, right? Not really. According to the FDA, a natural flavor is any flavor derived from a plant or animal source, as long as it’s intended for flavoring rather than nutritional value. All flavors, artificial or natural, are chemical compounds mixed meticulously to create the flavoring consumers love. But during this mixing process, companies often use “incidental additives.” These artificial ingredients often act as preservatives or help natural flavor blend well with other ingredients. But since they’re used in such small amounts, the FDA doesn’t require companies to declare them.
It’s worth noting that just because an ingredient is artificially created doesn’t mean it is necessarily harmful. But it does mean that you don’t know exactly what ingredients it contains. David Andrews, a chemist at the Environmental Working Group, tells WIRED, “You see ‘natural flavor’ on a label and it’s really a black box of secrecy in terms of what’s being added to that product.” Sure, LaCroix says their natural flavor doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients, but it’s also not legally required to say if it does, so we have to take their statement at face value.
But no matter what additives make LaCroix so damn addicting, at least you can chug knowing you’re getting to your daily hydration goal one sip at a time.