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Whether you get fix via store-bought cans or a DIY SodaStream, there's no denying that sparkling water makes hydrating a little bit more fun. For the most part, that's great news: Most flavored seltzers are made without sweeteners (real or artificial) and naturally contain zero calories, so they're a great swap for soda when you're craving bubbles. But, do these bubbles cause inconvenient side effects like belching or bloating? We asked a gastroenterologist to explain why this might happen, and what you can do it avoid it.
Sparkling water contains gas, which you swallow when you drink it.
In a nutshell, sparkling water is water (a liquid) plus carbon dioxide (a gas), combined under pressure. "When we swallow seltzer, we also swallow carbon dioxide," says Aja McCutchen, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist with Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates. "This carbon dioxide is mainly going to be belched before it gets to our stomach." Belching, she explains, is any instance where you emit gas noisily from the stomach or esophagus through the mouth—in other words, a burp or something similar.
If that gas sticks around in your stomach, it might cause temporary bloating.
Once gas enters your stomach, McCutchen explains, one of three things can happen: It can be belched out, head to the small intestine where it will be absorbed into your bloodstream or it can stick around in your stomach and cause bloating. (FYI, McCutchen defines bloating as the "sensation of gassiness or distention of the abdomen or stomach.")
To be clear, occasional bloating isn't a big deal—it's temporary and doesn't have any long- or short-term health consequences. "The data says 15 to 30 percent of normal people will regularly experience bloating. It's natural," McCutchen says. But, it can be uncomfortable, especially when you're wearing fitted clothing or moving around.
There are ways to minimize your chances of bloating after drinking sparkling water.
If you drink sparkling water regularly and don't bloat, great! Keep doing what you're doing. If you do tend to bloat after drinking sparkling water, McCutchen's suggests slowing down. "If we drink (or eat) quickly, we swallow more air, which leads to more gaseous distention of the stomach," she says. And, she recommends steering clear of straws, which also cause us to swallow more air.
If you have IBS, you should probably steer clear of sparkling water.
All of this said, anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) might want to steer clear of sparkling water altogether. IBS is a digestive disorder, and what you eat and drink plays a huge role in minimizing symptoms. Bloating is far more common among IBS patients, so McCutcheon recommends, steering clear of carbonated beverages altogether.
Related: What to Eat If You Have IBS
Bottom line: Drinking sparkling water in moderation likely won't cause serious bloating, but pay attention to how much you're drinking.
Even for healthy individuals with no digestive problems, there is such a thing as too much sparkling water. "If you feel bloated, are constantly belching or have reflux, stop drinking carbonated water until symptoms disappear," McCutchen says. You've likely overloaded your stomach with gas that needs to find its way out. This can happen very quickly, or it might take an hour or two.
If you regularly experience bloating and belching after drinking sparkling water, it might be time to cut back. Otherwise, just slow down and pay attention to how your stomach feels.