Why Your LaCroix Obsession Isn't So Healthy
A few things you need to know before you crack open yet another can of the flavored sparkling water.
This article first appeared on Shape.com.
Put down that can of key lime LaCroix for a second. We have to talk.
I've been asked by Insta-friends and clients alike several times recently: How much La Croix is too much LaCroix? Sorry, but you may not totally love my answer.
Let me first jump off my high nutritionist horse and lead with the good: It's absolutely a better option than soda, diet or otherwise. In the grand scheme of things, drinking excessive amounts of sparkling water is very far down on my list of concerns with clients at my Foodtrainers NYC office. But if you've already cleaned up your diet, are eating veggies and mainly whole foods, pay attention to ingredient labels, and take your health seriously, here are a few factors to consider.
There is a lot of confusion over what "natural flavors" actually means and, in general, I steer very clear foods that include them on the ingredient label. These "natural" flavors are often more similar to "artificial" ingredients, and can sometimes include preservatives. (Related: Whoa! This Company Is Adding Weed to Sparkling Water)
LaCroix's website says "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." I don't mind this explanation if it's true and the taste is actually derived from an essential oil (LaCroix didn't return my emails to confirm).
My main concern is that these intense flavors can make you crave that and expect it every time you grab a drink (plain ol' tap water is never going to provide that for you). That's what happens when you overdo it on sugar. Often people who think water is boring (I hear it more than you can imagine) are overdoing heavily flavored foods and drinks.
Not only are all those bubbles not great for your teeth (carbonation comes from CO2, carbon dioxide, which reacts with water to form carbolic acid, which may wear away tooth enamel). It also may not be great for your weight. 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. The bubbly-bev rats also had more of the appetite-increasing hormone ghrelin, which signals your body to eat more, which can explain the weight gain.
The thing about LaCroix that scares me the most can actually be found in many packaged products around the supermarket such as other canned beverages or vegetables, and even in your "healthy" protein powder. BPA-based plastics are used to line food and drink cans to protect against metal contamination, but these endocrine disruptorsbring on a host of health problems on their own.
Plus, some studies show that BPA can seep into the food and drinks. While LaCroix and other canned product manufacturers are quick to point out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in food, it's not something I agree with or would suggest to my clients. FWIW, 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."
So, if you don't want your hormones to be all out of whack—this can cause a host of health problems such as thyroid and metabolism issues, irregular periods, and changes to your mood, energy, or fertility—I'd ditch cans for glass bottles. (And, sorry, no; it doesn't count if you just pour the canned drink into a glass.) It turns out, LaCroix actually does sell some products in glass bottles, so grab them if you can hunt them down!
So, my answer to the question of how much LaCroix is too much? Ideally, I'd suggest you max out at one or two sparkling water drinks a day, drink them from a glass bottle, and add your own fresh flavoring (slice of lemon, lime, or grapefruit) for an extra boost. My personal favorite (unflavored) brands are Topo Chico, Mountain Valley, and Gerolsteiner. If you cannot live without a little lemon/lime flavor, Spindrift uses real fruit extracts.