If you're reading this, it's probably because you're currently obsessed with LaCroix. You're not alone.
A brand of flavored sparkling waters that has been around since the early 1980s, LaCroix is currently enjoying a massive spike in sales. Several factors have contributed to its increase in popularity, but one seems most significant—the decline of soda. Soda has been perhaps the biggest casualty in America's war on sugar. Soda consumption has dropped dramatically in recent years as Americans have looked for healthier options. LaCroix offers a fizzy fix that's as refreshing as soda, but without extreme amounts of calories and sugar. It's also reportedly a great beverage for anyone who's trying to give up alcohol—just check out this Reddit thread on the topic.
But is LaCroix really a markedly healthier option? Or is this a classic case of a trendy product's health benefits getting exaggerated?
There are currently twenty varieties of LaCroix on the market, and they all share the same immaculate nutrition facts: zero calories, zero sugar, zero sodium, zero carbs, zero grams of fat. The ingredients list is similarly barren—each variety has only two ingredients: carbonated water and natural flavor.
Case closed. If LaCroix has no calories and no sugar, it must be good for you, right?
Not so fast.
Diet sodas such as Diet Coke are also devoid of calories and sugar, yet they aren't without health risks. The artificial sweeteners in diet soda have been shown to have significant effects on the brain. One study found that as a participant's diet soda consumption increased, an area of his brain known as the "caudate head" diminished in activity. The caudate head plays a role in food motivation and satiety, and it helps send a signal that the sweet taste of sugar equals incoming calories. If this part of the brain isn't active, your body won't help you naturally regulate your consumption of sugary snacks. Decreased activity in this area has been linked to an increased risk of obesity.
So zero-calorie beverages aren't always necessarily healthy.
However, LaCroix does not include the same artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas. "We do not add any artificial sweeteners, sugars or sodium to our waters," the company writes on its website.
Instead, LaCroix uses "natural flavor." However, those words allow for quite a bit of wiggle room. According to the FDA, a natural flavor is simply something that adds flavor to a product and comes directly from a plant or animal source. It can even include artificial ingredients that preserve flavor or help it mix more efficiently with other natural flavors. "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," David Andrews, a chemist from the Environmental Working Group, recently told WIRED.
However, LaCroix's natural flavors seem to be rather straightforward. On its website, the company states, "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." That might sound a bit shady, but anyone who's ever drunk a LaCroix knows the flavoring is quite subtle. If LaCroix's sweetness was on par with soda, it would make sense to be more skeptical. However, that's simply not the case.
But there are couple of additional concerns about LaCroix. Sparkling waters contain what's known as carbonic acid. It's what gives LaCroix its lovable bubbles. However, it can also be corrosive to tooth enamel. But if you're a healthy person with good dental hygiene habits, this shouldn't be a major concern. LaCroix is still much better for your teeth than regular soda. You can also swish regular water around in your mouth after guzzling a can of LaCroix to combat its mild corrosive effects.
The second concern is the fact that LaCroix cans contain Bisphenol A (BPA), an organic synthetic compound used to produce many common plastics. One common use of BPA is in aluminum cans. BPA has been a hot topic in recent years. Animal studies have found that consuming too much of it can have a negative effect on hormone levels and increase cancer risk.
LaCroix states that all of its products meet the guidelines currently set by the FDA. A four-year study completed in 2014 found that BPA is safe at the level currently occurring in foods and beverages. The company also states that although their can linings may contain trace amounts of BPA to preserve and protect the beverage, "these trace amounts are virtually eliminated during the curing process." LaCroix also offers their products in glass bottles, but they are currently only available in Illinois and Wisconsin.
So, is LaCroix healthy? Based on the factors we've outlined, yes. Though plain old water is still the best possible option, LaCroix is a massive upgrade over soda or high-sugar juices. It also hydrates you very similarly to regular water, which can be a huge boost to your overall health. So rejoice, LaCroix lovers. Your favorite beverage is legitimately good for you.
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