In 2016, the popularity of seltzer waters like LaCroix reached a fever pitch. Other brands quickly popped up, and by 2018, there wasn't a millennial, rapper, or Instagram influencer who wasn't touting LaCroix's greatness as the next, best "all-natural" alternative to drinking soda, aka the devil's spawn. The flavor-infused water had infiltrated grocery stores, communal office refrigerators, and countless homes.
But a 2018 class-action lawsuit disputed the company's allegedly false "all-natural" claims—which the company maintained were true. By early 2020, the plaintiff had dropped the suit, but not before the beverage's popularity waned, and its sales fizzed out.
So just what is LaCroix? And is it actually good for you? We spoke with a dietitian and a nutritionist to find out.
What Is LaCroix?
The company website describes LaCroix as "naturally-essenced sparkling water" containing "no sweeteners, no calories, and no sodium." But, according to health experts, the company's claims aren't that cut-and-dried.
Meet the Expert
- Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, specializes in tailor-made weight management plans. She earned her master's degree in nutrition at NYU and has extensive experience teaching others about quality nutrition.
- Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN, is a celebrity chef, certified nutritionist, Reiki master, and founder of the method of Culinary Alchemy, which is a combination of education, integrative and functional nutrition, and healing energy.
Is LaCroix Bad for You?
"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," says Brown. "But if you've already cleaned up your diet, are eating veggies and mainly whole foods, [you] pay attention to ingredient labels, and take your health seriously, [there] are a few factors to consider."
Chief among them, she says, is the company's definition of natural flavoring, the effects of carbonated beverages on appetite, and the amount of bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins, found inside the cans.
Let's break each one of these down.
This is where things can get tricky. Both the concept and the term "natural flavors" have always been vague. For her part, Brown steers clear of all foods that list "natural flavors" among their ingredients because they're "often more similar to artificial ingredients and can sometimes include preservatives," she says.
Poon says, "Although historically natural flavorings have been considered a flag, it’s not a black and white conversation. Some natural flavors are in fact derived from plants, others are not. Some natural flavors aren’t great for your health, some are fine. It all depends on how the flavor components are sourced and derived. When buying water with natural flavoring, try to find a bit more information about where the flavors are coming from. If it’s not posted on the label or a company’s website, you can email them and ask."
But, Brown says, there's always a catch. "Even if, for example, a certain grapefruit flavor is extracted directly from grapefruits, companies can still mix in synthetic additives, like solvents, to make that flavor blend well with the other ingredients. The FDA calls these ingredients 'incidental additives.' And, thanks to a lack of policy governing their use, food makers are not required to disclose what they are or when they're in a product."
Bottom line: Companies can claim their flavors are all-natural, even if their compositions are partially synthetic. "Even if there's nothing artificial added, there could still be naturally derived additives that could be harmful if you consume too much of them," adds the narrator. Unfortunately, there's no way to know for sure, due to food companies' (albeit lawful) lack of transparency.
While Brown acknowledges that consuming fizzy beverages isn't exactly great for your teeth (they contain carbonic acid, which can weaken tooth enamel in a cumulative effect), she also cites a 2017 study showing that carbon dioxide gas (carbonic acid) increases the release of a hunger hormone called ghrelin. Over one year, male lab rats that drank carbonated beverages, versus those that drank still, ate more and gained more weight, due to elevated levels of ghrelin. One then assumes that a seemingly innocuous LaCroix habit can only make us more ravenous.
However, Poon says, "Carbonated drinks can be a part of someone’s overall hydration plan. Hydration is a key component of overall health. In my Culinary Alchemy programs, I advise that most people drink their body weight in ounces of water each day (so if you weigh 150 pounds, you would drink 150 ounces of water each day). I do recommend that my clients hydrate primarily with still water, but if someone wants to hydrate with sparkling water every once in a while, that’s okay! As long as your sparkling water does not contain sugar, sodium, or other added ingredients, it should hydrate you just as well as a glass of flat water. One thing to note is that some people do report bloating when they drink sparkling water."
BPA is a hugely controversial toxic chemical that's often hotly debated among food-safety analysts. It's used to protect foods from contamination, but trace levels leach into the foods themselves. Despite public claims made by many food companies that they no longer use BPA-based plastics in the production of their cans and bottles, there's still no real way for consumers to tell whether the claims are true. This is troubling because consuming even tiny amounts of BPA can put us at risk for some very serious health issues. BPA exposure is a precursor to thyroid and metabolism problems, fertility problems and irregular periods, adolescent mood swings, and even breast cancer. Although the FDA has since deemed that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods, LaCroix was once again the subject of a 2019 lawsuit brought by a former employee alleging its parent company's claims of using BPA-free cans were false. Per CBS News, National Beverage Corp. responded to the suit, maintaining that it had already converted to BPA-free cans two years before the suit was filed and citing the FDA's most recent findings.
"I advise trying to avoid added chemicals whenever possible. BPA has been found to be an endocrine disruptor and a potential catalyst for cancer," Poon notes. "The dangers of BPA leaching into food via packaging are well known and as such, many manufacturers have switched to BPA-free can linings and plastics."
For what it's worth, says Brown, the state of California includes BPA on its Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. And despite the FDA's claim to the contrary, Brown still feels BPA is unsafe and says, "It's not something I agree with." But it's ultimately up to us to make our own assessments.
"I love hydrating with alkaline mountain spring water, when possible. If you’re looking to add some excitement to your hydration, you can add a squeeze of fresh lemon or create an infused water with cucumber or citrus," explains Poon. "People often overlook tea as a flavorful hydration option. As long as tea does not contain caffeine or sugar, it can help you hydrate as well."
If you're looking for all-natural (and ostensibly healthier) sparkling-water options, Brown also suggests giving these alternatives a try and adding a flavor boost with slices of fresh fruit.
Topo Chico Mineral Water is chock-full of magnesium, sodium, manganese, potassium, and calcium. Magnesium can help decrease blood pressure, assist with bone health, and even help tame PMS symptoms.
BPA-Free Plastic Bottle
Glass bottles are a great alternative to cans—they are easy to recycle or repurpose, they're nonporous so you don't have to worry about bacteria and BPA leaching into your water, and honestly, drinking water from a glass bottle just tastes better.
High Mineral Content
If you're all about the minerals, Gerolsteiner is your best choice. Each 1-liter bottle contains over a quarter of your daily magnesium needs, a third of your daily calcium needs, and also has potassium, chloride, sulfate, and trace amounts of sodium.
Contains Real Fruit Extracts
Instead of dealing with the murky waters of natural flavoring, opt for sparkling water made with real fruit juice extracts.
The Final Takeaway
If you still need your LaCroix fix, Brown recommends drinking a maximum of one to two cans a day. And if that amount doesn't adequately wet your whistle, opt for LaCroix's glass bottles instead, if you can find them.
A Lawsuit Challenging LaCroix's Claims of Natural Ingredients Has been Dismissed. Business Insider. February 20, 2020.
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