What Is It About Seltzer That Makes It so Damn Addictive?

Photo: Stocksy/Giada Canu

Call it the La Croix effect: Bubbly water is really having a moment. Brands are racing to one-up each other with new, Instagram-worthy options, in an effort to satisfy healthy types who want the fizziness and flavor of soda without all the sugar. 

But what is it, exactly, that makes seltzer so irresistible—addictive, even? I asked some experts to get to the bottom of this question that so many of us consider each and every time we reach for our second (or third) can of the day.

Keep reading for the reasons why you can't say no to bubbly beverages.

Seltzer addiction is real
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Carbonation gives you a buzz

When the bubbles from your bottle of Topo Chico pop on your tongue and in your throat, it creates a scintillating sensory experience that's hard to resist. “There’s no question humans tend to seek out carbonation,” says sensory biologist Paul Breslin, PhD, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Science. Scientists don't fully understand why, but they think it's because it gives us a non-threatening little thrill—the same reason why many people enjoy spicy food. 

Plus, if you're a soda drinker, you’ve been trained to think that your beverage of choice is unhealthy, explains Charlie Seltzer, MD. (Yes, I talked to Dr. Seltzer about seltzer.) So when you drink something similar that your brain thinks is bad for you, you get the same dopamine rush—even if it's just carbonated water. “It creates a reward loop,” Seltzer says. "And the bubbles feel good going down."

Seltzer addiction is real
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Bubbly drinks are super-effective thirst quenchers

Breslin says it’s not just the oral stimulation that causes a reaction in the brain. In fact, he published a study in 2016 for the Monell Chemical Senses Center that found cold and bubbly beverages like seltzer work as a sort of power-charged fix for a dry mouth. “Cold water is more thirst-quenching, and you can say the same thing of seltzer,” Breslin explains. "Carbonation is physiologically relevant with regards to thirst and thirst-quenching.”

Essentially, your mouth recognizes the liquid when you drink something, and the colder your beverage is, the stronger the thirst-quenching signal. In turn, our brains tell our bodies that we're hydrated. And this is extra true when your water's got a little fizz. “Carbonation enhances the feeling of cold,” Breslin adds.  

Seltzer addiction is real
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Drinking water makes you feel good—sparkling or not

“In a perfect world, everyone would drink eight glasses of water per day,” Seltzer says. And if you find those 64 ounces of plain water hard to swallow, the carbonated version makes for a fine substitute.

“If seltzer gets someone to drink more water and stay hydrated, I think it’s great,” says nutritional consultant Keri Gans. And hydration itself is addicting—it's not surprising that once you experience the extra energy and glowy skin that water can give you, you'll want to get as much of the stuff as possible.

Of course, it's been said that drinking too much seltzer can be bad for your teeth, and the worst-case scenario when it comes to carbonated water is that it may cause bloating issues for some—particularly people with IBS. But, as as Gans notes, it’s a healthier carbonated choice over drinks like tonic (which is loaded with sugar) and club soda (which is high in sodium).  

So if you have no stomach or bloating issues, feel free to indulge in your seltzer love with the help of a straw. And make sure to fine-tune your argument in favor of your favorite flavor for the next time you meet a fellow enthusiast—there are tons of us out there, after all.  

In other hydration news, wild H2O's having a moment—here's the 411. And if your budget only affords you the tap variety, here's how to infuse your water with seasonal flavors to make it healthier and more high-vibe. 

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