Q: Does carbonation in beverages have any health risks?
A: The tingle on your tongue and the slight “bite” you feel when sipping a carbonated beverage is not only fun, it can enhance the perception of flavor (because bubbles lift aromatic molecules to the nose). This bubbly taste from carbonation is simply a solution of carbon dioxide gas suspended in water under high pressure. When the pressure is reduced, or we lift the lid off the bottle, the carbon dioxide releases from the water causing small bubbles and the signature effervescence we associate with fizzy beverages. Because carbon dioxide is a byproduct of fermentation, some beverages may be naturally carbonated (think: kombucha or beer), but other beverages, like sparkling water, juice, or soda get their fizziness from carbon dioxide being forcefully added to water.
Interestingly, carbonation also triggers pain receptors similar to the feeling we get when eating spicy food, but plain old carbonated or sparkling water is harmless. A 2006 study of 2,500 people published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that unlike soda, sparkling water is not associated with low mineral bone density in women. But sparkling water may cause extra gas or bloating, especially among individuals with IBS. When choosing carbonated beverages, also look for those without any sugar or citric acid, to protect your teeth’s enamel.
—McKenzie Hall Jones, RDN
Q: Is moringa a super food worth including in my diet?
A: Moringa (Moringa oleifera), also known as the drumstick or horseradish tree, is a drought-resistant tree native to the foothills of the Himalayas, with edible and potentially beneficial fruits, leaves, flowers, seeds, pods, roots, and oils. The immature seedpods resemble drum sticks and are a component of Southeast Asian cuisine. The leaves and pods are nutrient-dense, especially with vitamins A, C, and B6, iron, and protein, and are antioxidant-rich, making them a valuable plant food in many tropical and subtropical regions.
In the Western world, moringa is being billed as a superfood, with claims for reducing inflammation and lowering both cholesterol and blood sugar. These claims aren’t unwarranted; moringa is high in the antioxidant quercetin, a flavonoid with research supporting these benefits. A 2015 review paper in Phytotherapy Research concluded that moringa shows significant promise due to its flavonoid, glucosinolate, and alkaloid content.
An important consideration is that the most common moringa available is in powder form; evidence shows that eating the whole food is always the better option. Additionally, phytochemicals are present in widely available fruits and vegetables, such as berries (see Berry Good Health on page 3) and green leafy vegetables—so eating these can have similar benefits!
—Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD