Tonic water has been perceived as a healthy and trendy since its commercial debut centuries ago in British Colonial India, but there’s more than meets the eye to the popular carbonated beverage and drink mixer.
With its crispness and the presence of quinine, a bitter compound that comes from the bark of the cinchona tree (found in tropical regions like the Caribbean, parts of Africa and South America), many people reach for tonic water to help alleviate leg cramps while laying in bed at night, or to improve circulatory and nervous system problems.
The compound is even still used to treat malaria in some tropical regions.
Despite these benefits, tonic water has been turned into a minefield of unhealthy ingredients among most major grocery store brands — just part of the reason why you should be extra careful while reading those labels, and before making that purchase.
Tonic Water: Ingredients, Side Effects and Safety Concerns
While flying home from Florida recently, I became especially famished and thirsty due to the lack of healthy options at the airport and deciding not to drink or eat until I arrived home in Michigan.
When the stewardesses came by with the beverage cart, the possibility of trying tonic water for the first time in a very long time captured my attention.
It sounded like a healthy drink, and for me, carbonated beverages have always hit the spot.
Research shows that carbonated beverages can improve swallowing ability, increase feelings of fulness, helps to relieve constipation, and may even help improve oxygen uptake, particularly at high altitudes.
Carbonated mineral water (I like San Pellegrino even though I try to find alternatives like Mountain Valley Spring carbonated water because the former is made by Nestlé) also is one of the healthiest things you could drink due to its purity and mineral content.
This time around, I made the decision to try tonic water on its own for what may have been the first time ever — and gasped in frustration upon seeing the ingredients list.
The Problem With Tonic Water Ingredients
As shown in the picture below, the ingredients in tonic water are far from healthy.
Let’s break them down one-by-one, including why I personally would never drink anything like this again (I traded my tonic water in for a club soda that day, which isn’t perfect but is still far healthier than this chemical concoction).
Carbonated Water: Carbonated water can have plenty of health benefits. The crispness of the beverage also provides a lot of joy to people who are fans of this type of drink.
But most tonic water is generally not filtered and could very well contain fluoride, which Dr. Dean Burk once called “public murder on a grand scale.”
Dr. Burk was one of the co-founders of the National Cancer Institute.
As usual, the dose makes the poison, so avoid drinking too much if any fluoridated water like the kind in most tonic waters, and invest in a high quality fluoride-filtering water pitcher like this one, or an under-the-sink filtration system if you want to avoid it.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: One of the most widely used, but clearly one of the unhealthiest sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup is often found in tonic water as well.
Also known as HFCS, this corn based sweetener is generally produced using genetically engineered corn, and is especially high in fructose. It has been linked to increased risk for diabetes, weight gain, obesity, fatty deposits around the liver, and several other side effects with long-term use.
A 2009 study published in Environmental Health even found that HFCS may contain high levels of mercury.
Citric Acid: A common ingredient in several different drinks and packaged foods, even otherwise natural or organic ones, few people realize that citric acid is often made from genetically engineered fermented mold, as well as genetically modified corn syrup.
Quinine: As mentioned above, many people drink tonic water because of this ingredient, which does have potential health benefits both short and long-term. But pregnant women and people with the following health conditions are advised to avoid ingesting quinine according to Healthline.com:
-Low blood sugar (quinine can cause it to drop)
-Kidney or liver disease
-Those on medications including blood thinners, antidepressants, antibiotics, antacids, and statins, as a precaution (it is advised to ask your doctor before drinking anything with quinine in it).
Sodium Benzoate: A preservative often found in packaged foods, drinks and soft drinks, sodium benzoate is widely avoided in the holistic health community because studies have shown it may have the ability to literally choke out your body’s nutrients at the cellular level by depriving your mitochondria of oxygen.
Mitochondria are the “power centers of the cell,” and are largely responsible for helping you feel energetic and strong on a daily basis.[Editor’s note: I like to use Red Light Therapy to support healthy mitochondria, learn more or try my favorite red light therapy device here]
Too much sodium benzoate if any is a terrible idea if you’re a fan of feeling strong and energetic.
Final Thoughts on Tonic Water and Healthier Alternatives
As you can see from the ingredients list above, most commercially purchased tonic water products are loaded with unhealthy ingredients, and even the main healthy ingredient, quinine, is not for everybody.
If you’re looking for a healthier choice, you may want to try club soda, like this one that uses Himalayan salt, or carbonated mineral water, which offers a wider range of health benefits for a similar price depending on which varieties you buy.
Club soda typically has baking soda in it, which can be healthy in moderation, although most varieties use unfiltered, carbonated water.
While tonic water is hard to avoid, especially in drink recipes like gin and tonics, it’s well worth it if you want to preserve your best health over both the short term and the long haul — do anything and everything possible to find an alternative the next time you have guests over for drinks.