Although there’s no denying the tastiness and appeal of hard seltzers like White Claw, it’s worth remembering that people’s claims about their supposed health benefits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Take, for instance, the many jokes circulating the internet about how “hydrating” White Claw allegedly is. I hate to break it to you, but it’s, uh… not. Hydrating, that is. Not really. This by no means a knock against White Claw itself, or even against hard seltzer more generally; go ahead and drink it if you enjoy it. (I sure do!) Just don’t expect it to keep you hydrated as you imbibe; it’s no substitute for plain old water.
When considering whether or not White Claw is hydrating, first we have to examine whether seltzer itself is hydrating — and the good news, it is. In fact, it’s as hydrating as regular water is, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015. This study examined the hydration effects of 13 different commonly consumed drinks as measured through cumulative urine output four hours after ingestion. Nine of those drinks were found to be "not different from the response to water ingestion" — that is, they were were about as hydrating as water — and yep: Among those nine drinks was sparkling water.
(The brand of sparkling water used in the study was Highland Springs, which is a sparkling mineral; for what it’s worth, though, there isn’t really a dramatic difference between club soda, seltzer, and sparkling mineral water. As The Kitchn puts it, sparkling mineral water has a “heavier mouthfeel and distinct taste” due to the minerals and sodium in it, but they’re all, y’know, water.)
But hard seltzer isn’t just seltzer. In fact, in some ways, it’s more akin to a two-ingredient cocktail like a vodka soda (although it’s often positioned as an alternative to vodka soda) — because that’s what it’s in it: Seltzer and alcohol. As Rebecca Jennings noted over at Vox in August of 2019, “what that alcohol is made out of can differ,” but “usually it’s just fermented cane sugar with added fruit flavors.” Hard seltzer combines those two ingredients — the seltzer and the alcohol — in such a way as to make a resulting beverage that’s low in sugar and carbs, as well as lighter on the actual alcohol content than, say, many trendy craft beers tend to be. (Hard seltzer usually clocks in at around 4% or 5% ABV, while the average craft beer is closer to 6% ABV.)
When it comes to White Claw specifically (which is 5% ABV, for the curious), the brand notes in its FAQ that it’s it’s “made from a blend of seltzer water, our gluten-free alcohol base, and a hint of fruit flavor.” The precise makeup of a can of White Claw varies by flavor, but for the most part, the primary ingredients in each can are purified carbonated water, alcohol, cane sugar, natural flavor, citric acid, and sodium citrate. The exception is the Pure Hard Seltzer variety, which contains only purified carbonated water, alcohol, and natural flavor.
I bring all this up because the alcohol matters. You’re probably already aware of this fact, but alcohol is a diuretic — that is, it promotes diuresis, or increased urination. That’s why people tend to pee a lot when they drink alcohol. (Fun fact: That alcohol is a diuretic was already well established by 1932, as evinced by this paper Margaret M. Murray published that year in what is now the Journal of Physiology which references that fact.) When you pee a lot due to diuresis, you lose fluids — and when you lose too many fluids without replacing them, you become dehydrated. So, hey, guess what? When you drink hard seltzer like White Claw, you may be drinking seltzer, which is ostensibly hydrating — but you’re also still drinking alcohol. And since alcohol is a diuretic, it’s probably going to contribute to dehydration, whether or not there’s seltzer involved, too.
It’s also worth noting that studies have looked at whether alcoholic drinks are capable of hydrating us — and the results suggest that they can’t, really. Not if they have any meaningful amount of alcohol in them, at least. Take, for example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 1997 that looked at whether there was a difference in recovery from dehydration induced by working out in the heat when consuming alcohol-free beverages versus beverages with alcohol. The researchers found that there was no difference in recovery between beverages that were alcohol-free and those which contained up to 2% alcohol; however, drinks containing 4% alcohol were found to “delay the recovery process.”
At the end of the day, go ahead and drink whatever you want; if you, like so many others, have made the switch from beer to White Claw or another variety of hard seltzer, then go forth and enjoy your fizzy goodness. Just, y’know, make sure you drink some actual water alongside it if you’re hoping to stave off a hangover in the morning.
Maughan, Ronald J., et al (2015) A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/103/3/717/4564598
Murray, Margaret M. (1932) The diuretic action of alcohol and its relation to pituitrin. The Journal of Physiology, https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1113/jphysiol.1932.sp002933
Shirreffs, Susan M., and Ronald J. Maughan. (1997) Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption. The Journal of Applied Physiology, https://physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jappl.19220.127.116.112
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