tonic water

Is tonic water good for you?

Tonic water is a tricky beverage. It has water in the name, so it must be healthy, right? Is tonic water good for you? Unfortunately, most tonic water has high than soft drinks. This is bad news for people who like gin and tonic, like me.

What is tonic water?

  • “a carbonated beverage flavored with a small amount of quinine, lemon, and lime” (1)
  • “a carbonated soft drink with a bitter flavour, used as a mixer with gin or other spirits (originally used as a stimulant of appetite and digestion)” (2)

In case you’re wondering what is quinine, below are a couple of definitions (3) to satisfy your curiosity:

  • “a bitter crystalline alkaloid C20H24N2O2 from cinchona bark used in medicine”
  • “a salt of quinine used especially as an antipyretic, antimalarial, and bitter tonic”

In a bit of a detour: quinine comes from the Spanish quina cinchona, which in turn comes from the Quechua kina bark (3). The quina tree is featured in the Peruvian coat of arms and I’m ashamed to say I never knew what the tree was until today.

Tonic water today

For the longest time, tonic water came in one version only. You had to look hard to find “diet” tonic water, probably containing artificial sweeteners. Nowadays, in a market where beverage choices have expanded with craft beers, cold-pressed nut milks and juices, and fermented drinks, manufacturers have upped their game with interesting tonic water varieties.

The information below does not pretend to cover all available varieties but just a small sample of what is available at the moment in the Australian market.

Ingredients

  • Nexba tonic water classic: Purified sparkling water, Nexba(R) Natural Sweetener Blend (erythritol, stevia), citric acid, natural flavours, natural quinine (cinchona bark extract)
  • Strangelove light tonic: Carbonated water, fructose, citric acid, natural flavours, cinchona
  • Capi native tonic: Carbonated water, fructose, citric acid, lemon aspen extract, cinchona extract (0.05%), Mount Zero salt, Tasmanian native pepper extract
  • Capi low sugar dry tonic: Carbonated water, sugar, natural flavour, citric acid, cinchona extract (0.05%), real quinine

Nutrition information

While not as sugary as other drinks (see my article on sugary drinks) and the table below), regular tonic water contains more than 2 teaspoons of sugar per 100g. That’s 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per cup (250ml).

Having said that, there are lower sugar options out there. The tables below show a comparison between nutrients of selected products per serve and per 100ml.

Nutrient Nexba naturally sugar free tonic water
per serve (275ml)
Strangelove light tonic
per serve (180ml)
Capi Native tonic
per serve (250ml)
Capi low sugar dry tonic
per serve (250ml)
Energy (kJ) 25 96 280 298
Protein (g) 0 0 <0.1 0
Fat, total (g) 0 0 <0.1 0
– Saturated (g) 0 0 <0.1 0
Carbohydrate (g) 0 5.2 16.5 15.9
– Sugars (g) 0 5.2 15.75 15.9
Sodium (mg) 0 0 42.5 0

Nutrient Nexba naturally sugar free tonic water
per 100ml
Strangelove light tonic
per 100ml
Capi Native tonic
per 100ml
Capi low sugar dry tonic
per 100ml
Energy (kJ) 9 53 112 119
Protein (g) 0 0 <0.1 0
Fat, total (g) 0 0 <0.1 0
– Saturated (g) 0 0 <0.1 0
Carbohydrate (g) 0 2.9 6.6 6.4
– Sugars (g) 0 2.9 6.3 6.4
Sodium (mg) 0 0 17 0

Is tonic water healthy?

It depends! Bitter foods are normally regarded as beneficial for digestive health. However, if you are having regular (read: sugary) tonic water by itself or paired with alcohol, it is unlikely to be a health-promoting elixir.

A quick search in the scientific literature about tonic water shows more evidence of it causing allergic reactions than improving people’s health.

Recommendations

  • There is nothing wrong with enjoying some tonic water (with or without gin) once in a while, just be mindful of the amount of sugar and kilojoules you are consuming.
  • Beware of terms such as “light”, “low sugar” and “dry”, as they are often misleading. Read labels!
  • Most tonic water is very sweet, so you can dilute it with ice and/or sparkling water.

References

  1. Merriam-Webster.com. tonic water: Merriam-Webster; 2019 [2 March 2019]. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tonic_water.
  2. OxfordDictionaries.com. tonic water: Oxford University; 2019 [2 March 2019]. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tonic_water.
  3. Merriam-Webster.com. quinine: Merriam-Webster; 2019 [2 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quinine.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.