There’s so many different TYPES OF WATER, it can be hard figuring out what’s good or bad for you. Tonic water is one such variety. Despite having “water” in its title, tonic water is actually more of a soft drink than anything else, so it’s important to know the ingredients and amount of calories you’re consuming when you pour yourself another gin and tonic.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive breakdown of tonic water, including what it is, whether it’s good for you, how many calories it contains, and some differences to regular old soda water. Let’s jump in.
WHAT IS TONIC WATER?
Tonic water is a carbonated soft drink that contains quinine, sugar, and other ingredients. It has a bitter sweet taste and usually feels drier than regular soda water.
Quinine is the main ingredient for tonic water. It’s a compound that comes from the bark of the cinchona tree found in South America. The drink was first created in the 19th century by British officials in India, who wanted a quinine-based drink that would help to combat malaria. That’s why tonic water is also known as Indian tonic water. Today, there’s much less quinine in commercial tonic water (about 83 mg per litre1) but it remains the reason for its bitter taste.
Tonic water also tends to contain sugar, and a lot of it (skip to the “is tonic water good for you” section for more information). Other ingredients vary depending on the manufacturer. You can find more traditional varieties of tonic water with fewer ingredients, and also varieties that include citrus peels or oils, and other plants like cinnamon, elderflower, lavender, lemongrass, thyme, vanilla, hibiscus and honeybush.
Tonic water is perhaps most famous for being combined with gin, to make gin and tonic. This was first practised in India as a way to make tonic water more palatable, and it quickly caught on.
IS TONIC WATER GOOD FOR YOU?
Tonic water is an unhealthy drink. It has little nutritional value, and because many brands include high fructose corn syrup, it can actually be extremely unhealthy.
Take one of the original creators of commercial tonic water—Schweppes. Their Indian Tonic Water product contains 21.5 grams of sugar per 250ml serving2, which is a standard sized glass. That’s roughly five teaspoons of sugar, or about half the amount of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola. Tonic water made by Fever-Tree is a little better—roughly 14.2 grams of sugar per 200ml serving—but that’s still a lot of sugar to consume in one drink3.
So—don’t be fooled by “water” being in the title—tonic water could be easily labelled as a soft drink rather than a type of water. There’s obviously nothing wrong with treating yourself from time to time, but you may want to take note of the number of calories included for the brand of tonic water you’re consuming, especially if you’re struggling with weight issues. This problem is multiplied if you’re mixing the tonic water with gin or another spirit, because alcohol is notorious for making people gain weight.
Some people drink tonic water to help with restless legs syndrome, but it doesn’t contain anywhere near enough quinine to help. The American FDA actually warns against taking quinine tablets for restless legs syndrome because it increase your risk of bleeding, and disturbances to your heart’s rhythm1.
It’s also worth noting that you can purchase diet or “lite” tonic water that has a much lower sugar content, or no sugar at all. This is obviously a much healthier alternative, especially if you’re trying to keep your weight down. It’s also a much better option for diabetics.
THE NUMBER OF CALORIES IN TONIC WATER
Based on an average of three common brands, there’s about 85 calories in a standard serving of tonic water (357 kilojoules). For a gin and tonic, you can expect somewhere between 125 to 200 calories, depending on the products being used.
Here’s the breakdown of the number of calories for the common brands (Calories / Kilojoules per 250ml serving):
- Schweppes Indian Tonic Water: 92 cal / 388kJ
- Fever-Tree Tonic Water: 72 cal / 302kJ
- Cascade Tonic Water: 91 cal / 382kJ
TONIC WATER VS SODA WATER
Tonic water is a fizzy drink that contains quinine, sugar, and sometimes additional flavourings. Soda water is usually just regular spring water that has been carbonated, and doesn’t contain any of the additional unhealthy ingredients found in tonic water. Other minerals like sodium may be added to soda water, which can actually make it healthier (although this depends on the product).
Because of the differences in ingredients, tonic water and soda water taste completely different. The quinine and sugar found in tonic water gives it a more bitter and sweeter taste compared to soda water, which usually tastes like regular old fizzy water, or water that is a little more “earthy” due to the minerals included.
As with tonic water, soda water can come in different flavoured varieties, which affects the taste and number of calories. So if you’re trying to be conscious of your health, be sure to read the label before purchasing, paying particular attention to the total number of calories or kilojoules, and the amount of sugar.
CAN PREGNANT LADIES DRINK TONIC WATER?
Pregnant women should not drink tonic water because it contains quinine, which has shown to create adverse effects for newborn babies. These effects have only been witnessed in one single study, so much more research is needed to provide conclusive evidence. However, for the time being, it’s recommended for pregnant women to avoid tonic water or any other bitter-tasting drink that contains quinine4.
IS TONIC WATER BAD FOR HEARTBURN?
Heartburn or acid reflux can be made worse by consuming carbonated drinks such as tonic water. This is caused by the bubbles in these drinks, which expand the stomach and can push its acid upwards towards the food pipe, causing indigestion and reflux.
If you’re looking for a drink to soothe heartburn, you can try herbal teas that contain licorice, ginger, or chamomile. Alkaline water is also thought to help.
DOES TONIC WATER HAVE LOTS OF CARBS?
On average, tonic water contains about 22 grams of carbs per 250ml serving. Almost all of this comes from its high sugar content, so as mentioned previously, you’ll need to keep an eye on how many tonic waters you’re consuming, especially if you’re combining them with gin.
- 2019, WILL TONIC WATER PREVENT NIGHTTIME LEG CRAMPS?, Harvard Health
- SCHWEPPES INDIAN TONIC WATER 1.1L, Woolworths
- FEVER-TREE PREMIUM INDIAN TONIC WATER 200ML X4 PACK, Woolworths
- BFR: PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD STEER CLEAR OF QUININE-CONTAINING BEVERAGES, BfR