With hydrogen being the new bottled water buzzword, you may be wondering if you should be looking to boost hydrogen in your diet. But the fact is hydrogen is already in everything you eat, even though you won't see it on most food labels. Here's what it all means.
Hydrogen Helps Human Health
The main role of hydrogen in the human body is to facilitate the breakdown of food into energy, primarily via a complex process known as glycolysis, says Melissa Majumdar, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, Georgia.
Video of the Day
"The body is extremely efficient at this process, so you don't need to worry whether you are eating enough hydrogen for glycolysis to happen — you definitely will be," she says.
What Foods Are Sources of Hydrogen?
Chances are you learned in high school chemistry class that hydrogen is absolutely everywhere, and that includes in every morsel of food you eat.
"All food is made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules," Majumdar says. "Proteins additionally contain nitrogen, while fats are considered saturated or unsaturated based on whether they are saturated with hydrogen molecules or not."
Because all common foods — including bread, fruits, vegetables, rice, dairy and nuts — contain hydrogen, there aren't any specific items you can pick out that are better hydrogen sources over others, Majumdar says.
Another way we get hydrogen every day is through water, which, as the National Center for Biotechnology Information explains, is chemically two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom (hence H2O).
But thinking of food in terms of hydrogen or other molecular components can just make things more confusing, Majumdar says. "You may have heard it said, 'We don't eat nutrients, we eat food,' and this is true," she says.
An easy way to get the balance right: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with protein and another quarter with carbohydrates, she says.
For bigger benefits, choose more plant-based proteins over meat and whole grains and nutrient-dense starches for your carb portions, such as sweet potatoes, squashes and peas.
What Is 'Hydrogen' Water?
There's no such thing as a lack of dietary hydrogen that could lead to lower energy levels or any other such problems. This hasn't stopped some bottled water companies from marketing hydrogen water — water infused with extra hydrogen gas — as a new and improved way to drink water that has additional health benefits.
So what does the research say? In one small January 2018 Medical Gas Research study, 26 people who drank 600 milliliters (1 1/4 pints) of hydrogen water daily for four weeks reported lower anxiety and better mood than those who drank standard water.
And an even smaller May 2018 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness involving only eight cyclists found two weeks of drinking hydrogen water helped the athletes maintain a higher peak power when sprinting to exhaustion than those who drank regular water.
But these very small studies don't prove anything, Majumdar says, nor is there an understandable mechanism by which hydrogen water could bring about effects.
"There is minimal evidence to support the use of hydrogen water, so instead stick to what there is lots of science to support — a healthy diet and plenty of plain water, which is perfectly good straight from the tap [in most places in the U.S.]," she says.
- Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, registered dietitian, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Atlanta, Georgia; spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Water”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “How Much Water Do You Need?”
- Medical Gas Research: “Hydrogen-Rich Water for Improvements of Mood, Anxiety, and Autonomic Nerve Function in Daily Life”
- Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: “Effects of Hydrogen Rich Water on Prolonged Intermittent Exercise”