Drinking plain old water can be a bit of a snoozefest, especially if you're getting your recommended daily amount of at least eight large glasses a day. But if your ennui is leading you to load up on seemingly healthy bottled-water alternatives, you need to read this first.
"In general, we have no evidence that water can be improved," says Prevention magazine's nutrition advisor David Katz, MD, MPH, an associate professor adjunct in public health at Yale University's School of Medicine. "There is no convincing evidence of benefit from any version of 'enhanced' water."
In general, he says, "we consider a beverage 'water' if it has no calories, no sodium (or trivial amounts in mineral water), and no sweetener (sugar, alternative, or artificial). If a product is sweetened, it's not water--it's a soda."
Here's what you need to know before you glug your next jug of fancy water.
Dubbed "mother nature's sport drink," coconut water's high levels of potassium, sodium, and antioxidants make it seem like the ultimate post-sweat swig. But just last year, scientists at ConsumerLab.com took several brands of coconut water to the lab and tested them to be sure. Their findings? Only one brand actually contained the amount of sodium and potassium claimed on its nutritional label. (Unimpressed? Try these 3 Foods That Hydrate instead.)
Assuming the label is telling the truth, coconut water is a decent choice for after a light workout, but it's not a good call after intense ones because it doesn't contain enough sodium, according to a recent study presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of theAmerican Chemical Society.
Related: 10 Amazing Tricks With Coconut Oil
Sure, some of these beverages have vitamins in them, but with up to 200 calories and 33 g of sugar per bottle, you're better off thinking of these drinks as soda. (The next time you're tempted by sugary foods, take a look at this motivational poster.)
What's more, says Ara DerMarderosian, PhD, a pharmacognosy professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, waters that are heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals may actually suppress your immune system if you're already taking in enough vitamins and minerals through your diet.
If you want a little zing in your water, try Ayala's Herbal Water, Metromint, or Hint Essence Water. Each bottle is free of sugar, sweeteners, preservatives, and calories.
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Smartwater is distilled (which means it's boiled and then recondensed from the steam to kill microbes and remove minerals) and enhanced with potassium, magnesium, and calcium. According to the company's website, it also "one-ups ma nature by adding in electrolytes for faster hydration."
But there's no real evidence of there being a benefit to adding electrolytes to a hydration formula, says Dr. Katz, unless you're intensely exerting yourself in blazing heat and eating isn't an option. "Under other circumstances, water in its native state will do just fine."
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Dream Water infuses its drink with three natural sleep ingredients: GABA (to help relax), melatonin (to help induce sleep), and 5-HTP (to help improve the quality of sleep). The brand claims to be "the first all-natural sleep enhancer with zero calories, no preservatives and natural active ingredients that helps you relax and fall asleep," and it's available in three flavors--Snoozeberry, Lullaby Lemon, and Pineapple PM.
Should you drink the stuff? "It's intended to help with relaxation and sleep, and does contain ingredients that might support this, which makes it really a 'tonic' or 'functional' drink," says Dr. Katz. In other words, it's more herbal supplement than it is water. As for whether it actually helps with sleep, well, the jury's still out on that one, but anyone who's chugged liquid before bed knows how that can go.
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Each option available from O Ultra Premium Water--sweetened, unsweetened, and sport--is advertised as gluten-free. Since gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, we hardly think this is something worth touting on the label. If that doesn't raise a red flag, this might: Their plain version is sweetened with sugar, and they fuse their H2O with electrolytes--an ingredient Dr. Katz says isn't necessary when working out.
The good news: these 3 Delicious Ways to Hydrate offers fun recipes that use real fruit, like grapes, strawberries and blueberries to help you meet your water needs--naturally.
As if shelling out for an overpriced bottle of H2O isn't troublesome enough, keep in mind that you're also paying for something you definitely don't want: BPA. Plastics are made with BPA--a hormone-disrupting chemical that's been linked to increased risk of heart disease and obesity--which means your bottled water is swimming with the chemical, too.
And then, of course, there's the issue of where the water actually comes from. In 2007, after receiving pressure from the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability International, Pepsi's Aquafina confessed their true source of water was filtered tap--not a mountain spring as they'd claimed.
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As described on their website, Fruit2O is "crystal clear water with the delightful flavor of fruit." Except that fruit flavor is really artificial sweetener, meaning, as Dr. Katz mentioned before, it's a soda, not water.
"While these 'sodas' don't have calories, they will likely increase intake in sugar and calories in other foods," he says. "Real water doesn't do that!"
But before you reach for that actual diet soda--you might as well, right?--don't. Because when it comes to that caramel bubbly, artificial sweetener is the least of your worries. See for yourself in 7 Gross Side Effects of Drinking Diet Soda.
Propel Zero offers its drinkers nine refreshing flavors packed with vitamins C, E & B and antioxidants. This way, they can "replenish, energize, and protect with zero calories and no added color."
But what they lack in calories and color, they make up for in artificial sweetener and significant amounts of sodium. "There is no evidence that adding miscellaneous nutrients to water confers any benefits. So I would not drink this," says Dr. Katz.
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Blk. Spring Water--we promise that's not a typo--is a "proprietary fulvic and humic acid electrolyte drink, or a natural organic complex blend of over 77 macro and micro trace minerals and electrolytes." Huh?
Electrolytes are unnecessary, but how about everything else? "As far as I can tell, it's just spring water with fulvic acid. I don't know if it offers real benefits, but drinking water that is black might be fun just for the novelty of it," says Dr. Katz.
Yet, if you're willing to shell out for bottled water, why not choose a seltzer instead? "When your taste buds want more entertainment, I recommend sparkling water flavored with fruit essences, like the brand Polar's seltzers," says Dr. Katz.
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When looking at SoBe Lifewater and SoBe 0 Calorie Lifewater labels, we noticed three unnecessary, if not exactly healthy, ingredients: coconut water, artificial sweeteners and antioxidants. Not to mention their orange tangerine flavor is achieved by adding modified food starch--something that could cause a problem for those who are gluten-intolerant.
Bottom line: Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she created water. "Variations on the theme are fine, but you may not get real bang for the buck," says Dr. Katz. "And if it contains any kind of sweetener, it's not water--no matter what they call it."
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