Water Awareness Month comes on the heels of an appeal by New York City officials to reinstate a ban on the sale of large sugary drinks and new estimates that link more than 180,000 deaths worldwide (25,000 in the U.S.) in 2010 to high intake of sugary drinks.
Declining soda sales have been in the news in the last week. But overall bottled beverage sales, including teas, waters, and sports drinks, have been rising, says Gary Hemphill of the Beverage Marketing Corporation. This week, Coca-Cola launched Fruitwater, which is to Vitaminwater what Diet Coke is to The Real Thing. The new product is reported to be a carbonated fruit-flavored zero-calorie Splenda-sweetened “water” infused with vitamins and minerals. And considering about 45% of non-alcoholic beverages purchased today have 0 calories, according to the American Beverage Association, it seems Vitaminwater is joining Neuro drinks, Skinny Water, SoBe Life Water, Propel Zero, Crystal Light Energy, and others in a particularly sweet spot in the market. But are all these nutrient-enhanced “waters” really better for you than good-old H2O?
“I call these products glorified sodas,” says Janel Funk, MS, RD, LDN, the nutrition expert behind EatWellwithJanel.com. “Most of them are still sugary beverages with added nutrients. Even the calorie-free versions aren't much healthier, because they're loaded with artificial sweeteners, which I don't consider nutritious. Most of these beverages are adding vitamins and minerals that aren't difficult to obtain from a well-balanced diet!”
Why Flavored Water Isn’t As Good As Fruit and Water
- Fake nutrients. “Since these drinks contain synthetic forms of the vitamins and minerals, they're not necessarily as effective as if you were to eat a piece of fruit or a vegetable with the same vitamins,” Funk says.
- Nutrient overload. “Watch out for excessive amounts of vitamins or minerals you may be getting from these beverages,” she says. “If you're also eating a well-balanced diet and taking supplements in addition to these beverages, you may be over-doing it in terms of your nutrient needs for the day.”
- Sugar and its stand-ins. “Most of these beverages still have a high added sugar content,” Funk says. “And even if they're recognized as ‘safe,’ I don’t consider artificial sweeteners nutritious, necessary or healthy in the long term. I think the artificial sweeteners (no matter what the kind) allow people to feel like they’re getting a nutritious product without any added calories, but they’d benefit so much more from eating real food that naturally contains a variety of vitamins and minerals.”
- No fiber. “It’s important we get our nutrients from healthy food choices, and our hydration from unadulterated water,” Funk says. Drink an nutrient-enhanced artificially flavored blackberry beverage instead of eating a cup of blackberries and you’ll miss out on about 8 grams of fiber, that’s a third of the daily recommendation for adult women.
- Satisfaction. That fiber from the whole fruit combined with the flavor will actually help fill you up and satisfy you more than the bottled beverage too, Funk says.
Make the Switch
“We should be getting our nutrients from food, and hydration from plain water,” Funk says. “I think these beverages should be limited, or ideally eliminated, since they're not necessary at all in our diet.” But if you’re in the habit of drinking more bottled fruity beverages than regular water, plain H2O might seem a bit boring. “Gradually swap them out with things like seltzer water or regular water that has been fruit/herb-infused for added flavor,” she says. Try adding lemon, lime, basil, mint, berries, or cucumber to your water for fresh natural flavor. BFY's Go Mom Go blogger has a list of tricks to get kids to drink more water that might work for you, too.