Grocery shelves are waterlogged—with functional or enhanced waters, that is. If you believe the hype about these beverages, plain old H20 might seem lacking. Now, instead of trying merely to reach the old goal of eight glasses per day, many feel the need to choose waters with added protein, probiotics, activated charcoal, electrolytes, hydrogen, vitamins, minerals and botanicals (such as cactus and aloe vera). The market for these beverages might be ballooning. Yet the question is: Do you really need to up your water game?

According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, author of “Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease”(Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018); Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, author of “The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook” (Rockridge Press, 2018); and Lindsay Moyer, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the answer is generally no because of insufficient evidence proving health benefits. “Most so-called functional waters are marketing ploys to sell water for a higher price,” Moyer says. “They’re not about health.”

Probiotics and protein

In general, Kirkpatrick says that “the majority of your nutrients can come directly from food and plain water.” So instead of water with added probiotics (which manufacturers assert impart immune and digestive benefits), she suggests fermented foods (such as sauerkraut) or a high-quality probiotic supplement. “I can spend a lot less money and get my dairy by just including a yogurt a day,” Amidor says. The same holds true for protein waters, which companies promote as an alternative to high-calorie protein drinks. “Why would someone want to put protein in water?” she asks.

Botanicals and antioxidants

Companies claim that cactus water can help improve skin and hangover symptoms, aloe vera water can boost skin health and soothe acid reflux, and antioxidant waters will provide a supply of health-promoting vitamins and minerals. Yet the experts believe evidence supporting their consumption is too scant. In fact, Amidor even advises consulting a doctor or dietician before purchasing botanical waters to avoid potential negative interactions between plants and medications. The only exception to her skepticism about waters with added antioxidants: 100 percent juices, in which companies add back nutrients (primarily vitamin C) lost during processing.

Alkaline or pH balancing

One much-hyped functional water category is alkaline or pH-balancing waters, which Amidor explains have a pH of about eight or nine versus seven for plain water.

Such products have been touted to “help slow aging, regulate your body’s pH level, prevent chronic diseases, boost metabolism, neutralize acid in your bloodstream and help your body absorb nutrients more effectively,” she says. Yet both she and Kirkpatrick cite a lack of evidence backing up these claims, deeming pH waters unnecessary. “Your body naturally buffers the pH of food [anyway],” Amidor adds.

Activated charcoal

Because of their eye-catching black hue and marketing as removers of toxins, waters with activated charcoal have been receiving extensive media attention. Yet Amidor strongly recommends avoiding them. “Activated charcoal is used for medical detoxification when a poisoning may be life-threatening,” she explains. “The charcoal is not absorbed into the body but rather remains in the GI tract to help prevent the absorption of toxic poisons or drugs after ingestion. … So ingesting activated charcoal can leach nutrients from consumed foods, making the food less nutritious. It also has the potential of damaging the GI tract.”

Electrolytes

Sports waters or waters with added electrolytes (including coconut water) are the only category about which Kirkpatrick and Amidor are fairly positive. Still, they agree that sports drinks are only truly helpful during strenuous, protracted exercise sessions. For instance, Amidor reaches for drinks with electrolytes and sugar when playing two- or three-hour competitive tennis matches.

“My body needs the sugar to replenish lost energy stores while I am in the middle of games,” she explains. In contrast, she says that if she works out for an hour at the gym, “plain old water [and snacks] will do the trick.”

Not only are sports drinks frequently unnecessary, but Amidor also points out that often, nutrients (such as calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium bicarbonate) are added for taste rather than functionality. “If you’re looking to up your electrolytes to prevent dehydration, sports drinks aren’t the right choice,” she adds.

Yet if you’d still like to dip your toe into the water of sports drinks, Kirkpatrick recommends the Nuun and Nooma brands, as well as pure coconut waters. Just make sure to avoid added (real or fake) sweeteners, she advises.

Cheers to your health

So turn on the tap! When you drink up, know that you’ll be reaping numerous health benefits. After all, as the Mayo Clinic points out, “water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Your body depends on water to survive.” Since we lose water via breathing, sweating and going to the bathroom, we need to replenish it through food and drinks, the same article explains.

As one study showed, water can even help with weight loss: Increasing plain water consumption by one to three cups per day can decrease daily calorie intake by 68 to 205 calories.

Jazz it up

If plain H20 doesn’t float your boat, try making it more mouthwatering by flavoring it with cucumber, muddled berries, citrus, fresh mint or basil, or whole spices. Kirkpatrick suggests purchasing a bottle that allows for diffusing fresh ingredients in water. “Try to keep your water as close to the farm as possible!” she says. Meanwhile, Amidor recommends preparing your own sparkling water with the SodaStream. If you’re on the go, try flavored waters without sweeteners such as Hint.

 

Photo credit: jacoblund, Thinkstock; dricapinotti, Unsplash; Brent Hofacker, Adobe Stock; Felix Mizioznikov, Adobe Stock; sveta_zarzamora, Adobe Stock; LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS, Adobe Stock;  Syda Productions, Adobe Stock; KucherAV, Thinkstock

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Author

Dina Cheney

Dina Cheney is a writer and recipe developer whose cookbooks include “The New Milks,” “Mug Meals,” “Meatless All Day,” “Year-Round Slow Cooker,” “Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Salads,” and “Tasting Club.” She has contributed articles and recipes to Every Day with Rachel Ray, Parents, Fine Cooking, Clean Eating, Specialty Food, Coastal Living, The Huffington Post, and more. Cheney is a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education and Columbia University. Find her online at www.dinacheney.com, and her complete collection of non-dairy resources at www.thenewmilks.com.

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