Testing the Waters
So how do you make the best choice for your waistline--and your health? Several flavored waters simply offer a tastier way to stay hydrated. Others contain additives such as vitamins, antioxidants, herbs, and caffeine, and make claims about helping you relax, boosting your energy level, and supporting your immune system. And though they're called water (which we think of as calorie free), some have as many calories as a snack--and cost nearly as much as a barista-made latte.
But flavored water's newfound popularity is encouraging, because water is the single most important nutrient for your body, regulating temperature and filtering out waste, and it makes up 60% of your weight. Ready to take the flavored plunge? Here's my three-step plan for healthfully navigating the sea of options.
1. Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners
Flavored waters are typically sweetened with natural sugarcane or fructose (fruit sugar) rather than high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener found in soda that's linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. But some 16-ounce bottles provide as many as 180 calories, just 20 shy of a same-size Coca-Cola Classic. That's important because research shows that caloric beverages aren't filling. When Purdue University scientists fed two groups the same number of calories from either soda or jelly beans for 28 days, the candy group naturally compensated by eating less food--while the soda group did not. In the end, the jellybean eaters' weights stayed the same, but the soda group gained weight. If you don't burn it off, a bottle-a-day habit can add 19 pounds to your frame over a year.
And artificial sweeteners aren't the solution. When researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio followed more than 1,000 people for 8 years, they found that on average, for each diet soft drink consumed per day, the chances of becoming overweight or obese jumped about 37%. This is probably due to an interesting phenomenon other studies have found: Even "fake" sugars increase the preference for sweets.
2. Keep it natural
We think of water as pure, but even waters that seem wholesome can be loaded with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives (I call them "Twinkie®" waters). Look beyond the label and check the ingredient list. You may see plenty of words more reminiscent of a chemistry lab than a mountain spring, such as sodium hexametaphosphate (a flavor protector also used in ceramics), sodium benzoate (a preservative and precursor to benzene, acknowledged by the FDA as a known cancer-causing substance), and ETDA (a stabilizer used in laundry detergents). Only buy brands that have terms you recognize.
3. Beware of health promises
You've probably seen flavored waters that promise to calm you or boost energy. They are typically fortified with vitamins, minerals, caffeine, and herbs like passionflower. But some don't have studies to back their claims. One supposed metabolism-boosting water, for example, offers no published studies using the water itself, nor is there evidence that the key ingredient is effective for weight loss. Also, waters that are heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals may actually suppress your immune system if your combined vitamin/mineral intake from food and these waters boosts you over acceptable limits.
Bottom line: Don't look to waters to meet nutrient needs or provide benefits above and beyond hydration. Water itself is pretty great on its own!
My 3 Favorite Flavored Waters
1. Ayala flavors include Lavender Mint, Ginger Lemon Peel, and Cloves Cardamom Cinnamon
2. Hint flavors include Pomegranate Tangerine, Raspberry Lime, and Cucumber
3. Metromint flavors include Peppermint, Spearmint, and Chocolatemint
For a cheaper--and just as tasty--alternative, try these do-it-yourself tips:
- Tangy Squeeze in wedges of lemon, lime, tangerine, or pink grapefruit, or mix water with unsweetened infused herbal-flavored tea.
- Sweet Chill with cubes made from 100% juice, bits of real fruit, citrus zest, and spices, or add a splash of 100% juice such as white grape or apple.
- Spicy Stir in fresh mint, lemongrass, or grated ginger.