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Thursday, December 1, 2016
Health & Science : There’s not much that’s better for your body than plain old water
By Consumer ReportsJuly 13, 2015
Plain old bottled water is sharing more shelf space these days with flavored and fortified drinks. The labels on many drinks say they contain added minerals and even vitamins, or suggest that they pack the benefits of fruit and vegetables. Those minerals, or electrolytes, help regulate muscle function and water balance, which you can lose during intense exercise.
But are those drinks more hydrating (and more healthful) than regular water? It’s unlikely, Consumer Reports’ experts say.
Few people exercise so vigorously that they need to replenish electrolytes. And Leslie Bonci, a dietitian and director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says that “any liquid is going to be hydrating, even coffee,” adding, “Do vitamins and minerals add to hydration? No. What’s hydrating is the fluid.”
Most Americans simply don’t need fortified drinks. More than 90 percent of us get enough of the important nutrients, according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And because of fortified foods and supplements, we might even get too much of some of them.
In addition, many of those beverages are packed with calories, sodium and sugars. Some labels list food coloring, sweeteners, preservatives and other agents.
Consumer Reports experts evaluated the ingredients and nutritional value of 20 flavored and fortified beverages. (They didn’t test these products to ensure that they contained claimed levels of nutrients.) They also had expert tasters try the drinks. Here’s what they found:
These beverages were developed to help athletes replace carbs used for energy, and electrolytes and fluids lost through perspiration. For years, Gatorade and Powerade were the top ones. Now there are “premium” sports drinks with natural flavoring or ingredients such as coconut water that are marketed to all health-minded consumers.
But most sports drinks have a lot of sugar. A 16-ounce container of Bodyarmor, for example, which costs $2.70, has 140 calories and 36 grams of sugar. Compare that sport drink with a 16.9 fluid-ounce bottle of Pepsi, which has 210 calories and 58 grams of sugar.
All of that added sugar increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to a 2014 report from the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California at Berkeley. Zero-calorie and low-calorie sports drinks might not have any sugar (or as much sugar), but they might have artificial sweeteners. And both types might have food coloring, preservatives or other added ingredients.
The takeaway: Unless you’re working out intensely for more than an hour, you’re unlikely to lose significant electrolytes. So stick to water, says Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. For dealing with pure thirst, the Berkeley report says, water is the “gold standard.” Drinking it before, during and after exercise should quench your thirst and restore lost fluids.
Coconut water and more
Sales of coconut water, the mildly sweet liquid found in coconuts, have zoomed, increasing more than five-fold between 2008 and 2012. The craze seems to have spurred the introduction of a variety of other plant-based drinks, such as artichoke water, maple water and cactus water.
Many manufacturers claim that the drinks offer better hydration. Zico, for example, says that its Pure Premium Coconut Water, which costs $2.25 for 14 ounces, is a “miracle of hydration and replenishment.”
Other companies make more far-reaching promises. Arty claims that its artichoke water, which has many other ingredients in addition to artichokes and costs $2.70 for eight ounces, can “elevate antioxidants, increase metabolism, enhance digestion, purify toxins.”
Happy Tree says that its Organic Raw Maple Water is 100 percent maple sap with “nothing added,” and has 48 calories and 12 grams of sugar in a 16-ounce bottle. Consumer Reports’ tasters described it as “sweetened water.” It costs about $4.
The takeaway: If you’re tired of the same old same old, coconut water and maple water can make for a nice — but pricey — change once in a while.
Water with vitamins
These drinks might contain the daily recommended amount or more of certain vitamins. Vitaminwater’s orange-flavored drinks, $1.20 per 20-ounce bottle, have 150 percent of recommended vitamin C and 100 percent of three B vitamins.
But there’s no need to replenish vitamins just because it’s hot out or you went for a run. “You don’t lose vitamins when you sweat,” Lipman points out.
More might not be better when it comes to vitamins. And fortified drinks can displace food sources of vitamins and nutrients in children’s diets, according to the Berkeley report. The drinks also might have a lot of sugar: A 20-ounce Pomegranate Cherry Sobe Lifewater, $1.10, has 25 grams of sugar and 100 calories.
The takeaway: An occasional vitamin-supplemented water is fine if it helps you get enough fluid, but you’re still much better off getting your vitamins from a balanced diet.
Purified water drinks
There’s a booming market in bottled water that’s been through a purification process. One such process is reverse osmosis, which forces water through a membrane to remove contaminants. Another is distillation, which involves boiling water and then turning the vapor back into liquid water.
Those processes strip away minerals that give water body and taste, so some manufacturers add electrolytes such as sodium to restore flavor. Propel’s Purified Water with Electrolytes, $6 for six 25.4-ounce containers, has 107 milligrams of sodium in an eight-ounce serving, and it does taste a tad salty. Others brands have artificial sweeteners, but you might not know it unless you read the ingredients list on the back.
The takeaway: Next time you’re looking for a refreshing, noncaloric drink, try chilled tap water with a squeeze of lemon.