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Published on July 10, 2019

glass of sparkling water with fruit

Making Smart Choices with Flavored Water Alternatives

With the summer months upon us, many of us are looking for something to quench our thirst. But with flavored water alternatives flooding the market, some of us are left wondering, which ones are best?

Here are a few questions to consider:

Carbonated or flat?

The reaction between carbon dioxide and water makes water to lightly more acidic; however, this is not significant in a healthy adult. Carbonated beverages have been linked to dental decay and poor bone health; however, the dental decay is more strongly linked to sugar content and bone health seems to be affected by the high phosphorus levels in cola drinks. Some studies suggest that carbonated water has positive effects on the gastrointestinal system: improved swallowing, constipation relief, and increased feelings of fullness. None of the research is strong enough to base decisions on, I would stick to whichever is more satisfying.

"Natural flavors" or fruit juice?

In the more than 20 products I looked at, only two (Spindrift and Vita Coco Coconut Water) did not contain the words “Natural Flavors” in the ingredient list. So what is a “natural flavor”?

The code of federal regulations defines a natural flavor as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Clear as mud, right?

The point being that “natural” does not mean close to nature, just derived from something found in nature, but there is typically a lot of processing involved. Fruit or vegetable juice, although much less processed, does mean the product will contain calories. So the true question becomes do I value whole/natural foods or having a beverage with zero calories? If you want a little more control over the “natural flavors” you can consider adding your own ingestible essential oil in plain flat or sparkling water.

Do I need a little extra sweetness?

True to their marketing, many of the new products on the market do not contain any added artificial or natural sweeteners, including Hint, Bubly, La Croix, Spindrift, Dasani Sparkling and Perrier, but the resulting products are not very sweet. Of the other products evaluated the most common sweeteners were stevia, erythritol, cane sugar and sucralose. 

The great debate on sweeteners continues, but when it comes to beverages you can find one that fits your beliefs. Stevia is considered a novel sweetener as it is somewhat hard to classify, but several forms are “generally recognized as safe” according to the FDA.

The stevia plant is in the same family as ragweed and dandelions, so some people complain of headaches, likely related to allergens. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol and a byproduct of corn fermentation. Large amounts of sugar alcohol can cause a laxative effect, bloating, intestinal gas or diarrhea. Cane sugar will affect blood sugar and contains four calories per gram, meaning it can impact weight.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, produced using sucrose, but is not digestible and therefore does not have any calories. More research on the health impact of artificial sweeteners is needed, and it’s ongoing!

What else can my water do for me?

Many of the products evaluated also contain significant amounts of added vitamins and minerals, including brands such as Sparkling Ice Sparkling Water, Vitaminwater brand drinks, Propel Fitness Water, BODYARMOR SuperDrink and Spark Energy Drink Mix. How well your body can use and absorb these added vitamin and minerals is hard to say. These products do contain varying amounts of sodium, potassium and phosphorus, so people who have had heart failure or kidney failure conditions will want to look closely at their labels.

If you are having a hard time getting enough plain water, I would say there is an available alternative, but it is definitely going to take some label reading and taste testing to figure out which best suits your needs.

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