Feel like the health industry is drowning in bottled beverages these days? It’s not just you; liquid nutrition is all the rage right now. From juice cleanses and smoothie bars to flavored waters, many retailers are tapping into the trend. Americans spend roughly $11.8 billion on bottled water each year, and new “enhanced” varieties are cropping up each week. Claiming to slim you down, increase energy and deliver natural electrolytes, these gulps don’t come cheap. Could you be convinced to spend up to six dollars on a watermelon water?
We’ve taken a cold, hard look at the ingredients labels and enlisted some expert help to decode the claims of these new thirst quenchers. Learn which drinks are worth sipping and which are worth skipping.
1. Maple Water
Calories: 20 per 8.45 fl. oz. box
Cost: Roughly $3 (drinkmaple.com)
Usually maple sap is boiled down to the viscous stuff you pour on pancakes, but recently several companies have been selling the sap straight to consumers, labeled as water. Far less sweet than syrup, maple water is touted as having a high amount of polyphenols, which act as antioxidants by protecting cells against cancer-causing free radicals.
The Verdict: “Because maple water is pulled up from the soil, it’s packed with anti-inflammatory nutrients like manganese, a key player in protection against free radicals,” says nutritionist Shira Lenchewski, R.D. Manganese also plays an important role in nutrient absorption and bone development. Since maple water has half the sugar of coconut water (four grams per eight fluid ounces), Lenchewski considers it a great option for daily hydration — assuming you’ve got a few extra bucks to spare.
2. Artichoke Water
Calories: 40 per 8 fl. oz. bottle
The Cost: Roughly $3 per bottle; $64 for a 24-pack (artywater.com)
Nominated as a finalist for the “Best New Product of 2014” category at the Natural Products Expos West, ARTY Water is the first and only artichoke water on the market. The company’s CEO was inspired after downing artichoke-infused water during triathlon training, which he claimed offered “superior hydration.” Supposedly, this beverage retains all the minerals found in a whole artichoke, including the nutrient-dense leaves that don’t usually get eaten. And don’t underestimate the funny-looking green veggie; it’s got one of the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants, according to the USDA.
The Verdict: “This is so new, so it’s tough to actually tell the real benefits,” says nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, R.D. She notes that the sodium and potassium levels aren’t particularly high, which is not optimal for athletes. Plus, Middleberg doesn’t love that the ingredients list contains “natural flavors,” a vague term that could mean it has traces of processed ingredients.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Stay Hydrated (That Aren’t Water)
3. Cactus Water
Calories: 32 per 11 fl. oz. bottle
Cost: $2.75 per bottle (drinkcaliwater.com)
Could a prickly desert plant be a source of hydration? That’s the premise behind cactus water, a blend of filtered water, prickly pear cactus juice concentrate and extract, citrus concentrate and other natural flavors. Some early research suggests a potential link between ingesting cactus flesh and a decrease in inflammation and blood glucose levels. And here’s a fun fact: It’s used as a hangover cure in Mexico.
The Verdict: “The research on this is pretty limited,” cautions Middleberg. You’re better off sticking with oatmeal or green vegetables if you’re seriously looking to control your blood sugar levels. She also notes that products made from concentrate or products containing “natural” flavors may be processed and contain not-so-good-for-you chemical byproducts.
4. Aloe Juice
Calories: 18 per 8 fl. oz. serving
Cost: Roughly $2.40 per 15.2 fl. oz. bottle (gloe.com)
Not just for soothing sunburns, aloe is now a main ingredient in several new wellness drinks. Used medicinally for thousands of years, the aloe vera plant has a clear gel inside its leaves. Aloe waters and juices have even gone from grocery store shelves to select gyms in recent years.
The Verdict: Since aloe is known to have laxative effect that can throw off electrolyte levels, this drink is not ideal for athletes. “I may recommend this for digestion issues but not to hydrate, as some people get side effects like diarrhea, bloating and cramping,” says Middleberg.
5. Watermelon Water
Calories: 60 per 8 fl. oz. serving
Cost: Roughly $6 per 12 fl. oz bottle (wtrmlnwtr.com)
Think pink with this melon-in-a-bottle. Reminiscent of your favorite summertime fruit, this rose-colored beverage has just the bare necessities inside: watermelon flesh, rind and lemon.
The Verdict: While technically a cold-pressed juice, not a water, this beverage packs a serious nutritional punch. Lenchewski highly recommends watermelon water for rehydrating after an endurance workout because it’s rich in lycopene and potassium, which, she says is “crucial for maintaining fluid balance.” You’d have to eat over four cups of cubed watermelon to ingest the same amount of potassium in eight fluid ounces of wtrmln wtr. Lenchewski notes it also contains the amino acid citrulline, which improves circulation and can aid in muscle recovery. If you don’t want to bother cutting up a watermelon yourself, this drink could be worth the cash.
6. Coconut Water
Calories: 45-50 per 8 fl. oz. serving
Cost: Roughly $3.70 per 11 fl. oz. bottle. (zico.com)
You put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up! Or so the saying goes. A favorite way to hydrate in tropical regions, coconut water, a sweet, cloudy liquid, is found naturally within young coconuts.
The Verdict: There’s good reason for the recent coconut water craze. Packed with as much potassium as a banana and relatively low in calories, coconut water can help endurance athletes rehydrate after a grueling workout. Middleberg recommends the beverage for fueling post-hot yoga, spin class or running, but she warms, “it lacks the sodium long-distance athletes need.” At roughly 252 mg of sodium per serving, coconut water falls short of how much sodium a profusely perspiring marathoner could potentially sweat out — up to a whopping 3,000 mg.
RELATED: A Runner’s Guide to Hydration (And How Not to Overdo It)
7. Performance Water
Calories: 0-120 per 20 fl. oz bottle
Cost: Roughly $2.25 per bottle (vitaminwater.com)
“Vitamin enhanced” waters are a dime a dozen these days. Whether clear or colored, these beverages claim to deliver antioxidants, boost energy and revitalize your body.
The Verdict: “Performance drinks are meant for people who are working out continuously and hard for 90 minutes or more,” says Middleberg. “If you’re just going to the gym for 30 minutes to an hour, they’re not necessary.” She also warns against chugging down beverages that have lots of artificial ingredients and colors. “You’re essentially chugging sugar water,” Middleberg says, noting that some brands have around 33 grams of the sweet stuff per 20-ounce bottle.
To learn more about Lenchewski’s nutritional philosophy, check out her Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. To keep up with Middleberg, head to her Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.