Which water to drink?
We know we’re supposed to drink water to stay healthy. But increasingly the message is that it’s not enough to drink tap water when a bottle can give you an alphabet’s worth of vitamins, berry extracts, herbal stimulants and sweeteners to boost flavour and health benefits.
These so-called “enhanced” waters can be fine for you, but read labels and don’t be misled by language crafted to sell the beverages
Words like ‘enlighten’ and ‘challenge’ aren’t health claims; you need to separate the marketing phrases from the nutrient content.
The bottled-water market continues to show double-digit growth, according to market analysts in the UK and the USA.
Companies are using water as a platform for innovation, adding flavours, sweeteners and nutrients, minerals and vitamins, which can cause problems long term.
While beverage makers are promoting their waters as being superior to what flows from the tap, do these liquids do any more for workout buffs and office workers than drain their wallets and contribute to the mountains of plastic in landfills?
Adding a splash of flavour is good if it gets people to drink more water, but athletes and UK people in general — don’t drink enough water, and enhanced waters can be trouble, too.
Initially water had added flavour, then vitamins, which can cause imbalance if you are getting your recommended daily allowance from your food or other supplements. Overdosing on vitamins is bad for both the wallet and your wellbeing.
Athletes should be drinking water from the fountain every time they walk by one and to use other beverages to top off the tank to provide fuel and electrolytes when they need them during practice, games or exercise.
Dieticians say flavoured water is OK for those who don’t like it plain, but they also caution consumers to read labels to avoid getting too much sugar, too many calories and unhealthy quantities of vitamins or other additives.
There are three simple tests for each glass of water you drink: Does it taste good, is it safe and is it cheap?
These factors are normally more than covered by drinking water from our own taps, but people can get bored with plain water. But if people don’t like the taste of their water, they can filter it or add their own flavouring.
The nutrition part is where Cynthia Sass, a registered dietician and nutrition director at Prevention magazine, sees some potential problems. “I don’t like people to look at water as a source of energy boost or amino acids,” says Sass, who prefers that people meet their nutrition needs from food or multivitamins.
“People who tend to gravitate to these things are already taking a vitamin. And drinking too many stimulants, whether it’s ginseng or green tea, can cause a spike in blood pressure.”
She also says that drinks can be fairly empty calories. Eating an orange, apple or banana will give you more nutritional value.
Sass recommends saving money and controlling the content and flavour of your water by amending it yourself. That’s what she does because she’s among the many who don’t love the taste of tap water.
“I’ll just add a squeeze of lemon or lime, pure fruit juice or fruit-infused green tea,” says Sass. Vary the flavours, alternating blueberry, cherry and other types of juice, she suggests. “It’s a great opportunity to take in a wider spectrum of antioxidants. I think of them as little bodyguards, protecting us from the effects of aging and disease,” she says, adding that a study of women who ate a variety of produce found that they had significantly greater levels of antioxidants in their blood than women who ate the same thing every day.
For Sass, the choice of water comes down to two things: flavour and temperature.
“I tend to like water at more of a room temperature, but some people want it really cold,” she says.
“Whatever it takes to keep you drinking it through the day is what you should do.” How much do you need?
There’s been plenty of debate about how much water to drink, and not everyone believes in the old eight-glasses-a-day recommendation.
Let your thirst, activity level and diet guide you in how much to drink notes a study published in the American Journal of Physiology that found healthy adults living in temperate climates and not engaged in rigorous activities didn’t need large amounts of water.
Researcher Heinz Valtin recommended simply drinking when thirsty, and he wrote that caffeinated drinks can count toward satisfying fluid requirements. In February 2004, the Institute of Medicine issued new recommendations agreeing with Valtin.
The new guidelines remove the eight- glasses-a-day recommendation and suggest healthy adults allow thirst to determine their fluid needs.
But you need to be mindful of physical activity, heat and humidity, which boost a body’s need to rehydrate. And those who are going to be physically active for long periods should consider sports drinks that hydrate and provide easily usable sugar and electrolytes.
Illnesses accompanied by increased body temperature, excessive perspiration, vomiting, frequent urination or diarrhoea can also increase hydration needs.
While water is an important ingredient for staying healthy, people should never look at it as a substitute for a well-balanced diet.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you didn’t have five servings of vegetables today you can make up for it with water.