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Enhanced Waters: Are They as Good as They Claim to Be? (Part 1)

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A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the typical summertime beverages that people sip on regularly. But one category of drinks that I didn’t mention is something called “enhanced waters.”

Enhanced waters are, for the most part, souped-up water laced with vitamins, antioxidants, herbs, and/or other nutrients. Some brands claim that they’ll help you relax, or give you more energy, or even make you stronger (all without even lifting a dumbbell!). And of course, they come at a price. Just what are these drinks, anyway? Have you tried them? Are they really any better than plain old water?

Enhanced waters are, in some respects, an answer to the sagging bottled water industry. Bottled waters are a business, so beverage and food companies are always looking for the latest and greatest thing that will help boost sales. The answer? Take water and dump in ingredients that most people don’t need more of and can easily get from food, and then jack up the price to lead people into thinking this is something they need. Oh, and enlist celebrities to endorse it. OK, that seems a little cynical. Maybe there are some merits to these drinks.

Owned by Coca-Cola, Glacéau’s VitaminWater may just be the ringleader of the enhanced waters. This fortified water has even been endorsed by names such as rapper 50 Cent (who has his own special formula), LeBron James, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Aniston! So it must be good, right? And if you visit VitaminWater’s Web site at, you’ll likely be impressed with the catchy graphics and animation. Read the descriptions about each type of VitaminWater, and you’ll probably feel like you should have earned a degree in biochemistry. For example, part of the description of the “rescue” VitaminWater, which contains green tea, reads as follows:

Green tea is a rich source of polyphenolic antioxidants including (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (egcg). Research has shown green tea extract to reduce the proliferation of cancer cells in test tube experiments, and to inhibit growth of tumors of the skin, lung, oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, liver, prostate and other organs in experimental animals.

Once you get past the scientific language used in the descriptions of these drinks, you might wonder why you couldn’t just drink a cup of green tea…

I looked at the label of a 20-ounce bottle of “focus” VitaminWater. Here is what an 8-ounce serving contains:

  • 50 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 13 grams of carbohydrate
  • 13 grams of sugar
  • 10% of the RDA for vitamin A
  • 40% of the RDA for vitamin C

Of course, most people don’t drink just 8 ounces; if you swig the whole 20-ounce bottle, the payoff is 125 calories and 33 grams of carbohydrate (from sugar). Plus, you’ll get 25% of the RDA for vitamin A and 100% of the RDA for vitamin C. But the real good stuff is in the ingredients: Vapor distilled, deionized and/or reverse osmosis water, crystalline fructose, cane sugar, citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), vegetable juice, natural flavor, gum acacia, plus electrolytes, lutein, and a handful of B vitamins. Isn’t this really just water sweetened with sugar with some vitamins thrown in?

These beverages typically cost about a dollar, which isn’t a whole lot. But if you’re taking a multivitamin everyday, plus eating an orange, or a tomato, or any of a countless number of fruits and vegetables that contain vitamins A and C, why bother with this? VitaminWater doesn’t contain any fiber or phytonutrients (plant-derived nutrients that may have health benfits), either. And if you drink the regular version, you’ve got to count the carbohydrate. (There is a low-calorie version called VitaminWater 10 that contains just 10 calories and 4 grams carbohydrate per serving, so that’s at least a little better).

More on enhanced waters next week!

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