What's really in your vitamin water?
Next time you're reaching for a bottle of water enhanced with vitamins and goodness, stop and think about what you're putting into your body. Are vitamin waters really that much better for you than a can of fizzy drink?
Here at Expertrain, we're always on the lookout for hidden nasties in food and drinks, and we think our readers should be aware of what they're eating and drinking. Everyone knows that fresh fruit and vegetables and unprocessed foods are the healthiest options when it comes to eating, but many of us reach for flavoured bottled waters at lunchtime, without stopping to think about what's actually in them. We crack the lid on what's really in your vitamin water.
It's all about balance
Eating a balanced diet should ensure you're consuming plenty of nutrients and all the vitamins and minerals you need, but taking supplements is an option if you're concerned. There really isn't a need to drink water that's fortified with vitamins and electrolytes; look closer and you'll find many brands, such as Glaceau VitaminWater, are usually packed with sugar, sweeteners and even caffeine too. It's far better for our bodies to get vitamins and minerals from naturally occurring sources, such as fruits and vegetables – a fruit smoothie or a glass of coconut water will do far more for your body than a heavily processed, sugary drink. At the end of the day, the best thing to drink after a workout or whenever you're thirsty is pure, natural water. If you don't like the taste, you can always try sparkling water or add a slice of lemon or lime, or even a squirt of cranberry or lemon juice.
What's in the bottle?
Let's take a look at one of the most popular brands, Glaceau VitaminWater, which can contain up to 33g (that's over six teaspoons) of sugar per bottle and is manufactured by Coca-Cola. Here's the list of ingredients for their orange flavoured water:
- Spring water
- Citric acid
- Mineral salts (calcium lactate, calcium gluconate)
- Vitamins (C, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, D)
- Stabilisers (acacia gum, glycerol esters of wood rosins)
- Natural orange flavourings with other natural flavourings
- Sweetener (steviol glycosides)
- Colour (Carotenes)
That's a lot of artificial ingredients and not much else apart from sugar. Drinking some coconut water (high in electrolytes) or eating a serving of sweet potato wedges is a far better way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs, not to mention antioxidants.
What about the vitamins in the bottle? You'll usually find B vitamins and vitamin C, which are water soluble. This means the body doesn't store any excess intake and they are secreted in your urine.
Is vitamin water harmful to health?
Glaceau VitaminWater also contains a type of fructose called crystalline fructose. Studies show that this could be even more damaging to your health than high fructose corn syrup (1). Fructose can raise triglyceride levels, putting you at increased risk of heart disease. Whilst sugar stimulates the secretion of insulin and enhances the body's production of leptin, two essential ingredients to regulate appetite, fructose does neither of these things. This means that consuming fructose could cause over-eating and lead to weight gain, if consumed regularly. In fact, fructose can even lead to increased belly fat, a known factor which increases risk of heart disease. Crystalline fructose may also contain heavy metals, lead, chlorine and arsenic (2). As American scientist Margo G Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Centre for Science in the Public Interest points out, “Adding vitamins and minerals to junk food doesn't make it healthy.”
Another ingredient found in many vitamin waters is erythritol. This is a sugar alcohol used as an artificial sweetener, and it's lower in calories than sugar. Good news, you might be thinking. However, erythritol isn't completely absorbed by the body, and a high intake can have a laxative effect, causing diarrhoea, stomachache and headaches. You've probably seen warnings on packets of mint or low-sugar sweets which contain sorbitol, warning against their laxative effect.
What about other flavoured waters?
The bad news is that most other flavoured waters on the market are also packed with sugar. One of the most popular, Volvic's Touch of Fruit, which may seem like a healthy option, has 27.5g of sugar per bottle. That's almost seven teaspoons of sugar, more than you'll find in a standard Kit-Kat and the equivalent of three Krispy Kreme doughnuts; in fact it's a third of an adult's recommended daily intake (3).
Other brands don't fare any better either. This Water, created by Innocent, famed for their 'healthy' fruit smoothies, contains 40-50g of sugar per 500ml bottle, whilst Drench blackcurrant and apple has 46g of sugar per bottle. Despite these damning statistics, many of these firms market their product as healthy choices.
What's the alternative?
Whilst occasional consumption of vitamin infused water isn't going to be that harmful for your health, the danger lies in consuming it regularly as part of your diet. The empty calories and artificial sweeteners could mean you're consuming far more sugar than you're aware of, which could lead to weight gain and other health problems. The fact that crystalline fructose doesn't affect insulin levels also means that you're more likely to reach for a snack after a bottle of vitamin water. There's nothing wrong with a healthy post-workout snack, but we recommend recharging after a workout with coconut water, a natural source of electrolytes, a green smoothie or a plain glass of water, the most natural drink there is!
Opt for natural
Natural choices are always going to be better than processed ones when it comes to food and drink. But it's pointless eating a natural, raw food diet packed with fruit and vegetables if you're then going to refuel after your run or gym workout with a sugar-laden bottle of vitamin infused water. Hydration is important at all times, not just after a workout, but the best drinks are those which occur naturally – water, coconut water, even tea or coffee are healthier alternatives (provided you don't load them with full fat milk and sugar).
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