Worth Every Drop: Do Vitamin-Pumped Bottled Waters Live Up to Their Hype


Used to be there was only one kind of water: wet. Take a stroll through any grocery store or deli now, though, and you'll see water in all kinds of colors, flavors, and body-boosting varieties. But ranging from $1 to $2 for a 20-ounce bottle do these bottled waters really have an edge over the old-fashioned, from-the-tap kind?

You'd definitely think so from the numbers: Companies made $428 million on enhanced water in 2004, versus $20 million in 2000, making it one of the fastest-growing beverage market segments. But whether it's better for you depends on what you're looking for. If flavor and the convenience of grab-and-go bottles top your list, there may be good reason to choose bottled over tap. But for vitamin supplementation? Maybe not.

To help make sense of it all, we talked with sports nutritionists Nancy Clark, RD, author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook and New York University's Lisa Sasson, RD. We explored three categories—flavored, nutrient enhanced, and oxygenated—to find out what's truly worth drinking. Read on for the answers.

No health claims here, but heavy drinkers might want to keep an eye on waters with extra calories from sugar or corn syrup. A label may list 20 calories per 8-ounce serving, but that adds up to 50 calories in a 20- ounce bottle. "If you're drinking a lot of this, 50 calories can add up," says Clark. But a bottle here and there won't do much damage. If you choose water with calories, be sure to cut them somewhere else.

If you like sweetness but don't want to worry about calories, there are artificially sweetened choices such as Dasani's lemon-, raspberry-, or strawberry-flavored waters, and Fruit2O (both use Splenda are calorie-free).

Some brands taste like watered-down candy. We preferred fruitier down flavors like Glaceau Fruitwater Raspberry (sweetened with fructose, it has 50 calories per 20-ounce bottle). The upshot: Read the labels, especially if you're counting calories or if artificial sweeteners bother you.

Nutrient enhanced
There are all kinds of fortified waters to consider, including products that come packaged with minerals straight from Mother Nature or waters with added nutrients, like electrolytes and vitamins.

Some sparkling mineral waters come out of the earth with calcium already in them like Sanfaustino (with ready 450 milligrams per liter), and Gerolsteiner (348 mg per liter). These provide at least a third of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of calcium for a 30-year-old woman—1,000 mg a day—if you drink the whole bottle (a cup of skim milk has 306 mg). Calcium content isn't always on labels, so check the maker's Web site to see how your bottle measures up.

If you prefer your water flat, try Pink2O, a brand that comes in four flavors aimed at women. A 20- ounce bottle has 104 mg of calcium plus a bonus: more than half a woman's recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid, which helps prevent neuraltube birth defects.

Other offerings include Propel Fitness Water, Aquafina Essentials, Glaceau SmartWater, VitaZest, and a host of other waters. Each of these is enhanced with its own assortment of nutrients.

What about drinking fortified waters just for the vitamins and minerals? You're better off getting them from food, particularly fruits and vegetables, Sasson says. But if you want a vitamin insurance policy, take an ordinary multivitamin with ordinary tap water.

That can be said for the popular Glaceau Vitaminwater, which won one of our Best of Food Awards in May 2005 for its Rescue flavor. While we praised its green-tea antioxidants, B vitamins, and 40 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, Vitaminwater should not replace your daily multivitamin or the vitamins and minerals that you get from a healthy diet.

If you're a fortified-water fan, don't worry: You won't OD on vitamins unless you down gallons of it.

Clearly Canadian O + 2 and Penta are part of a whole new breed of reformulated or "ultrapurified" waters that carry more oxygen or supposedly a better version of it. The company that makes Penta—reportedly a favorite of celebrities—claims to purify water with a process that prevents water molecules from clustering, making it easier for the body to absorb. Hydration expert John Leiper, PhD, visiting lecturer at England's Loughborough University, has reservations. "I can't find any published scientific evidence to confirm the claim that Penta water is absorbed faster." And chemist and water expert Stephen Lower of Vancouver debunks this whole category of waters on his Web site. "Unless you have gills," he notes, there's no reason to search out water with extra O2. Just take a breath of fresh air; it's fully oxygenated.

The bottom line
Bottled waters with embellishments are "more likely to harm your pocketbook than your health," says American Dietetic Association spokesperson can Lona Sandon, MEd, RD. And while they won't turn you into a turbotriathlete, they do help keep you hydrated. So if that's what you need to stay wet, we say "bottoms up."