It's easy to understand why you might reach for Vitamin Water, IQ H20 and Wild Waters instead of plain water -- after all, the promise of good health or intelligence in a bottle is difficult to pass up.
But before you continue to spend your hard-earned dollars on enhanced water, consider this: Flavored water, vitamin water or any other type of enhanced water may actually be less nutritious than plain water. In fact, concerns have been mounting over the health effects of the additives found in flavored waters, and perhaps with good reason.
Children of the Corn
We've all been warned by our dentists and physicians that consuming too much sugar can cause cavities and weight gain. So when food manufacturers started using high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar to sweeten foods and beverages in the 70s, it seemed like a healthy switch.
In some ways, that may be true; studies have shown that high fructose corn syrup is less decay-producing than sugar. But researchers have also discovered that over-consumption can ignite serious health conditions such as diabetes, liver disease and obesity. And one of the most common ways we over-consume high fructose corn syrup is by drinking flavored waters or soda instead of plain water.
According to John Bantle at the University of Minnesota, the body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup differently than sugar. Unlike sugar (sucrose), which is used by the body as a source of energy when consumed in moderation, high fructose corn syrup blunts the body's ability to recognize when it's full and can actually increase your appetite.
But experts say that it's important to note that fructose itself isn't a health hazard -- fresh fruits such as cherries, pears, bananas, grapes and apples are all natural sources of fructose.
John Yudkin, an expert in the health effects of sugar says, "If you eat predominantly natural foods, and avoid large quantities of processed foods, you have little to worry about."
Vitamin C and chicken soup have long been remedies for the common cold. Maybe that's why it's so tempting to drink vitamin water that contains added Vitamin C.
There is a downside to having too much Vitamin C, however.
Studies have shown that consuming Vitamin C in excess of the recommended daily allowance (75-95mg per day) can have a negative effect on your teeth, causing a condition known as extrinsic dental erosion.
Extrinsic dental erosion is the wearing away of tooth enamel, which occurs when the teeth's enamel are attacked by acids originating from beverages enhanced with Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, as well as chewable Vitamin C tablets.
Dr. Sears of Parenting magazine says that our bodies absorb vitamins better when packaged together in healthy foods such as spinach, broccoli and apples -- not when it comes from vitamin-enhanced water.
"When a food's vitamins and minerals are packaged together, they help one another absorb into the bloodstream more efficiently and function better throughout the body," he attests. "Vitamin water gives just a few vitamins and may not be nearly as effective as the same ones eaten in foods."
While brushing and flossing regularly can help guard against enamel erosion, the best defense is to avoid drinking beverages containing Vitamin C or ascorbic acid altogether. After all, if you're eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, chances are you're probably getting all the Vitamin C you need!
The Cost of Color
If poured into a clear glass, you may not be able to tell the difference between certain brands of flavored water and plain water. But other brands of flavored water use artificial food coloring to create a range of colors that rival Crayola®.
While early humans used color to identify toxic foods in nature, today we use it to distinguish "fun" food from "serious" food. When it comes to drinks, vibrant primary colors such as red, blue and yellow are "like Vegas in a bottle," so it's no surprise that flavored waters are such a hit.
However, according to Dr. Sears, drinking bright, colorful water may not be completely risk-free.
The most commonly found artificial food colorings in flavored waters -- FD&C Blue No.1, Red No.3 and Yellow No. 40 -- all contain trace amounts of lead, mercury, chromium and arsenic. Although officially approved, the government "has never completely confirmed the safety" of artificial food coloring, says Dr. Sears.
"You're better off saving your money and drinking plain water," he maintains.
Furthermore, researchers from Southampton University in the UK have recently determined that children become less hyperactive when given food and beverages containing no artificial food coloring.
Moderation Is Key
It can sometimes feel like nothing is safe to eat or drink anymore, but it's important to remember that you may not necessarily have to give up drinking flavored waters completely; just make sure that you drink more plain water than anything else.
Also remember that your dentist and physician can provide you with expert advice on your dental health and overall health, so be sure to talk to them before making any significant changes to your diet. If you don't have a dentist, we can help you find one near you.