Another day, another bottled water — Coca-Cola announed a new flavored water this week, this time one that calls itself Fruitwater, minus the fruit. What's the deal with all the water drops and flavored waters these days?
It's just another way to make water — an inherently very unsexy drink — sexy, says Michael Cervin, senior editor at Bottled Water Web. After all, why do you think there are so many pretty pictures on a bottle of water? "You can't do too much [to water], which is why packaging is a huge part of the industry," he says. "Flavored waters using essences are certainly more common, but any added sugars put that water back to a soda-like beverage." Which is why companies like Coca-Cola's Glaceau division get called out so often for their products like Vitaminwater and just-announced Fruitwater — despite the name "water," there are still added calories and sugars. Also big right now? Water additives in the form of a drop. Dasani (another Coca-Cola-owned bottled water) launched its own Dasani Drops, a concentrated, calorie-free liquid "flavor enhancer" to flavor its own purified tap water. Mio drops are another flavor-enhancer, but they come with some big red flags on the nutritional label: sucralose and acesulfame potassium, two artificial sweeteners.
And the elaborate bottled waters just keep pouring into the market. Cervin recognized a new trend coming soon to the market, plant additive waters (like Ayala Herbal Water or Ahhmigo "greens" water). "The issue with these, even though they taste fine, [is that they] are darker in color and I don't think people want to drink brown-looking water," Cervin says. Good point. But there are also pH-balanced and ionized waters, waters with added vitamins, protein waters, and more. (Yes, we found a flavored water... for dogs. Because no one in their right mind would drink something called "gutter water.")
Despite the bad rap from most flavored waters (ahem, Vitaminwater), it's not all bad news. Nowadays, flavored waters on the market come with added vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and — best of all — no added sugars. HINT waters, for example, have no calories, no sugar, and no artificial flavors or preservatives and come in a variety of flavors: Blackberry, Watermelon, Pomegranate-Tangerine, Mango-Grapefruit, Strawberry-Kiwi, and Raspberry-Lime. Of course, it's best to really check the labels. HINT's ingredient labels say "natural flavors" (but doesn't say what they are), while another popular brand, SoBe Lifewater, has some ingredients listed that make us take pause: cochineal extract (the same insect extract that made for a big color in Strawberry Frappuccinos), erythritol (a sugar alcohol), and "natural flavors." Then there are the protein waters (like Spartos) get sources of protein from whey along with other vitamins — but really, sounds more like a sports drink minus the added electrolytes.
At the other end of the spectrum are the uber-purified bottled waters as alternatives to the the mass-market bottled waters; but don't be fooled by terms like "pH-balanced" and "ionized" waters. Not only do these waters not have any studies backing up the health benefits of pH or ionized waters, Cervin says, the processing strips away key trace minerals and elements out of the water. "In the short term these water can help get you back in balance, but then you must keep a healthy diet," he says. "It's like taking medicine to get back to health — once you return to health you stop taking the meds, right?"
Still, the issue that's at heart is are these newfangled waters bad for you? Not necessarily. Above all, the most universally agreed upon health benefit of a flavored water is that it encourages consumers to be drinking more water. A random survey from around The Daily Meal offices (and a taste test of the major bottled water brands) revealed an interesting point — some people just don't like the taste of water. Still, it's best to be aware of what you're consuming; one 2011 Daily Mail article noted that some flavored waters have as much sugar as three donuts. But let’s just remember one thing when buying flavored water — the majority of the time, you’re not going to find any fruit in it.