Most of us know we should be drinking more water. But when thirst kicks in, maybe we’re craving the flavor of a sports drink instead, or the afternoon caffeine boost of a soda.
That’s where liquid water enhancers come in, a relatively new player in the market that some experts see as a $1 billion business by 2020.
We’ve all seen them, whether in the beverage aisle or maybe the checkout of your local grocery. Made by brands such as Mio, Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, and available in flavors from berry pomegranate to tropical coconut and everything in between, they can turn your ordinary bottle of water into something closer to your favorite sports drink, if not a Tiki bar.
Some, such as Mio Energy, also add caffeine to help give you the lift you’re looking for; some, such as Mio Fit, boast supplemental vitamins and other health benefits.
So are they beneficial in the long run? To answer that question, said Karah Stanley, dietitian with St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center, you should consider another: When you add flavor-enhanced water to your diet, what are you replacing?
“A lot depends on your motives,” Stanley said. “If you’re someone who never drinks water, then if you’re drinking water with Mio or Crystal Light, certainly it’s better than drinking a pop. But if you’re only drinking flavored water, then that might not be the best either.”
Stanley said dietitians recommend people take in a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day, potentially more depending on rehydrating needs. If you’re drinking a glass or two, say 16 ounces, of flavored water as part of your 64 ounces, then there’s no problem. But you should recognize the need to take in plain water as well.
While water enhancers are low or zero-calorie ““ a half-teaspoon serving of Mio, for example, has zero calories, zero grams of sugar and zero fat ““ that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be aware of.
Water enhancers can pack a multitude of ingredients of uncertain value, including the artificial sweeteners aspartame and sucralose, “which have been shown to not have the greatest effect in the long term,” Stanley said. Other components in some brands, including Mio, include the preservative propylene glycol, an additive also found in airplane de-icing fluid, e-cigarette vaping fluid and car batteries.
Of course, if you want to give your water a little wrinkle, there are other options beyond the prefab concentrated flavorings… “Instead of throwing in the chemicals, you can add a slice of lemon or lime,” Stanley suggested. “You can also find waters infused with strawberry, mint or cucumber, again without throwing in the chemicals.”
Stanley also cautioned to watch your intake of caffeinated waters. Caffeine’s diuretic properties will cause you to excrete water, which can in effect defeat the purpose of drinking more water.
“Some people do want that punch of caffeine, but you don’t want that to be your only source of hydration,” she said. “Then you’re missing the point of hydrating.”