Lend Me Your Thirsty Ear(s) – Part I

Take a walk down the beverage aisle in the supermarket and you’ll see a myriad of drinks: soda, juice, water, bottled teas. One of the recent additions to the beverage portfolio is enhanced water. With sales steadily increasing over the past few years, “functional beverages” are likely to be one of the largest growing segments of the food industry. However, there seems to be a bit of confusion around whether these drinks actually improve health, with even a federal judge weighing in on the issue recently. So, is there any benefit to drinking vitamin-fortified water?

Answering that question requires us to first take a look at what is actually in these products. Here are the ingredient statements and nutrition facts for two popular products marketed as enhanced water:

Vitaminwater Power C (by Coca-Cola via Energy Brands, Inc.): Vapor Distilled, Deionized, and/or Reverse Osmosis Water, Cane Sugar, Crystalline Fructose, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Natural Flavor, Dragonfruit Extract, Vegetable Juice (Color), Magnesium Lactate (Electrolyte), Taurine, Zinc Picolinate, Calcium Lactate (Electrolyte), Niacin (B3), Monopotassium Phosphate (Electrolyte), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (B6), Cyanocobalamin (B12), Chromium Polynicotinate

Calories: 50
Sugar: 13
Vitamin A: 0%
Vitamin C: 100%
Calcium: 0%
Iron: 0%
Vitamin B5: 20%
Vitamin B6: 20%
Vitamin B12: 20%
Zinc: 10%
Chromium: 10%

Fruit2O – Citrus (by Sunny Delight Beverages via Veryfine Products, Inc.): Purified Water, Contains Less Than 2% of Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin (FIBER), Potassium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Potassium Chloride (Electrolyte), Potassium, Potassium Pyruvate (Electrolyte), Potassium Citrate (Electrolyte), Calcium D-Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Zinc Gluconate (Mineral), Glucono Delta-Lactone, Lactic Acid, Manganese Gluconate Dehydrate (Mineral), Vitamin B6, Citric Acid, Sucralose, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preserve Freshness).

Calories: 0
Sugar: 0
Vitamin A: 0%
Vitamin C: 10%
Calcium: 0%
Iron: 0%
Vitamin B5: 10%
Vitamin B6: 10%
Zinc: 2%
Manganese: 2%
Phosphorus: 10%

1. First Ingredient. Both contain water as the primary ingredient, thankfully. Off to a good start!

2. Sweetener. Vitaminwater Power C then has two types of sweetener (cane sugar and crystalline fructose), which contributes to the whopping 13 grams of sugar in this “water.” In contrast, Fruit2O-Citrus is sweetened with sucralose (also known as Splenda), an artificial, calorie-free sweetener made by chemically modifying table sugar. While there is a lot of controversy around artificial sweeteners, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed most of them safe for consumption. Advantage: Fruit2O.

3. Micronutrient content. For both products, the ingredients that appear after water and sugar are mostly micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Note that although these ingredients have a huge impact on the micronutrient content (evidenced by the %DV amounts above), the actual amount of each vitamin or mineral relative to water and sugar is low. The B vitamins, well-established as essential for energy metabolism, are no surprise, as these products are likely to be marketed to athletes (more on this in part 2). The vitamin C in Vitaminwater Power C, at 100% DV, isn’t necessarily bad for you, but unlikely to be absorbed fully. The minerals, while different between the two products, aren’t adding significant value as most individuals consume adequate amounts of them in a regular diet. Tie

4. Flavor and color. Both products also contain natural flavors, a catch-all term for flavoring agents that are derived from plants. The Vitaminwater product contains dragonfruit extract and vegetable juice that give it a red hue (kudos for not using artificial food coloring); Fruit2O-Citrus has no coloring agents. Tie

From the synopsis above, Fruit2O comes out above Vitaminwater Power C on health. You can see this spelled out in numbers on GoodGuide. However, whether or not either of these products should be chosen over water or juices requires another post. Tune in next week to hear the rest of the story!

PS – Brownie points to anyone who knows both references in the post title.

PPS – This post was originally featured on My WaterBloggle, a blog that highlights issues related to sustainable water consumption.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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