You’ve been on the go all day and need a drink. All you have to do is pick up some water from the store – but that’s not as simple as it sounds. Because there’s a wealth of options to choose from, with some bottles claiming to be “enhanced” with added health benefits. Be wary, though. Enhanced water may seem like a healthy choice, but sticking with plain, old simple H2O might be the safest move you can make.
With so many flavors on offer, the temptation to pick up a bottle of enhanced water can be quite intense. Because it’s fair to say that such products stand out on the shelves against their clear and simple counterparts. Given that they claim to be both delicious and healthy, these drinks can be difficult to ignore.
Recent consumer trends appear to reflect this, with the trade in bottled water seeing a rise over the last few years. It seems safe to suggest that the growing popularity of enhanced water has contributed to this general increase. But given the demand for such products, we should take care to properly examine their so-called perks.
It’s obviously a smart tactic for companies selling enhanced water to tout their products as promoting wellness. But aside from serving as an effective marketing ploy, can claims of this nature actually be believed? Because some experts have spoken out to warn people of the grim downsides to enhanced water products.
The proclaimed health benefits of enhanced water may, in fact, be vastly overstated by marketers. But even worse than that, these products might actively impact our bodies in a negative way. So if you happen to be hooked on the stuff, you may want to think about altering your habits.
Now it can be difficult to figure out exactly what “enhanced water” is. Because it’s a broad category, and one that utilizes a variety of buzzwords. Some terms you might come across include “wellness,” “vitamin,” “fitness” and “smart.” So are they saying we’d be stupid not to drink them?
But if you want to be truly accurate, there’s one word that you shouldn’t apply to it. And that’s water. Paradoxical as that sounds, it’s because the Food and Drug Administration has defined bottled water as a product without additives. Oops!
And some experts have suggested that once water’s been loaded with additional components, then it becomes something else. So if it contains calories, they say, the drink in question can be defined as a “beverage.” This might seem like a simple issue of semantics, but language is important when it comes to health products.
Because people like to believe that the food and drink products they consume are good for them. And there are few things that can evoke notions of wellness and purity more effectively than “water” itself. But this association can be taken advantage of when companies peddle water-based products that aren’t actually very healthy.
Nutrition expert Bonnie Liebman, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, spoke with Time magazine in 2018 about enhanced water. And she said, “Most of the claims are marketing ploys to sell water at a higher price. They are not about scientific evidence, and not about the public’s health.”
Yet bottled water sales in America have been on the rise for years now – and enhanced water has certainly played its part. Plus the industry concerning drinking water products is worth billions of dollars, $15 billion alone in 2015. And that’s true regardless of how healthy or otherwise enhanced it is.
The appeal of enhanced water isn’t entirely down to its perceived benefits for our health, though. The fact that sales of flavored water are doing well these days is very telling. Many people are just looking for drinks that taste good, but aren’t as bad for them as, say, soda. And they’re especially popular with the younger generation aged between 18 and 34.
But to truly test how enhanced water compares to soda, regarding health benefits anyway, we need to consider what’s actually in it. This varies from product to product, of course, so you have to do your own research when thinking about a particular brand. Yet generally speaking, many of them tend to be loaded with water-soluble vitamins.
B vitamins are often present in enhanced water, as is vitamin C. The latter is useful for keeping our cells healthy, whereas B vitamins – such as B12, B6, B5 and B3 – help us to stay energized. In basic terms, all these vitamin additives can be sold to us as a means of boosting our immune system.
Plus a range of different minerals can also be added to water, which can affect its flavor. Specific types of minerals known as electrolytes are sometimes put into water, ostensibly to maintain cellular health. Examples of common electrolytes are potassium and sodium, though calcium and chloride also fall under this branch.
So we might presume that additional minerals in our water are a good thing, as they tend to be associated with good health. But the reality isn’t as simple as that. Because many minerals sold to us these days aren’t very easy for our bodies to make use of.
It’s not uncommon for protein to be added to bottled water products on the market today, either. Protein is essential for helping our muscles, but it can sometimes lead to an undesirable texture in our water.Therefore producers may add sweeteners to the drink to cover this up.
This leads us to another worrying point. Because many bottles of enhanced water are loaded with sugar. It’s not unheard of, in fact, for some brands to possess more sugar than the total amount we’re meant to consume over the course of an entire day. This is clearly a problem for people aiming to stay healthy.
But the problem with bottled water isn’t just about what’s added to it, as its very means of packing is a huge issue. That’s right: plastic bottles are a real problem for the environment, taking a millennium or so to break down. That’s striking when we consider that only a sixth of bottles end up being recycled.
So millions of tons of plastic waste is produced as a result of bottled water. Plus the process of actually making the plastic in the first place is damaging, too. Between the materials used to form the plastic, and the ways in which it’s transported to the marketplace, the impact on the environment is significant.
Yes, a massive amount of oil is used up in the process of producing bottled water. If we compare this energy usage to what’s necessary for getting tap water to people, the difference is stark. Because, apparently, tap water is around 2,000 times more efficient. And, furthermore, huge amounts of H2O itself are wasted in the production process of bottled water.
Yet it isn’t just the environment that’s negatively affected by plastic bottles. In sweltering conditions, it seems, they can also have a harmful impact on our bodies. Speaking to National Geographic in 2019, an expert from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute explained more. According to Rolf Halden, “The hotter it gets, the more the stuff in plastic can move into food or drinking water.” Yuk!
And scientist Julia Taylor, from the University of Missouri, explained more to National Geographic concerning the effect of heat on plastic containers. She said, “As a general rule, yes, heat helps break down chemical bonds in plastics like plastic bottles, and those chemicals can migrate into beverages they contain.”
So when plastic is used to hold food or drink, chemicals are inevitably transferred into the produce. That’s bound to happen anyway, to a small extent, but when high temperatures are introduced to the equation, things get worse. And even if we use reusable plastic bottles – which are undoubtedly better for the environment – we can still face a problem.
Taylor explained to National Geographic, “The bottom line is that glass is better than plastic, wherever possible. Otherwise, the message should be to keep the water bottle in a bag or covered when not in use (not exposed to bright sunlight for long periods of time) and not to leave plastic bottles in a hot car, as temperatures rise fast [in summer].”
It’s true that the level of chemicals that can be transferred into food and drink from plastic is low, even in warm conditions. But it all adds up over time. So if you’re prone to drinking numerous plastic bottles of water every day, then you might eventually face some issues.
There’s no getting away from the fact that plastic is all around us in society today. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t limit our exposure to it. So if you were to switch your reusable plastic water bottle for a metal one, you might be better off.
Thus plastic water bottles are bad for the environment and can potentially affect our health. But that’s to say nothing of the impact of enhanced water specifically. These products are often delivered to us in plastic bottles, but what does the liquid itself do to our bodies?
Well, there’s one consequence in particular that should concern you. Augusto Robles is a dental expert from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry. And he spoke with Reader’s Digest in November 2020. Robles explained that the acidic nature of enhanced water can have a nasty impact on our teeth.
Robles remarked, “If the bottled water has a pH lower than 5.5, then it has the ability to dissolve enamel, which is the hard protective outer layer of your teeth and the hardest substance in the human body.” Not all brands of enhanced water have the same pH level, of course, with some being worse for our teeth than others.
Plus another dental expert, Edmond R. Hewlett from the University of California Los Angeles, told The Washington Post back in 2017 what can happen when enamel is lost. He said, “[it] can affect [teeth’s] structural integrity, making them hypersensitive to temperature and potentially more cavity-prone.”
Plain tap water tends to sit anywhere from 6 to 8 on the pH scale. But when you carbonate this liquid to create sparkling water, the pH can drop to 5. All of this is still okay for your teeth, but if you start flavoring the water, then you can run into issues.
In 2016 a study from the Journal of the American Dental Association pointed out the problems with flavored water. And according to the research, some varieties of still, fruit-flavored water were found to have pH levels as low as 3. This is only marginally better for your teeth than soda.
Plus if this flavored water is carbonated, things get even worse. In 2007 research from the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry asserted that some varieties had a pH of 2.7. This is equivalent to the damage that orange juice can inflict on teeth. None of this, of course, is to suggest that these products are inherently bad. It’s just that they can be harmful for teeth if they’re consumed too often.
If enhanced water is a part of your daily diet, you probably don’t need to drop it entirely. Even though it’s bad for your teeth, it’s still not quite as corrosive as soda, which is unhealthy in other ways. But if you drink lots of enhanced water, you should definitely consider cutting down.
As Edmond Hewlett told The Washington Post, “It’s frequent, regular consumption that can be dangerous to our teeth. The problem is when people drink these beverages instead of plain water as their main hydration. The best beverage you can drink is plain fluoridated water.” So if enhanced water is just an occasional indulgence, you should be fine.
But there are ways you can try and protect your teeth from damage when you drink, regardless. For example, if they’re not exposed to corrosive liquid for very long, then they’re naturally going to do better. So if you drink fast rather than sipping slowly, potentially damaging fluid will pass by your teeth without inflicting as much damage as it otherwise would.
Because some people allow liquid to remain in their mouths after they’ve taken a gulp. When the drink in question is acidic, this can be a problem. As Hewlett explained to The Washington Post, “There is a habit a lot of people have: holding or swishing carbonated water in their mouth. This can exacerbate the issue [of corrosion].”
If you really do need to drink enhanced water during the day, try to consume it along with some food. That’s because you produce more saliva when you eat, which serves to neutralize acid in your mouth. So mealtimes are the best point in the day to drink your more acidic beverages.
Thus research has suggested that enhanced water can be quite bad for our teeth, if it’s consumed in too high a volume. But if it’s only gulped down on occasion, then you should be fine. As with everything, it’s all about moderation. If you remember that, then you should strike a balance between health and taste.