Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is SmartWater Smart?

In recent years, enhanced water beverages have risen to prominence in American drink markets. SmartWater, VitaminWater, and Skinny Water are three such products that have emerged as competitors of natural H2O. But what ingredients exactly "enhance" these drinks and are these additives necessarily beneficial?

SmartWater, introduced by Glaceau in 1998, is a no-calorie drink that adds electrolytes to distilled spring water. This results in a crisper tasting water that Glaceau’s website equates with “the first drop of rain.” While electrolytes are essential for various functions of the body, most people, according to nutritionist Nancy Rodriguez, manage to replenish their body's supply through food and tap water.  Additionally, since SmartWater is sodium-free, it is not actually recommended as a sports drink for athletes. Some people believe the taste and style of SmartWater outweighs its cost, but nonetheless it is not an inherently “better” water product.  

VitaminWater, meanwhile, has raked up a number of complaints since its introduction in 2000.  Touted as a nutrition and hydration drink, VitaminWater’s brilliant advertising can distract consumers from the fact that it contains 33 grams of sugar  (equivalent to eight teaspoons!) per bottle.  

As Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League points out, “two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese; the last thing people need is sugar water with vitamins you could get from eating a healthy diet, or taking a vitamin pill.” Furthermore, the supplementary vitamins found in vitamin water might not even be beneficial, since, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, most Americans do not need a daily vitamin supplement.

VitaminWater has been criticized for not adhering to FDA regulations specifying that a product’s name should reflect its most prominent ingredients. In this case, "VitaminSugar" or "SugarWater" might be more appropriate. It has also been attacked for running ads that suggest the beverage has powers it doesn’t (a recent tag line: “vitamin water. flu  shots are so last year”). While VitaminWater might be better than a can of soda, it is no replacement for actual water. 

Skinny Water, introduced in 2006, contains 0-calories, 0-grams of sugar, and, according to its website, "0-guilt." Skinny Water's claim to fame is its weight-loss component thanks to ingredients Super Citrimax and the green tea antioxidant EGCG.  The dubious benefits of these ingredients aside, how can a beverage containing sucralose (Splenda), flavoring, coloring, and fruit extracts promote itself as "water?” Emily Mitchell, the dietician quoted on Skinny Water's website, states, "after reviewing the ingredients, I believe Skinny Water is an excellent, sugar-free and healthy alternative to traditional, high-calorie carbonated soft drinks." While Skinny Water may be a healthier choice than soda, it is misleading to advertise it as a "water." Being called a better alternative than soda is not high praise, nutritionally.   

In the end, a final consideration when purchasing any form of bottled water is its environmental impact. While innovations and upgrades are made constantly, including a glass-bottle SmartWater product, perhaps it might be best to stick with the less glamorous but still effective option when it comes to quenching thirst:  filtered tap water.
Post by Margaret Buff.

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