Vitamin water and other similar enhanced beverages are a subject of hot debate in the nutritional community. Sure, vitamin water can contain added vitamins and minerals and can hydrate the body. But at the same time, many such drinks contain added sugar or sugary replacements. They often make misleading health claims and they are, by no means, a replacement for a balanced diet. Here’s what the science says
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Who invented vitamin water?
Long before smartphones and smart home devices came into play, an American businessman named John Darius Bikoff came up with the concept of smart water, a variety of bottled water infused with vitamins and electrolytes. In 1996, Bikoff started selling smartwater under his brand name Glaceau claiming that his product is better than popular sugary drinks and has several health benefits. A lot of health-conscious people bought his pitch and started buying his product.
However, Bikoff didn’t just stop there, he introduced another version of smartwater such as fruitwater and vitaminwater. The latter was launched in the year 2000 and by 2002, it became the most purchased packaged enhanced water brand in the US.
Vitamin water was selling like hotcakes. Its rapid rise even caught the attention of beverage giant Coca-Cola and they made Bikoff an offer he couldn’t refuse. In 2007, they bought the company for $4.1 billion and kept Bikoff as the CEO.
John Bikoff still leads the company that makes vitamin water, and today his product has turned into a billion-dollar industry. Coca-Cola’s competitors have also launched similar products, for example, Pepsico sells V Water and Nestle has Vitality.
The global vitamin and electrolyte water market was valued at over $7 billion in 2021, and it is expected to become a $12 billion industry by 2027. Vitamin water is clearly making a fortune for beverage companies, but the real question is —- Is vitamin water truly beneficial for the health of those who consume it?
What is vitamin water?
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a specific brand. Vitamin water has already become a type of product. This product is often advertised as a healthier alternative to sodas and other sugary drinks. So there can be many differences between different types of vitamin water, but there are also some common threads.
Vitamin water is essentially water containing additional ingredients such as vitamins (such as A, B, C, and E), minerals, and electrolytes (zinc, potassium, magnesium, etc). There are multiple types of vitamin water and they have different properties. Some are healthier for you than others.
Key Components of Vitamin Water:
- Water: The primary ingredient.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Each flavor or variant contains a specific blend of vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C, B vitamins, and electrolytes like potassium and magnesium.
- Flavoring: Natural and artificial flavors are added to give each variant its unique taste.
- Sweeteners: Depending on the country and the specific product, Vitamin Water might contain various sweeteners, from sugar to erythritol or steviol glycosides (derived from stevia). Some flavors have reduced-calorie versions that use zero-calorie sweeteners.
- Colors: Some varieties may contain added colors, either natural or artificial, to enhance the drink’s appearance.
Beverage companies urge health-conscious people to consume vitamin water instead of soda and other beverages that contain a lot of harmful calories. They claim that vitamin water will keep the consumers hydrated, save them from extra sugar intake on a daily basis, and also provide their bodies with essential vitamins and minerals that their diets lack. Who wouldn’t fall for such benefits, right?
“Each of the different Vitaminwater and Vitaminwater Zero varieties has a unique combination of nutrients, and all varieties are an excellent source of C and B Vitamins,” a Coca Cola representative told Time.
Vitamin water can certainly keep you hydrated but the rest of the claimed benefits are nothing more than a tempting sales pitch, according to scientists.
What does science say about vitamin water?
A 590 ml bottle of vitamin water is typically filled with 32 grams of sugar, which is less than half of what a regular Coke contains but is still more than seven teaspoons of sugar. According to the American Heart Association, an adult person needs only between 25 and 36 grams of sugar in a day. So essentially, that’s your entire sugar allowance for the day, and since there’s so much sugar in everything,
Some health experts claim that although there is 50% less sugar in vitamin water, it carries the same amount of crystalline fructose as found in other cold drinks. This high fructose intake can lead to liver diseases, obesity, diabetes, and various other health problems.
“Most of the commercial vitamin waters contain sugar or other sweeteners that can be harmful. One analysis found that a bottle of one of the most popular brands of vitamin water sold in the US harbors the same amount of fructose as a bottle of Coca-Cola.” Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, told USA Today.
On the other hand, if you are drinking vitamin water regularly to meet vitamin A or E deficiency, you are wasting your time and money. There are two types of vitamins; water soluble and fat soluble. Vitamins A and E belong to the second category. This means that your body can only absorb these vitamins if you consume them in your food.
Testing vitamin water
A team of Italian researchers performed an experiment to test this theory. They asked a group of individuals to drink packaged vitamin water (rich in vitamin E) for two weeks empty stomach. Meanwhile, they observed another group in which people were consuming vitamin E supplements along with their meals.
After two weeks, the participants who drank vitamin water witnessed a negligible increase in their blood vitamin E levels. However, those who took vitamin E supplements with food, their blood had 84 percent more vitamin E.
When it comes to water-soluble vitamins like B and C, although vitamin water can help, nutrition experts recommend relying on fruits, milk, and clinically certified multivitamin supplements instead. These natural alternatives don’t contain added sugar, offer better nutritional value, and will save you a lot of money.
“Vitamin water is a very expensive way to get vitamins. If additional vitamins are desired, it is better to take a standard multivitamin that should cost less than 10 cents per day,” Willett said.
Vitamin water comes in numerous varieties, and those that contain no added sugar can be consumed sometimes in limited quantities to satisfy your thirst and taste buds.
“If you’re choosing a supplement such as vitamin water, read the ingredient label and avoid ones made with added sugars or artificial sweeteners,” Uma Naidu, Director of Nutritional and Metabolic Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, added.
However, if you are consuming such products on a regular basis, thinking that the extra intake of vitamins C and B daily will improve your health, you’d be disappointed to know that your body is releasing all the extra vitamins in your urine.
This is because the human body can absorb only a limited amount of water-soluble vitamins. Plus, there is no mechanism for extracting and storing any excess vitamins that come dissolved in water, and therefore, they are flushed out with urine. Moreover, overdosing your body with these vitamins could even lead to health problems ranging from diarrhea to liver malfunction and even nerve damage.
“Most people don’t realize there’s no real advantage to taking more than the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals, and they don’t recognize there may be disadvantages,” Johanna Dwyer, a nutrition scientist and a professor at Tufts University, told WebMD.
When it comes to the minerals in vitamin water, people have no idea how much of a particular mineral they are taking in their bodies. This is because mentioning the amount of minerals like phosphorus on the packaging is not mandatory for beverage companies. As a result, you may never know, whether or not the intake of vitamin water for minerals is healthy for you.
Health experts explain that all the benefits that vitamin water promises can be easily obtained from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seafood, and low-fat dairy products, and that too without risking your health.
Plus, it is also important to note that there is no real scientific evidence supporting any health benefits of drinking vitamin water. It is only the beverage companies saying fancy stuff about their products.
“I haven’t seen any compelling evidence to indicate a benefit to willy-nilly drinking of supplement water,” Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University told Time.
Another conclusive study conducted in Canada found no conclusive benefits associated with vitamin water.
“While our findings suggest that consumers stand to reap little or no benefit from the nutrient additions in novel beverages, most products were being marketed as if they provided a unique benefit to the consumer through the nutrient additions.”
In conclusion, while vitamin water can provide some niche benefits, it can also have unhealthy components. In addition, the claims that companies make are often misleading or exaggerated. Vitamin water can have its niche benefits, but overall, it’s not exactly what you’d call a very healthy product.
Vitamin water FAQ
Vitamin-enhanced water is a type of beverage that infuses water with added vitamins, minerals, and sometimes flavors or sweeteners to provide both hydration and nutritional benefits.
No, the content and concentration of vitamins, minerals, and other additives can vary widely between brands and flavors.
Some people choose these beverages for the potential health benefits of added vitamins and minerals, while others enjoy the flavor and find them a refreshing alternative to plain water or sugary drinks.
Some do, while others might use artificial or natural sweeteners. It’s essential to read the label to understand the sugar content and other ingredients.
While these beverages can provide hydration along with certain vitamins and minerals, it’s essential to consume them in moderation. They can be beneficial, especially if someone lacks specific nutrients in their diet. However, they shouldn’t replace a balanced diet.
Some concerns include the intake of excess vitamins if consumed frequently, potential sugar content, and the misconception that these beverages can replace whole foods’ nutrient diversity.
While it’s rare, it is possible to consume excessive amounts of certain vitamins if you drink large quantities of vitamin-enhanced water daily, especially if combined with other supplements. Always pay attention to recommended daily intake levels for vitamins and minerals.
While vitamin-enhanced waters can provide some of the same vitamins and minerals found in multivitamins, they often don’t provide the same comprehensive range. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional about your specific nutritional needs.
“Better” can be subjective. While vitamin-enhanced waters provide additional nutrients, regular water is calorie-free and free from additives. Both can be part of a healthy hydration routine, depending on individual preferences and nutritional needs.
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