Americans now swallow about 25% of their daily calories in liquid form. Sure, a lot of that comes from soft drinks, and we all know those are bad. But for plenty of otherwise healthy men—guys who eat right and exercise—chugging “sports drinks” or vitamin-infused “waters” is the fly in their diet ointment.
Vitamin Water—the beverage that helped launched the current craze over nutrient-infused beverages—contains 31 grams of sugar per bottle. That’s only half the sugar found in a 20-oz. bottle of Coca Cola (which, incidentally, is the company that now owns Vitamin Water). But it still works out to nearly eight teaspoons of granulated sugar per bottle. Eight.
Vitamin Water aside, there are some new or newly popular bottled beverages that offer more-tenable health perks without packing in a cane field’s supply of sugar. But spotting the genuine from the spurious is tricky. Here’s a rundown.
Makers: Synergy Drinks, Wonder Drink
Price: $3 to $5 for 14 oz.
Details: Probiotics—dietary sources of healthy microorganisms—are one of the big buzzwords among nutrition researchers. Studies suggest probiotics may (emphasis on may) be able to fortify the micro-organic contents of your gut in ways that ward off illness or unhealthy weight gain. Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains probiotics. Some varieties also contain health-supporting vitamins and minerals.
Verdict: The drink’s health benefits are an open question, but it’s possible their probiotic contents could help you dodge colds and digestive issues. But you can’t chug the stuff like water. Because it contains acid and active cultures, some experts recommend capping your consumption at 8 ounces per day—or just half of the 16-ounce bottles sold in stores. Check the nutrition label, and avoid varieties with more than a few grams of sugar.
Makers: Vertical Water, Drink Maple, Seva, Happy Tree
Price: $2 to $3 for 12 ounces
Details: To make maple syrup, harvesters collect the liquid that drips out of a maple tree and boil it down. The maple water beverages on the market today are basically that un-boiled liquid, which studies say may contain dozens of phytochemicals. These plant compounds may bolster your body’s cellular and metabolic functions, though there’s no cause-and-effect research to show maple water actually does you any good.
Verdict: The stuff is low in sugar—about a teaspoon’s worth per 12 ounces. That could add up if you drank maple water all day. But a bottle now and then is likely a safe (and potentially healthy) changeup from water.
TIGER NUT HORCHATA
Makers: Organic Gemini
Price: $7 for 12 oz.
Details: A “tiger nut” is a variety of tuber, which is the underground part of a plant’s stem that supplies the above-ground part with nutrients. This drink’s manufacturers say the tubers used to make their beverages are a great source of resistant starch—a kind of carbohydrate that may support digestion and weight loss. Tiger nuts also contain iron, magnesium, zinc, and some other vitamins.
Verdict: Depending on the flavor you choose, the sugar content can range up to 13 grams per bottle. But some varieties contain just three grams of the sweet stuff, while remaining surprisingly tasty. Considering the benign ingredients list and potential health benefits, you can feel alright about sipping this from time to time.
Makers: Vita Coco, Zico
Price: $1.50 to $2.00 for 11 ounces
Details: For all the hype about its nutrient and vitamin content, coconut water contains only a little potassium and scant amounts of sodium, magnesium, and calcium. On the other hand, even the unsweetened varieties are fairly high in sugar—roughly three teaspoons per 12 ounces.
Verdict: If you’ve been exercising, coconut water is less bad for you than more-sugary sports drinks. It also contains modest amounts of electrolytes. But if you’re slamming it all day instead of water, you’re ingesting lots of sugar and few nutrients.
”GREEN” JUICES AND CLEANSES
Makers: Too many to name
Price: Anywhere from $4 to $9 (and up) for 12 to 16 ounces
Details: There are dozens of these drinks on the market, and nearly all of them talk about “detoxifying “ your body by flushing away harmful … stuff. Experts say there’s no evidence these cleanse drinks remove anything hurting your body. They’re also super pricey, and some are packed with sugar.
Verdict: While the toxin-flushing claims are spurious, some of these drinks genuinely contain healthy plants, fruits, and compounds. But considering their price tag, you’d be better off buying fresh produce and making a healthy smoothie at home.
It’s important to keep in mind: Just because a food or drink has health benefits, that doesn’t mean more is better. Even nutritious beverages add sugar and calories to your diet. So while sipping anything on this list is fine once in a while, when it comes to your health, experts say nothing beats water.