How Healthy is Your Water Beverage?

  • 3 Minutes Read
  • Oct 8, 2014

Is your favorite "water beverage" a healthy drink or just another overpriced version of sugar water? Read this post for more help on learning how to tell the difference.

How Healthy is Your Water Beverage?

While reading this morning's newsletter on nutrition in the news, I came across yet another water beverage being marketed as a health drink. I am so tired of reading the marketing garbage that drink manufacturers develop in order to sell their product. Let's just call these drinks what they are - sugar water. Whether the sugar is added or naturally occurring, they are still sugars. Sugar water is a problem for a number of reasons.

Excess calories. Drinking calories, especially carbohydrate calories (yes, read sugar calories), provide calories that don't satisfy - we simply drink those calories in addition to the calories we eat. This makes weight control all the harder.

Excess sugar consumption. Sugar water drinks are also a problem for those who are trying to control their blood glucose. Carbohydrate intake directly affects one's blood glucose level, so drinking sugar water throughout the day just makes control that much harder.

Dental caries. Sugar water will increase your risk for cavities in your teeth. The bacteria that cause cavities love all types of sugar from any source - be it natural, organic, or made in a lab. The exception to this are the sugar alcohols used in sugar-free gum (e.g. xylitol).

Cost. At least in the U.S., safe drinking water is free and accessible at any home or workplace. Why pay for sugar water when you can get plain water for free?

Nutrition Facts - Read the Food Label

Think your water drink is a good choice? Well, challenge that assumption by reading the Nutrition Facts panel of the container.

What is the Serving Size? Is it the entire container (which often looks like a single size serving) or does the container contain two or more servings? The nutrition values are based upon the serving size listed on the label. So if your container contains two servings and you drink the entire container, then the calories and carbs you are consuming are double that on the label.

If your water drink contains carbohydrates, then consider your drink sugar water, even if the source of sugar is "natural." All starches and sugars are carbohydrates. Even if the sweetener being used is "natural" or organic - it still contains calories and carbohydrates that can raise your blood glucose. And sugars are all sugars - whether it comes from white granulated or maple syrup.

Here are some basics to consider:

1 teaspoon of granulated sugar = 4 grams sugar
1 teaspoon of maple syrup, honey, or agave = about 5.5 grams sugar

1 tablespoon of granulated sugar = 12 grams sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup, honey, or agave = about 16 grams sugar

Carb Counting

A particularly insidious problem with water beverages is the halo effect - many people with diabetes who are not yet reading food labels will drink these products thinking they are carb free. If the person has Type 2 diabetes, then they get the double whammy - too many calories and too many carbs, often drunk all day long. So stop assuming and start reading. For more basics on typical carb goals for meals and snacks, please read my article on Diabetes Basics at MyNetDiary.

Some Popular Water Beverages

Vitamin Water. A 20 fl oz bottle (single serving) provides 120 kcal and 31-33 grams total carbs (mostly from 31 grams sugars). That is 2 carb choices worth of sugar water.

Coconut Water. Brands vary, but 8 fl oz (1 cup) of packaged plain coconut water will typically average 45 kcal and 11 grams total carbs (all of which are from sugars). Packaged coconut water is glorified sugar water. So what if the potassium level is naturally high - you can easily get that from eating adequate amounts of fruits and veggies for a lot less money.

Vertical Water. New to the market is yet another expensive version of sugar water. At least this product is lower in calories and carbs than the others with only 15 kcal and 3 g sugar per 1 cup serving (240 ml). But the container looks like a single serve and contains 16.9 fl oz - so if you drink the container, you are consuming about 30 kcal and 6 g sugar. Still a lot lower than regular pop but still a source of calories and added sugar that supplies very little nutrition.

Other Beverages

These beverages tend to be high in calories and sugars as well: sweetened teas, sweetened coffee drinks, regular sports drinks, energy drinks, and soda, 100% juice, and juice drinks. Diet or sugar-free versions of beverages are generally calories-free and carb-free, but check the Nutrition Facts to be sure.

Drink Water and Eat Real Food

Save yourself money and increase intake of fiber, antioxidants, and essential vitamins and minerals necessary for health - drink water and eat whole fruits & veggies.

If you want to liven up the flavor of plain water, try slices of citrus fruit, or add herbs or spices - those are virtually calories-free when used to flavor water. You can even buy water containers with infusion inserts.

If you crave fizz but are trying to avoid both regular and diet pop, then try plain or naturally flavored seltzer water. Most flavored seltzer waters do not contain sugars or artificial sweeteners. Or you can simply buy plain seltzer water and infuse with your own fruit, herbs, or spices.

Am I biased against packaged water beverages? You bet! Because I work as a diabetes educator and weight control specialist, I am tired of seeing people get duped and possibly harmed by product marketing claims. Be a smart consumer and read the Nutrition Facts panel of any beverage or food you consume.

Alcohol & Other Beverages->Pop & Soda Alcohol & Other Beverages->Water Weight Loss->Sugars & Sweeteners
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

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