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Vitamin & Electrolyte Waters: Healthy Choice or Hype?

posted Jul 31, 2015, 11:17 AM by

Vitamin and electrolyte waters are often advertised as an improvement over plain old tap water for the health conscious, but are they really worth the hype?

After water, the first ingredient in many vitamin waters is actually sugar. For example, most flavors of Glaceau’s Vitaminwater contain 32 g of sugar per 20 oz bottle, about half the sugar in a 20 oz Coke. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report recommends that we get no more than 10% of our calories from added sugar, which translates into less than 50 g per day for people on a 2,000 calorie diet. That means a 20 oz Vitaminwater provides nearly 2/3 of the maximum amount of added sugars for most people.

Diet or zero calorie versions of vitamin waters don’t contain sugar, but many do contain artificial sweeteners. These aren’t necessarily bad for you, but there are some concerns with them, which we outline in our blog post on soda.

What about the extra vitamins contained in those vitamin waters? They may actually not be doing you much good. A 2015 study found that the vitamins most commonly added to novelty waters tend to be the ones that most people get enough of already. If you do need more of certain vitamins, you’re better off getting them from foods that naturally contain them rather than from vitamin-fortified waters.The same study also found that many of the benefits that vitamin waters advertise often aren’t supported by science.

Electrolyte waters typically contain water with added electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and/or sodium. They usually don’t contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

If you exercise intensely for longer than an hour, you do need to replenish the electrolytes, specifically sodium, that are lost in your sweat. However, many bottled waters with added electrolytes don’t contain enough electrolytes for prolonged, intense activity. These waters add electrolytes only to improve taste.  If you’re otherwise healthy, the added electrolytes probably won’t hurt you, but they likely won’t provide much benefit either.

Other bottled waters with added electrolytes do contain similar electrolyte levels to sports drinks. However, if you’re exercising intensely for more than an hour, sports drinks may actually be a better choice, because you also need carbohydrates to provide you with continued energy during endurance activity.