Do enhanced drinks provide better health benefits than plain water?



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In the battle of water v. soda, water always wins in terms of health and simplicity. But, what about the new drinks that may also offer health benefits?

Sparkling water, also known as seltzer or soda water,  tastes like a soda, albeit without much flavor. But, does it actually help?

Not so much. Sparkling water is carbonated water and that is what it is: plain water infused with carbon dioxide. The process of carbonating water does not add sugar, calories, sodium or caffeine. Essentially, it has the same health benefits as still water. It just has a kick to make the beverage more interesting to drink.

Nowadays, tea and coffee are a familiar sight in the hands of many, be it at school, on the way to work or relaxing at home. But, do they have any redeemable properties?

Tea is thought to aid a multitude of problems depending on the type of tea. For example, peppermint tea is thought to quell an upset stomach while chamomile tea can relax the body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep.

Teas, however, do more than help relieve discomfort. Those same teas have the ability to aid digestion and relieve bloating and indigestion.

The rumors that tea dehydrates are nothing but urban legends. Tea hydrates the body just as well as water but also offers an added boost of various health benefits, including natural antioxidants.

Studies show that drinking three to four cups of tea a day can reduce the risk of a heart attack. Other studies suggest tea can also protect against cancer, tooth plaque and tooth decay, and it can strengthen bones.  

However, too much tea can result in opposite effects, such as prostate cancer and skeletal fluorosis. Heart disease can be reduced by no more than three cups of black tea a day. Any more can result in the opposite effects.

Another somewhat controversial beverage is enhanced water. It is a broad beverage type that includes everything from sports drinks, energy drinks, coconut water, carbonated water and vitamin water.

While vitamin water often boasts of enhanced minerals and vitamins, it also contains added sugars in the form of cane sugar. Each 20-ounce bottle of Glaceau Vitamin Water contains about 30 grams of added sugar or 120 calories per bottle.

Vitamin Water Zero does not contain sugar calories but has artificial sweetener stevia leaf extract. While not as bad, it still is associated with weight gain and overall calorie intake.

There are some advantages to drinking Vitamin Water, however. Many of the flavors have an added boost of vitamin C and B. Some of the drinks also contain vitamin A, E, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, chromium and manganese.

Caffeine is also present although it is debatable as to whether it is an advantage.

Vitamin Water is not really a better alternative for water. However, it can provide a quick boost of energy and prove helpful if it is  a hot day after exercise in the sun or just for a quick boost. But, if consumed regularly, one is better off drinking plain water.

Sports drinks are also a big craze. Gatorade, specifically created for the Florida Gators in 1965, started as a simple kitchen concoction of water, salt, sugar and lemon flavoring. Of course, today the beverage is much more.

The drink can help after intense workouts but as far as a leisurely jog or a playful game of basketball goes, it is not really necessary.

One can actually drink too much water, resulting in hyponatremia, which happens when too much water is consumed without enough sodium. It is a condition that can kill and has actually killed more than dehydration.

Many may think that sports drinks can solve this problem–drink this enhanced beverage with added sodium and the risk for hyponatremia decreases. However, studies done by Harvard-based researchers found that sports drinks consumers are just as likely to fall victim to the condition as those who guzzle water.

Sports drinks also contain added sugar.

Sports drinks offer an extra boost for lengthy exercise sequences such as games and marathons, but they are not a particularly helpful alternative to water in the long run.

Coconut water, the latest “miracle product,” has been boasted as offering numerous health benefits and since it is “nature-made,” to be especially healthy.

To be fair, pure coconut water does have a lot of health benefits. It contains no artificial additives or sweeteners, is cholesterol free, 99 percent fat free, and is low in carbohydrates and natural sugars.  

Compared to sports drinks, it shares many of its benefits, such as electrolytes, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium but in their natural form.

Still, for the most part, the body cannot tell the difference between naturally occurring electrolytes and artificially made ones.

Moreover, studies have shown that for athletes, sports drinks may be a better choice as the formulas are made using a specific level of the various ingredients to provide maximum recovery.

The drink has also been known to improve blood circulation, lower elevated blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Coconut water is best consumed fresh. The longer it has been sitting on a shelf, the more it loses its nutritional value.

Water has no calories, carbohydrates, sodium or potassium while enhanced beverages or even the marketed natural coconut water has some.

In the end, water comes out the victor. It is true that enhanced beverages and natural beverages, such as coconut water and tea, do contain added benefits and boosts that water lacks, but for a regular day-to-day drink, water is the most affordable and simplest choice.