March 2009

By  Rebecca Brotzman

What are “enhanced” waters enhanced with?

First came the bottled water craze, which has become a booming industry over the last thirty years.  Now products are coming out that seem to take the convenience of bottled water to the next level of health:  vitamins and water?  Isn’t that better than just bottled water?!  Sadly, in an attempt to be healthier, people are being fooled into wasting money and hurting the environment.

Manufacturers market products to appear healthier than they are.  Even just plain bottled water is not any better for you than tap water, and often is just tap water.  “Enhanced” waters almost always contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners, with minimal amounts of the vitamins and other “healthy” additives they are promoting on the label. 

The most important thing to do is to read the ingredients and nutrition facts carefully.  It is also essential to recognize what serving size the label is referring to and how many servings you are actually consuming.

Let’s go through some of the most common “enhanced” waters and see what they are really enhanced with:

Vitamin Waters:

Most often sold in 20 ounce bottles (which are really two and half servings), most people would drink the entire bottle without a second thought.  The nutrition facts listed on the label are for one serving (8 ounces), so all nutrition information has to be multiplied by 2.5 if you drink the whole bottle.  So, for a 20 ounce bottle that lists 50 calories and 13 grams of sugar, you’ll actually be consuming 125 calories per bottle, and 33 grams of sugar (8 teaspoons) per bottle. 

If you drink the entire bottle, you will get between 25-250% of the recommended dietary allowance for 6 or 7 vitamins, with most of them being 50% or less (usually only vitamin C is over 50%).  You would be much better off health-wise, budget-wise, and environmental-wise, if you take a multivitamin and wash it down with tap water.

New versions of these products are being unveiled that show manufacturers are responding to a change in consumer awareness.  These versions have fewer calories and less sugar.  One example has only 10 calories per serving and 30 calories per 20 ounce bottle. 

Fitness Waters:

“Fitness Water” is just water with sucrose syrup, sucralose (Splenda), and a few vitamins (in one example: C, E, and four of the B vitamins).  The good thing about this drink is that it’s usually only 30 calories for a whole 24 oz container.  For one popular brand, a 24 ounce bottle will give you 75% of the RDA for 3 of the B vitamins, but 30% or less for vitamins C, E, and B-12.  Once again, you are paying for expensive tap water and a few vitamins.  A bottle of multivitamins containing 100% if the RDA for a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals would cost about the same as 2 or 3 bottles of this beverage.

Sports Drinks:

“Sports drinks” are potentially useful only after a high intensity workout lasting longer than an hour.  This beverage is really only intended for serious athletes who need to replenish electrolytes due to sweat loss.  Otherwise, they are just unnecessary calories and sodium.  Electrolytes are molecules in your body fluids that perform many important functions.  If someone perspires hard enough and long enough, they need to replenish them.  Sports drinks usually contain sodium and potassium because these are the electrolytes lost in the highest amounts through sweating.  They also contain sugar to provide athletes with a fuel source during sustained exercise.  Only during long endurance events are these sources needed.  Drinking plain water before, during, and after a workout is all most people need to do to stay hydrated.  Drinking a “sports drink” while you are NOT working out is completely unnecessary.  It will not hydrate you any better than water, and will give you empty calories and salt.  These drinks often come in 32 ounce containers, which contain four servings.  At 50 calories a serving, this works out to 200 calories if you drink the whole bottle.  You will also get 14 teaspoons of sugar, 440 mg sodium (20% of the recommended daily limit!), 120 mg potassium, and 372 mg of chloride. 


 Electrolyte Waters:

Water with added electrolytes is another kind of “enhanced” water found on the market.  The amount of added electrolytes is tiny. (One popular brand had 10mg potassium, 10 mg calcium, 15 mg magnesium per liter).  These are too few electrolytes to replenish a dehydrated athlete, and make little difference for a non-athlete.   Interestingly, some bottled waters contain more than this amount of electrolytes, and yet do not market themselves as “enhanced” water.  Electrolyte waters are closer to regular bottled water than to anything else.  Like water, they have no calories or artificial sweeteners, but they are not any better than tap water.   In fact, they are worse than tap water in terms of your wallet and the environment.

In Summary:

Becoming a savvy label reader is the most important way to not be fooled by marketing ploys.  Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1)      Labels don’t always use a standard 8 ounce serving.  Check serving size, then servings per container.

2)      Make sure you multiply the information on the nutrition label to match the servings you would realistically drink.

3)      Always read the ingredients.  Remember, ingredients are listed in order of what makes up most of the product to least of the product.

4)      Think of your wallet and your impact on the environment before you purchase a hyped-up version of what is readily available through the tap.






As part of our March Nutrition Month focus on ‘rethinking your drink’, let’s look at juice.

Health professional all agree that getting plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.  So what is the best way to take in fruits and vegetables?    While both whole produce and juices count towards the achieving the recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, there are important differences in how your body processes the whole and juice versions.   

What IS juice?

Juice is the liquid version of fruits or vegetables, produced through a squeezing or pulverizing process.  But beware of products with labels like “fruit drinks” or “juice drinks” that may contain little to no actual fruit or vegetable juice.    Only buy products that say “100% juice” and that don’t have sugar as an ingredient.

Let’s check some of the Pros and Cons of juices:

 Pros: In a few cases, the juiced form makes important nutrients more accessible than the whole fruit:

·         The nutrient lycopene, which is a protective factor against prostate cancer, in tomato juice is actually better absorbed from tomato juice than fresh tomatoes. 

·         Commercially squeezed orange juice contains more antioxidants and other   added beneficial nutrients such as calcium that is not found in an orange.

 Cons:  In general, the cons of juices outweigh the pros.

·          Because they’re more concentrated, juices contain increased calorie and sugar content while losing the fiber found in whole fruits.  Each of these has the effect of raising levels of blood sugar which can contribute to development or complications of diabetes.   The difference in calories and sugar between whole fruit and fruit juice is astounding.  For example, a 16-ounce bottle of orange juice contains about 240 calories and 14 teaspoons of sugar!  A medium size orange, on the other hand, contains just 60 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar.   Similarly, a 16-ounce bottle of apple juice contains about 220 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar, while a medium size apple has just 55 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar. 

·         In addition to having fewer calories, the fiber in whole fruit of the orange or apple fills you up and also helps to keep your blood sugar levels from spiking and then crashing.  This is because the fiber slows down your body’s absorption of the sugar in the fruit.   Check out the sugar content of juice compared with fruit.

ü  To make sure you’re getting the best deal for your buck, read the label and look for 100% juice, BUT don’t stop there.

Carefully read the label and select nutrient –dense juices, those with the highest percentage of nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and that are fortified with calcium.  It’s also important to read the ingredient label to know exactly which juices are in the product you’re buying.  The label lists ingredients in order of abundance, from most to least.  A bottle of “100% Apple and Pomegranate Juice” turns out to have apple juice listed first, so you’re probably getting very little pomegranate juice, with its good nutrients.

ü  Beware of “juice drinks”, “fruit drinks” or “juice cocktails”.

These beverages often contain little or even no fruit juice.  You’ll be getting the same or even more calories and sugar as in 100% fruit juice without any of its vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants.  “Juice drinks” are often made to look like fruit juice.  The pictures of fruit and the words “all natural” are confusing to customers.  But if you read the label carefully, you can see how much juice the drink actually contains – usually 0-10% juice, with no significant amounts of any vitamins.  It is really more like sugar water.  Calories without nutrients are called “empty calories”.  For about 240 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar per 16 ounce bottle, that is a lot of calories being wasted (more like waisted…).  For more information on reading the label, go to Healthy Messages.

ü  Watch your juice portions.

Recommended juice portions are   4 to 6 ounces per day, with the goal to meet the balance of fruits and vegetable needs through fresh, frozen or canned produce.   It’s easy to go over this recommended intake from the common size of bottles found for individual sale. They are usually 12 to 16 ounces, which is two or more times the recommended daily intake.  If you do make these purchases, share your drink or save some for the next day.

For more tips on healthy juice, click here.

coffeeYes, we have heard that coffee has health benefits – and this is true.   First, for many of us who experience coffee’s morning wake-up call to the brain, did you know that caffeinated coffee (and tea) can sharpen brain function and reduce cognitive decline over time?

 Another piece of good news is that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the US diet.  That’s not because coffee is the best source (we know fruits and vegetables are better!), but   because Americans drink so much coffee.  The antioxidant in coffee that scientists are studying is cholorgenic acid, which slows the intestinal absorption of glucose.   This effect may also help to explain another coffee benefit, of reducing your chances of getting type 2 diabetes. 

However, it’s important to recognize that the studies about these health benefits refer to black coffee, with no sugar, cream, or other flavorings.   Only 35% of American drink their coffee black.  The rest of us have to be careful what we add to our coffee, so those ‘extras’ don’t outweigh any possible health benefits.

So what do you add to your coffee –milk, cream, sugar?  Those contain extra calories and possibly saturated fat.  So if you must add to your coffee, choose carefully.  Many coffee shops have skimmed or low-fat milk – you just have to ask for it.   You can add cinnamon or other spices that don’t add calories or fat. And artificial sweeteners let you sweeten your coffee without any calories.

Nutritionally, the consequences of certain coffee choices can be coffee_beansdisastrous. Did you know that a large vanilla bean Frappuccino with whipped cream delivers over 500 calories? It’s astonishing: many of the coffee drinks served at coffee shops s are little more than coffee-flavored sugar and fat potions that contribute to rapid weight gain. Nutritionally speaking, they’re not that different from ice cream.  Other drinks such as Mochaccino or iced coffee drinks (10 oz. size) may have over 250 calories. The syrup flavor alone has 80 calories and you may want to think twice about the whipped cream, with about 100 calories.   In fact, many of these coffee DRINKS have more calories, more saturated fat and salt than a healthy MEAL!

 If you absolutely must have your fancy coffee fix, try skim or 1% milk, sugar –free flavor shots, artificial or small amounts of sugar,  and SKIP the whipped cream.  By making these few changes we can have our coffee, but capture of some the health benefits too!

 We have heard the risks for overweight and obesity a health problem that can lead to complications such as diabetes and heart disease, so when it comes to weight management, most people focus on the calories from foods.  However another way to significantly control our calorie intake is to “Think about our Drinks

A large portion of added sugar in the American diet comes from sweetened beverages which are a source of empty, excessive calories which contribute to weight gain.   This means that they have calories but lack other nutrients (protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants).    Calories from drinks are not hidden, they are listed on the Nutrition Facts Labels, but many people don’t realize how many calories they are consuming and these high calories add up.  Here are some facts to increase your awareness of just how liquid calories can contribute to excess calorie intake.

 A 20 ounce bottle of soda has about 250 calories and 68 grams of sugar or 20 ounce bottle of lemonade is 280 calories with 60 grams of sugar.  Both of these popular drinks have 17 and 15 teaspoons respectively.  These drinks do not taste like we’re consuming that much sugar, so how does one really know?  Here’s a tip from CDC‘s   Rethink your Drink 

Learn To Read Nutrition Facts Labels Carefully

Be aware that the Nutrition Facts label on beverage containers may give the calories for only part of the contents. The example below shows the label on a 20-oz. bottle. As you can see, it lists the number of calories in an 8-oz. serving (100) even though the bottle contains 20 oz. or 2.5 servings. To figure out how many calories are in the whole bottle, you need to multiply the number of calories in one serving by the number of servings in the bottle (100 x 2.5). You can see that the contents of the entire bottle actually contain 250 calories even though what the label calls a “serving” only contains 100. This shows that you need to look closely at the serving size when comparing the calorie content of different beverages.


Serving Size 8 fl. oz.
Servings Per Container    

Amount per serving   100 calories

Total calories for  consuming the  20 ounces =  250         


Another tip on the Nutrition Label is to read the grams of sugars. I always convert the grams into teaspoons by dividing the # of grams by 4 (grams to teaspoons)   Example:

20 ounce soda,            68 grams divide by 4 =           17 teaspoons of sugar

 20 ounce lemonade,  60 grams divide by 4 =           15 teaspoons of sugar


Another tip from CDC

Sugar by Any Other Name: How to Tell Whether Your Drink Is Sweetened

Sweeteners that add calories to a beverage go by many different names and are not always obvious to anyone looking at the ingredients list. Some common caloric sweeteners are listed below. If these appear in the ingredients list of your favorite beverage, you are drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage.

·         High-fructose corn syrup ,  Fructose

·         Fruit juice concentrates , Honey

·         Sugar , Syrup, Corn syrup

·         Sucrose , Dextrose


You can still enjoy many drinks, but now use these tips to make healthier choices.

The healthiest choice is to select water as often as possible.  Water is the best beverage for you.  Water contains no calories and it gives you the hydration your body needs.   You can flavor the water with slices of fruit with little or no calories added.  Be sure to check the nutrition label if you are purchasing flavored or enhanced bottled water. These waters often contain sugars and we don’t realize it.    Other healthy drinks are 100% juices in small amounts of 6 ounces per day and low-fat milk such as 1% or skim.  These drinks provide us with the nutrients (protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) that we are often lacking by drinking other sweetened beverages. 

 For other beverages, check your Nutrition Fact labels and select drinks that contain 15 grams or less of sugar per serving.   If you really want soda, try drinking diet soda.  Diet soda has no calories, which is good, but should be consumed in moderation due to its chemical content of artificial sweeteners (dangerous in large amounts) and phosphorus (negative on bone health).

 Stay tune to the blog as we discuss more of the sour side of sweetened beverages.  Next week we will explore coffee and coffee drinks.