Fruit and veggie-infused waters are super trendy right now, claiming to support an active lifestyle and pump your body full of the nutrients you need to keep healthy. But whether it’s the cactus water at your health food store or the coconut water at your corner bodega, it’s hard to know which nutritional claims to take seriously and which ones are just buzz. We talked to Pegah Jalali, MS RD CDN at Middleberg Nutrition, to figure out if these high-end trendy waters are worth the hype (and the price tag).
Watermelon water, which is essentially an entire watermelon made drinkable (sometimes rind and all), claims to be great for post-workout and cardiovascular health, since it’s “loaded with… naturally occurring potassium,” and key nutrients like “l-citrulline, lycopene, and vitamin C.”
First, Jalali had some good news: any brand that incorporates the rind into their watermelon water gives it a big leg-up.
“The only benefit I see… is using the rind, which is edible, but most people do not eat,” she said. “Watermelon water is one of the waters that actually has fiber in it as well.”
However, a lot of the health benefits watermelon water boasts aren’t really relevant unless they’re part of a balanced diet.
“The rind contains lycopene and other useful nutrients,” Jalali explained, but “you can find [1.5 times] more lycopene in tomato sauce.”
Plus, and this is a major point, “lycopene is fat soluble, meaning it needs to be consumed with fat to even be absorbed into your body.”
So let’s say you finish a workout, grab a bottle of watermelon water, and drink it on its own without pairing it with any fatty foods.
“You are not going to absorb the lycopene,” Jalali said. “Whereas if you eat pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, the fat in the cheese will help you absorb the lycopene in the tomato sauce.”
It’s a common misconception she runs into in her field—just because a nutrient is present in a product doesn’t mean it’s being presented in a format that makes the nutrient absorbable.
“Ultimately this is where we are in trouble as a society,” Jalali said. “We do not think of foods as whole foods but more like, ‘This has l-citrulline and I’ve heard that l-citrulline is going to make me build more muscle.’”
Instead of picking and choosing which nutrients to single out in our diets, Jalali advises us to, “think of foods as a whole, and not their individual parts.”
Certain aloe waters tout “more than 200 biologically active amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes and minerals that have been clinically proven to improve skin and cardiovascular health,” which might sound impressive, but Jalali isn’t convinced.
“It looks like just sugar to me,” she said. “What makes me laugh is that… if you look at the nutrition label next to protein it says “0g”. Amino acids are basically small proteins, so if something has 0g protein, it likely does not have any significant amount of amino acids. It’s even laughable to think that there are 200 different kinds of them!”
Maple water boasts that it’s “high in manganese, a powerful antioxidant that could help with thyroid health and blood sugar control,” and full of rich nutrients like “minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants, electrolytes, and prebiotics.”
“Basically, two slices of whole wheat bread have more manganese than this drink,” Jalali said. “If you are eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with a small amount of quality animal products, you will not need to go looking for extra manganese anywhere because you can get it easily in a healthy diet!”
She continued, “Extra manganese is not going to make your thyroid health or blood sugar control better. Deficiency of manganese can make those illnesses worse, but more manganese is not going to cure it.”
Definitely the most popular of the water choices, numerous coconut water brands have popped up pretty much anywhere drinks are sold these days. According to WebMD, coconut water has been dubbed “nature’s sports drink” because it is “low in calories, naturally fat and cholesterol free,” has “more potassium than four bananas,” and is “super hydrating.”
Jalali definitely agrees the water has its benefits, but advises clients to proceed with caution.
“Coconut water is better than, let’s say Powerade and Gatorade,” she told us. “It is found naturally inside a coconut, so it is very minimally processed. It has less sugar and sodium than most the sports drinks, and more potassium. It also usually does not have additives like color to make it orange or blue.”
“There is also a lot of research on coconut water and hydration in athletes,” she continued. “This is not someone going to a spin class or taking a 2 hour walk, [they’re testing] actual athletes who are training many hours a day at very high intensity, and there has been some benefit shown in these trials.”
“I am not saying people need coconut water to be active, but if you are an athlete or are out in the summer heat and want to hydrate, it is a good choice,” she said.
But a word of warning: “The coconut water industry has exploded, so you have to be careful when buying it. Try to choose one without added sugars or flavorings, since that is like buying chocolate milk.”
Cactus water claims to “reduce the symptoms of a hangover” and “hydrate and revive your skin naturally,” with “all 24 known betalains: powerful antioxidants known for their skin revitalizing benefits.”
Artichoke water is supposed to be jam packed with “antioxidants, electrolytes,” and a long list of vitamins and minerals. Plus, brands claim it “may help reduce increased levels of oxidative stress biomarkers after exercise,” and might even “reduce joint pain and muscle soreness.”
Plus, Jalali added, turning an artichoke into water strips it of one of its most valuable nutritional benefits: fiber.
“Artichokes are super high in fiber, and I just can not justify destroying an artichoke and creating all that food waste to get some water out of it,” she said. “This one seems like a fad to me. I would rather people eat an artichoke than [drink] this.”
H2O. The original. It probably goes without saying that water is one of the most important things you can put into a human body. It supports all of our major organ systems, flushes toxins, and promotes skin and heart health.
Plus, Jalali noted that it has environmental appeal too.
Overall, Jalali seemed to think that a balanced diet rich in whole foods paired with traditional water was the best thing for our bodies nutritionally. While some of the trendy waters may deliver on the promises they make—at least partially—there are much more direct routes to take with your diet in order to achieve your goals.
“Basically, a lot of pop nutrition science is, ‘People in Japan have less cancer than people in America,’ or ‘People in Japan eat more soy than people in America,’” Jalali said. “So [we think] this must mean, ‘Soy protects us against cancer.’ No! You can not make these generalizations, because there is so much lost in the association.”
“Most Americans do not get enough antioxidants because we eat a diet high in sugar and processed foods, which are stripped of their nutrition. That is why there is an obsession to get more antioxidants, but it’s not a good thing necessarily. Antioxidants are extremely sensitive and can be ruined due to storage, heat, etc.”
“The best [nutritional strategy] is to eat fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods that are produced in a way that maintains their integrity, so that we get the most nutrients from them. Antioxidants are shown to be most effective in their natural packaging (i.e. the actual fruit). You can’t just strip everything and keep the antioxidant, you need the other things like fiber as well [for them to be effective].”