Once upon a time, quenching your thirst was as simple as placing a glass under a faucet. And while that’s still a valid (and healthy!) way to get your H20, these days entire aisles at the supermarket are stocked with drinks claiming superior powers of hydration.
Water is crucial for the function of every cell in your body. Good hydration supports blood, bone, and brain health. Water helps regulate body temperature, aids in digestion and blood flow, and helps lubricate your joints. That’s why it’s vital that you drink enough (rather than counting ounces, you can typically let your thirst be your guide). You don’t need to get all of your water from pure H2O, you can get it from food like fruits, vegetables, or soup, and other drinks. But sugary juices, soda, and sports drinks can add a lot of calories you don’t need.
More choice can be a good thing, especially if that means you’re drinking less sugary sodas or high-calorie coffee drinks, says Elisabetta Politi, RD, nutrition director at Duke University’s Diet and Fitness Center. “Any way to make water more tempting is very welcome, if it can wean you from a less-healthy habit,” she says.
Before you chug one of the many alternatives, though, make sure you know the facts about exactly what’s in that cup, can, or bottle of agua.
The Sip: Lightly carbonated water, often with a fruity flavor.
The Science: With zero calories and no artificial sweeteners, these fizzy, fruity drinks are a huge improvement over most soft drinks. But a small study published last year by Obesity Research and Clinical Practice got a lot of headlines when it found that the carbon dioxide gas in carbonated beverages altered the levels of ghrelin (known as the hunger hormone) in mice and men, suggesting it might increase appetite and spur weight gain.
Scientists aren’t quite sure how or why carbon dioxide impacts hormones, says Dureen Samandar Eweis, one of the researchers and a graduate student at the University of Barcelona. “For a very long time, it seemed simple: More fizzy drinks meant more sugar intake, leading to weight gain,” she says. “But now we have to consider if the carbonated gas also plays a role.” One small study is probably not a good reason to avoid sparkling water — especially if it helps you avoid sweetened beverages. But if you feel like fizzy water might be making you hungry, you might consider taking a break from carbonation.
The Sip: The clear liquid in the center of young, green coconuts, coconut water has been called “Mother Nature’s sports drink” by marketers, thanks to its natural electrolytes.
The Science: Electrolytes are minerals, like potassium, that help keep the body’s fluid levels in balance, says Politi. One 16-ounce container of coconut water can supply roughly a quarter of your potassium for the day, which means it can be a useful way to replenish electrolytes after a particularly hot or sweaty exercise session (as sweating pulls potassium and sodium out of your body). But you’ll want to read labels carefully: Flavored versions of coconut water can pack more than 20 grams of sugar per 16-ounce container, and it’s easy enough to get potassium in your diet, says Politi (think: bananas and leafy greens). If you like coconut water as a post-workout drink, stick to the unsweetened versions.
The Sip: This beverage is simply the sap that comes out of a tapped maple tree, before it is boiled down to the sweet, sticky stuff you pour over pancakes.
The Science: Despite the syrupy connotations, maple water typically contains less sugar than unflavored coconut water. (Consider that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of syrup, according to Michael Farrell, a maple expert at Cornell University.) And it also contains naturally occurring electrolytes. Still, maple water comes with the same note of caution as coconut water, says Politi: Stick with unsweetened and unflavored versions, and treat this as an occasional post-workout drink rather than an exclusive source of hydration.
The Sip: Plain old tap water gives your body exactly what it needs — without any of the excess calories or sugar that it doesn’t. Bonus: Fewer bottles and cans mean less waste for the environment.
The Science: If you’re hooked into a public water system (as most homes and apartments are), your water company is required to disinfect, filter and remove pathogens, and test frequently. That’s a higher standard than bottled water is generally required to keep. And consider that watchdog groups have estimated that somewhere between a quarter and two-thirds of bottled water comes out of a municipal tap. Anyone can request a report via your city’s website or contact the supplier from the number on your bill. About 10 percent of people get their water from private wells, and for those folks the EPA recommends regular testing and monitoring. Still, if you’re worried about trace impurities, you might want to invest in a water filter — such as a carbon filter (like Brita) or a reverse osmosis carbon filtration system, which is installed under your sink.
The Sip: Water stirred with extra ingredients, such as lemon juice, cayenne, or maple syrup, that some fad diets claim will jump-start your metabolism or curb your hunger.
The Science: Sorry, but sipping spicy water isn’t going to rev your metabolism in any meaningful way, says Politi. While research has shown that feeding mice capsacin (the active ingredient in cayenne pepper) did have short-term metabolic benefits, the researchers pointed out that the doses were far higher than humans could ever handle. And the science is scant around other infusions, like lemon juice or maple syrup. (One surefire way to increase your basal metabolic rate, she says, is strength training at the gym, which increases your body’s lean muscle mass.) Of course, if adding lemon slices or cut cucumbers to your water makes the taste more appealing, have at it. There’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of chopped fruit to your glass, if it helps you stay hydrated, Politi says.
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