Designer water is the latest health trend to explode, with options like maple water, birch water and alkaline water now available and promising myriad health benefits. But are they really better for us than good old tap?
What does every off-duty supermodel have in common, other than legs up to my chest and swishy hair? They’re clutching the latest iteration of water, of course. Whether it’s cactus, aloe, coconut or maple, gone are the days when tap water was the answer to thirst.
We’ve known for a while that drinking water – in any form – is good for health and physical appearance. “Drinking pure, clean water is great for the body,” says Miriam Gubovic, nutritionist at CPRESS. “Our body is made of 60 per cent water, so not drinking enough dehydrates, whereas keeping hydrated helps the body flush out toxins. Urine and sweat are two big detox paths, which need water,” she says.
Now, though, with staying hydrated seen as a silver bullet to good looks and good health, companies are capitalising on this and making our water options more numerous, more confusing, and certainly more expensive.
It started with the celebrity favourite, coconut water. Between 2008-2013, the number of new coconut water products entering the market more than quintupled (up 540 per cent), led by North America and closely followed by Europe, according to Mintel. Coconut water is hydrating and full of potassium, while being low in fat and cholesterol. “Coconut water is on a different level,” says Gubovic. “Its pH level is similar to our blood’s pH, and drinking it after exercise really helps replenish the electrolytes we’ve lost.”
However, one problem with the packaging of these healthy waters is that we assume they’reunequivocally ‘good’, with no downside or need for quantity control. In reality, watermelon water may be rich in the amino acid citrulline and useful for refuelling heart rate and muscle cramp after a workout, but it’s fairly high in calories. Similarly, a container of coconut water has around 60 calories – it shouldn’t be drunk in limitless quantities, which isn’t made obvious to consumers. Likewise, cactus water is full of antioxidants, but is often packaged with lots of added sugars.
“Coconut water is on a different level. Its pH level is similar to our blood’s pH, and drinking it after exercise really helps replenish the electrolytes we’ve lost”
That said, not all trendy waters are created equal. While aloe water is largely marketing hype – the aloe can’t be ingested in the same way as when used directly on skin, and is largely ineffective – tree waters such as maple, bamboo and birch do seem to have genuine merit.
Tree waters are produced from the sap of trees which are ‘tapped’, often in Eastern Europe, a practice that has occurred for centuries. They’re tapped during the spring, when the roots soak water up from the ground and into the trunk, and the nutrient-rich water is then tapped out, packaged, and sold by brands such as Sibberi, which was founded by Clara Vaisse.
“Tree waters are packed with electrolytes, which means they are naturally hydrating. Electrolytes are responsible for directing water (and nutrients) to the areas of the body where it’s needed most,” says Vaisse. “Conversely to coconut water, tree waters are all very low in sugars – birch water has four times less sugar than coconut water.” Plus, she says, “Bamboo water is the highest natural source of silica, which supports the body with collagen production.” Birch water is anti-inflammatory, while maple water is high in antioxidants and manganese, which supports thyroid and bone health.
As for the merits of tap water – it depends where you are, says Gubovic. “In Singapore, for example, tap water is very pure and clean, whereas in places like Manila, it’s not,” she says. “In London, they add fluoride to tap water, which is good for teeth, but it’s actually a poison.”
But these fancy bottled waters don’t come cheap: a single serving of birch water is around £2. This will change, says Vaisse. “Tree water is a premium product but will become affordable to everyone as demand grows. Brands will be able to save on the cost of transport and the cost of bottling, passing on the savings directly to customers.”
She goes on, “[It started with] people looking for a way to hydrate that is natural and lower in sugars than juices or smoothies. Tree water is just the beginning of a structural shift that is driven by younger consumers. People who are concerned about the sugar content of drinks will pick them more and more.”
And, I ask Vaisse, what’s next? “I have heard of lime tree [water]!”
So, the verdict? There’s nothing wrong with most of the new designer waters, and they offer variety and certain nutrients. As long as you steer clear of added sugars and watch your portion intake, drink and enjoy – it’s largely beneficial, and, says Gubovic, anything encouraging people to drink more water, in any form, is positive.
However, beware the marketing hype: they are by no means an essential addition in ensuring health. When in doubt or on a budget, tap water will do just fine.