Enriched waters - marketing gimmick?

Related tags Nutrition

The rapidly growing sales of waters with added vitamins and
minerals, or functional waters are the result of slick marketing
with little real benefit for consumers' health, according to a
report by an Australian consumer magazine.

Choice​ reviewed a number of leading brands of functional waters, concluding "for most people, don't waste your money".

Sports drinks tend to provide better hydration for athletes, it notes, even if this is only due to the fact that people prefer drinking flavoured water to plain old H2O. But for recreational exercisers, enriched waters add little health benefit despite heavily pushing the nutrient content on product labelling, said the report.

Functional soft drinks consumption across the United States, Japan and 16 West European countries passed the 12 billion litre mark in 2002, according to drinks consultancy Zenith International​. The international market grew by 11 per cent on 2001 and functional soft drinks now represent 6 per cent of soft drinks in these markets, compared with just 4 per cent in 1998.

Functional waters are the latest addition to the category and are starting to impact sales of fortified juices, the leading functional drinks category in western Europe, and nutraceuticals.

The survey looked at nine different waters - some with a focus on sport, such as Powerade Sports Water from Coca-Cola Amatil, and Propel Fitness Water, from Cadbury Schweppes, while others targeted the average person who does little intense exercise - Cadbury's Aquaveta and Spring Valley Twist.

"Most of them could be described as water with light flavouring, some electrolytes and either artificially or only lightly sweetened. The big selling point, though, is the added vitamins and minerals - and they don't really amount to much in the grand scheme of a healthy diet,"​ notes the report.

Around 10 per cent of the recommended daily amount of calcium or iron is typical in these products, said Choice​. And they often contain only 25 per cent of the required amounts of vitamin C and B vitamins.

This means that they are "in no way a substitute for getting your vitamins and minerals from fruit and veggies in an overall healthy diet, and just drinking plain water"​. The report underlines the advantages of fruit and vegetables over 'a few vitamins and minerals', noting that there are hundreds of phytochemicals in them, as well as fibre.

But, according to sports dietitians at the Australian Institute of Sport, an elite athlete should use a proper sports drink, such as Gatorade or Powerade to maintain optimum hydration. They have appropriate levels of electrolytes (sodium and potassium) for quick absorption and the carbohydrate level in them is more suitable for refuelling during intense exercise.

'Sports water' has also been shown to increase the amount people drink when exercising, thanks to their light flavour and even the lower levels of electrolytes in them, so they too have their benefits, even for recreational exercisers.

And while water 'achieves everything the average person needs from a drink', and 'sports water' often contains a high sugar content, this can be much lower than that in a soft drink or sports drink.

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