From its humble beginnings as a single-option beverage, water has risen to new heights and is now available in various “enhanced” forms. But are any of these new options better for you than the original? Experts interviewed by TIME and the Washington Post aren’t convinced. They claim many of the additives in enhanced water products are merely marketing ploys that don’t offer real health benefits and may instead add calories, sugars, and other questionable ingredients, specifically:
- Electrolytes. The body needs these mineral salts to keep muscles and nerves firing correctly and to stay hydrated. On a sweltering day, during intense exercise, or as a result of illness involving diarrhea, vomiting, or fever, you lose electrolytes through sweating or other fluid loss, and electrolyte-enhanced drinks may come in handy. However, experts warn that, in ordinary circumstances, extra electrolytes provide no health benefits, and the additional sodium, potassium, and sugar in these drinks could be an issue for people with some health conditions or taking certain medications.
- Vitamins and minerals. Drinking water with extra vitamins and minerals can seem like a straightforward way to get more nutrients. But, if you’re already eating a well-rounded diet, enhanced waters are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on your overall nutrient intake.
- Alkaline pH. Another popular enhanced-water feature is an alkaline pH. Some companies claim this helps balance the body’s pH—which is very tightly controlled through buffering mechanisms. During prolonged intense exercise, acid production can exceed the body’s acid-buffering capacity, and it is thought that alkaline salts like sodium bicarbonate may help. But for most of us, any extra acidity that needs buffering is due to a diet that is too high in animal protein and sugar. Drinking fortified water is unlikely to reverse any of the effects of poor diet choices, especially if it has added sugars. Instead, eating more fruits and vegetables is likely a far better way to support the body in maintaining a normal pH.
- Raw. Perhaps as a counter-reaction to all of the enhanced waters on the market, “raw” water—taken straight from pure mountain springs—claims to be probiotic and free of chlorine and other chemicals used to treat tap water. However, the Washington Post reports that drinking untested water is risky as it could contain harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites, or contaminants such as arsenic or pesticides.
The bottom line? Plain water may sound boring but in most cases it’s probably the best choice. If you do choose to drink enhanced or raw water, remember that not all water is created equal: read labels and do your research so you know what’s in your glass.