Aggressively marketed as important for health and hydration, a mind-boggling array of packaged beverages vie for our attention in the marketplace: sports drinks, energy drinks, fitness waters, vitamin waters—even “designer waters.” That’s not even counting the dozens of varieties of plain bottled water.
To see and hear the advertisements you’d think that before bottled beverages, human beings were unable to manage their thirst or replace the “electrolytes” lost through everyday living.
For sure, water makes up as much as 65 percent of adult body weight. It’s essential for most bodily functions, so staying well hydrated is essential to good health.
But what’s in that bottle besides water?
Many of these supposedly health-promoting drinks have come under scrutiny and even attack by public health advocates.
Experts have concerns about the long-term health effects of many of today’s “enhanced waters” and “energy” drinks, especially on children, teens, young adults, and people with or at risk for chronic health conditions such as diabetes and obesity.
Here are a few reasons why:
- The average American adult drinks about 400 calories a day, mostly from sugary sodas, sweetened teas, sports and energy drinks, juice drinks, and alcohol. Those calories add up. Drinking 400 calories of sugary beverages each day can pack on more than a pound’s worth of calories (3500) every nine days--more than 40 pounds a year.
- “Energy” drinks can simultaneously contribute to obesity and poor nutrition. Drinking high-calorie beverages doesn’t give you the sense of fullness that solid food does, so you keep sipping those empty calories.
- Many also contain a big jolt of caffeine and other stimulants , which may be harmful and even addictive to children, teens, and some adults.
- Other energy drinks contain vitamins, amino acids, and unregulated herbs in ratios, amounts, combinations, and forms that may be harmful .
- Many bottled drinks may cause irreversible damage to teeth , because the high acidity levels of energy drinks erode tooth enamel.
Health experts suggest drinking plain tap water to stay hydrated throughout the day, even during and after exercise. Carried in a refillable water bottle, it’s convenient, no-cost, and calorie-free. I find a squirt of lemon or lime and a few ice cubes makes it seem more special.
A diet of healthy meals and snacks each day offers all the calories, vitamins, and “electrolytes” you need to replace what you ordinarily lose.
Exceptions include hours-long periods of hard physical work or intense exercise, and cases of extreme diarrhea and vomiting. In such instances, try this cheap, homemade rehydration drink .
According to one report , Americans spend $21 billion a year on bottled water, as compared with only $29 billion maintaining the infrastructure of our public water system. Some critics of bottled water think this pits private drinking habits against maintaining municipal water supplies.
Closer to home, the various bottled waters at my local supermarket range from less than a buck a bottle for plain bottled water to $6.00 for a can of a high-end energy drink. My frugal household long ago switched to drinking tap water, along with home-brewed coffee and various teas.
Hot-topic related costs, important but too complex for this blog post, include the steep energy and environmental costs  of bottling water, and the social and economic impacts of turning water into a private commodity for sale and profit .
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.