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Nutrition Notes
Week of August 4, 2008
Contact: Sarah Wally, (202) 328-7744

How Are You Quenching Your Thirst?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

We all know that drinking enough liquid is important. But with so many options on the market, the question of what to sip can get confusing. Do vitamin enriched waters or energy drnks offer an extra bonus? Is bottled water more beneficial than tap water? Here are a few guiding thoughts to consider:

For starters, avoid sugary drinks. Regular soft drinks, sugar-sweetened tea and high-sugar juice drinks offer concentrated calories and little nutritional value. It’s far too easy to over-consume calories from these beverages. In addition, research shows that avoiding sugary drinks is a key step in maintaining a healthy body weight.

Purchasing “functional beverages” like vitamin waters and energy drinks may seem like a more healthful alternative. In fact, sales of these beverages have recently begun to displace sales of traditional soft drinks. But these options provide significant calories, too. The labels can be deceiving. Although a bottle of vitamin water may read “50 calories per serving,” the bottle may contain two and a half eight-ounce servings, up to 125 calories per bottle. The source of those calories: sugar. These beverages contain, on average, about eight teaspoons of sugar per bottle, not much less than a regular soft drink.

While vitamin water may sound healthy, more is not always better when it comes to vitamins. Surveys show that fewer than five percent of the population is deficient in the B vitamins commonly added to vitamin waters. Additionally, the fat-soluble vitamins included (A, D and E) are poorly absorbed unless the beverage is consumed along with some fat-containing food. People who do need to supplement their diet with vitamins can save money by buying basic multivitamins and drinking plain water.

Energy drinks appeal to many people who are looking to overcome fatigue or gain a competitive advantage while playing sports. But we often forget that energy means calories. Unless you choose a sugar-free version, popular energy drinks can contain up to 130 calories per eight-ounce serving, as much or more than a regular soft drink.

These drinks usually contain high amounts of caffeine or other stimulants (guarana or yerba maté, for example). With a caffeine jolt comparable to one to two cups of coffee per eight-ounce can, overconsumption can result in difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep, nausea, leg weakness and palpitations. Be aware that some product labels don’t disclose caffeine content, so limiting the amount consumed is advised.

What about bottled water? While some people choose bottled water for taste or convenience, others (erroneously) believe it is more healthful than tap water. But according to the American Dietetic Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, both bottled and tap waters are equally safe, and plain bottled water offers no significant nutritional advantage. In fact, most bottled water lacks the fluoride added to tap water, a particular concern for the dental health of children and teenagers.

Environmental concerns also have many people re-thinking the value of bottled water. Water bottles can take a toll on the environment as more oil is needed to produce and transport bottles, and recycling efforts fail to recover all of the plastic.

The presence of potentially toxic chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) found in some plastics has some people worried as well. Although more research into the BPA controversy is necessary, most plastic water bottles do not contain the chemical in question (BPA is usually denoted by the number seven on the bottom of the bottle).

The bottom line: Drinking bottled water costs substantially more than drinking from the tap and has few advantages. But if the convenience or taste of bottled water encourages greater water consumption – especially in place of sugary drinks – in the end, that’s no small benefit.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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