Take a stroll down the natural foods aisle in your local supermarket and you’ll find a wide array of trendy “waters” — like reverse osmosis water, cactus water, coconut water, and birch water. But are these “healthier” waters really any better than plain old tap water? What about all those recipes for lemon water and detox water? Before you swap your tap water for one of its trendy cousins, read on to find out if you can really make water healthier.
11 Hyped-Up H2O Alternatives
When you need to rehydrate, you may find yourself overwhelmed with options. Should you grab your trusty water bottle, or opt for water that’s been filtered, flavored, or otherwise altered? From purified water to plant water, here’s a rundown of some of the most popular options.
- Filtered water is made by using a basic filtration process to remove impurities.
- Purified water is similar to filtered water, but additional steps — like reverse osmosis, distillation, or deionization — are taken to purify water.
- Reverse osmosis water is a type of purified water. Pressure is applied to force water through a membrane, which removes contaminants.
- Alkaline water has a higher pH level than tap water. Some spring water is naturally alkaline, and alkaline water can also be made using a water ionizer. Research suggests it may be beneficial for acidity-related issues like reflux or acid buildup after an intense workout.
- Lemon water is made by adding freshly squeezed lemon juice to water for a healthy dose of vitamin C.
- Detox water is a broad category that includes waters infused with “detoxifying” ingredients like activated charcoal, fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices. (But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — our bodies naturally detoxify themselves, thanks to the kidneys and liver.)
Juice Disguised as Water
- Coconut water is the juice found inside coconuts (not to be confused with coconut milk, which is made by soaking grated coconut meat in coconut water). Because coconut water is a source of potassium, it’s often touted as a natural sports drink alternative.
- Cactus water is made by mixing prickly pear concentrate with water. The resulting juice provides magnesium and has antioxidant properties.
- Maple water is pure sap from maple trees, before it’s boiled down to become the sweet and gooey maple syrup we know and love.
- Birch water is the sap from birch trees. It provides some beneficial minerals like magnesium and manganese.
- Aloe water is a thick liquid made by grinding aloe vera leaves and filtering the liquid. Aloe vera contains vitamins A, C, E, and folic acid, and also provides antioxidants.
Can You Really Improve on Plain Old Water?
There’s no shortage of trendy water alternatives, but are they any better for you than plain old water?
In a sense, yes — purifying water or adding flavor can improve the taste, which may encourage you to stay hydrated. “Some of these do help you drink more fluids,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, registered dietitian and Openfit nutrition manager.
But tap water may actually have an edge over purified water when it comes to certain minerals: “By purifying it, you’re actually taking some good things out of it, like minerals that we actually want to be in our water,” Giancoli says. And we still need more research to back up some of the health claims surrounding these water alternatives.
There are a few other potential downsides to these water alternatives:
- High sugar content. Some infused waters or plant waters contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners and flavors. “In general, you don’t want to be drinking fluids that are giving you calories and sugar in replacement of water,” Giancoli says.
- Cost. If you were to swap every glass of tap water with one of the above options, you could easily drop $20 or more in a day. Compare that to the national average cost of tap water, which is only $2 for 1,000 gallons. (If you’re worried about water quality, you can always use an at-home water filtering system to remove impurities from your tap water on the cheap.)
- Environmental impact. Stocking up on bottle after bottle of trendy waters will contribute to our growing plastic waste — yep, even if you recycle.
But it’s worth noting that these trendy water alternatives typically have less sugar than soda or juice — so if you simply have no desire to chug boring old tap water, they can be a healthier alternative to sugar-laden beverages.
Bottom line? If an ice-cold aloe water helps you feel refreshed on a hot day or after a brutal workout, go for it. But if your goal is to find the healthiest hydration option, you really don’t have to look further than your own kitchen sink.