The rant: Down with flavoured water!
Add a splash of fruit flavouring and a drop of antioxidant and suddenly what looks like a plain old bottle of water becomes a must-have superfood with a supercharged price tag. What a wheeze, says Sue Quinn.
Why are some of us crazy enough to pay a king’s ransom for liquid that, in the UK at least, comes free and clean straight from the tap? Drinks producers are having a laugh and we’re lapping up the punch line. Just wander down the drinks aisle of your supermarket or health food shop and you’ll see what I mean…
Now that coconut water is so last year, health hipsters wanting a taste of the latest trend are spoilt for choice. As well as birch water, maple water and cactus water made from plant saps, there are a host of bizarre new ‘enhanced waters’ flooding the shelves.
All kinds of stuff is being squeezed into H2O, including a cornucopia of fruit and vegetable flavourings and ‘fortifying’ vitamins and minerals. You can buy vapour-distilled spring water with added electrolytes, alkaline waters (alkaline trace mineral-infused water) and, my favourite, Antiwater (made with ‘nano-filtered’ H2O, coffee fruit extract and selenium – the antioxidant that gives it its name). So far the latter is only available in the US or online, but it will no doubt be whooshing down the waterslide to the UK soon. After all, the manufacturers predict “the future is clear” – you couldn’t make it up.
It’s this halo effect that drinks producers are trying to conjure that really makes me fume. Predictably, the majority of ‘functional’ (no, I don’t know what that means either…) waters are being marketed as though they’re life-giving liquids fresh from the spring at Lourdes. The labels display promises of health benefits that range from curing your hangover to improving your immune system and detoxifying your liver. I don’t know how many bottles of artichoke water you’d need to guzzle to get the same health benefit as eating a plateful of the real McCoy, but I’d wager it would be quite a few. And at about £2 (it’s not available in the UK yet) and 8g sugar a bottle, it’s clear your wallet will be slimmer, if nothing else.
Then there’s the cocktail of additives many of the waters are bottled up with. Drinks with images of juicy berries on the label seem harmless enough because, well, the liquid is pure, right? Well, not exactly… The truth is, many such waters are pumped full of sugar, artificial sweeteners and flavourings – the other vitamins and antioxidants they’re ‘fortified’ with seem, at least to me, to be added as an afterthought simply to justify the health claims that make sales of the stuff soar.
Flavoured water is projected to be worth almost £26 billion worldwide by 2019 – a sad statistic, but we all know why drinks producers are churning this stuff out. Fizzy drinks are fast losing their sparkle as consumers become more sugar-savvy and look for healthier options to quench their thirst.
Time to take stock: a nutritionist I interviewed once for an article about flavoured water pointed out that Coca-Cola was just that – flavoured water, originally touted as a medicinal drink that would cure a multitude of illnesses. Something to bear in mind next time you reach for a bottle of infused clear stuff with lots of health claims on the label. Or better still, why don’t we save our fruit and veg for eating (and our money for something worthwhile) and enjoy water in its gloriously natural, good-for-you, accessible form – straight from the tap?
Do you think Sue has a valid point, or do you take a different view? Let us know in the comments below.