YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Meet water's cooler cousins

Fruit flavored H2O? Not enough anymore. These days 'enhanced' can mean herbs, even fiber. Whether the drinks do much is debatable.

January 16, 2006|Hilary E. MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

Strolling the aisles of the supermarket, the hip and health-conscious know better than to stop at the endless array of sparkling and spring waters. These bottles offer only hydration. The aqua-chic want something more.

Their water must be enhanced. With herbs, chemicals, even supposed twists on the inherent structure of water, alluring new brands promise a host of health benefits that regular water doesn't provide. Fortified with a potpourri of nutrients, caffeine, fiber and ever more exotic extras, they build on a following created by their now-pedestrian cousins, those waters spiked merely with fruit or a few run-of-the-mill vitamins.

They have names like Skinny Water and Woman on Top's Slimmer You H2O (with an appetite suppressant to help you lose weight), Penta and HiOsilver Oxygen Water (structured and oxygenated to help you hydrate better), and Smartwater, Vitaminwater and Propel (with electrolytes, vitamins or minerals, to help you energize, immunize and rejuvenate yourself).

Not all of the products look like water; they can be pink, yellow, green or blue. They don't always taste like water -- they may be flavored with cherimoya, pomegranate, sugar or herbs. And unlike regular H20 (or "dead water," as it is sometimes called by enhanced-water marketers), these beverages often contain calories, although not as many as, say, a Coke. \o7

Packaged with much more pizazz than regular bottled water, enhanced waters are also marketed more artfully. Some are sold only in high-end boutiques. Others, such as Ed Hardy Structured Water -- from the hipster icon considered the godfather of the modern tattoo -- are niche to the extreme. Hardy's water is available only at his flagship L.A. store, exclusive gyms, raw food restaurants and really hot healthy restaurants, according to Jeff Carrillo, founder of the water.

"There is more going on in this water, physically and intentionally, than any other water on the planet," Carrillo said. "It's a reality."

For all the health hype, though, experts say most of these waters do not do much more than plain old water. They hydrate, they refresh -- and that's about it.

But they are extremely lucrative.

The market for enhanced waters increased more than twentyfold between 2000 and 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., a research consulting firm based in New York. The market is now worth more than $428 million.

"Bottled water has shown exceptional growth," said Gary Hemphill, managing director of the Beverage Marketing Corp. "What has happened in the last several years is that companies have looked for ways to broaden that opportunity, to innovate around water.

"What we have now is water-based products with something added."

John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, a trade publication that tracks industry trends, said these products are "at the tip of the intersection of two key trends. One is consumers' continuing love affair with bottled water. The other is consumers' growing interest in beverages that do more than refresh and taste good, i.e. they offer a functional benefit -- energy, vitamins or minerals."

For many of the waters, nutritionists say, the benefits depend on the brand and the specific quantities of minerals and vitamins. As with any product, consumers need to read the label.

"If they have vitamins added, clearly they have things regular water wouldn't contain," said Susan Bowerman, a registered dietitian and assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. "The question is, is this the best way to get your vitamins?"

When you eat a whole food, Bowerman said, you get more than the vitamins. You also get minerals, fiber and, most important, phytonutrients -- compounds in plant foods that give them their health benefits.

She said she is not aware of any water that contains the equivalent of a multivitamin, and says in fact that would be unlikely because some vitamins are not water soluble. If the water did have the equivalent of a multivitamin, she said, it probably wouldn't taste very good.

"They definitely don't make up for a bad diet," Bowerman said.

She is also skeptical of the effects of the so-called weight loss waters, some of which contain Garcinia cambogia, an Asian fruit. Current research on humans does not seem to indicate that hydroxycitric acid, the key component in G. cambogia, has any effect on obesity, Bowerman said.

However, though getting vitamins through water is an expensive alternative -- at up to $2.50 a bottle -- it probably can't hurt, she said. The waters may actually benefit people who don't like swallowing pills.

Nutritionists and chemists dismiss, however, the waters that claim to have chemically different structures than plain old H20. These so-called oxygenated, structured, clustered, unclustered and vitalized waters purport to raise energy levels, reverse aging, remove stress or, in the case of one water, just make water "thinner and wetter."

Los Angeles Times Articles