A Closer Look at Popular "Alternative" Waters

With temperatures sitting above 90, I am reaching for my water bottle after my morning running and not stopping until I crash into bed. I am a big fan of plain, delicious water. But recently, I have been spicing things up a bit. Sparkling water or dropping some fresh fruit, herbs, or citrus into my bottle is also refreshing.

Additionally, it seems like everywhere you turn there is a new water “alternative.” You might see these products while strolling down the aisle of your favorite grocery store labeled as the new natural way to hydrate. Coconut, maple, and birch are some of the more popular items, but are these drinks really miracle beverages?

Some of my earliest memories growing up a swimmer in Florida are of my adorable Filipino grandfather coming to my swim practices or meets, cooler in hand, filled to the brim with cans of coconut water. Ahead of the trend by nearly 15 years, my grandfather would stock up on coconut water for me and my teammates as a way to fuel us through our events.

I have no idea why my grandfather decided to bring coconut water to these sporting events. It’s not as if he had a background in nutrition or health, and yet he introduced us to drinking coconut water wayyyy before it got popular. Which brings me to my first question: Are there health benefits associated with drinking coconut water? Let’s push beyond the flashy marketing-speak on the bottle and instead take a closer look at the Nutrition Facts Panel.  

Coconut water is rich in potassium and contains some sodium. These two electrolytes ensure your muscles function the right way. But don’t let savvy terminology sway you into thinking that coconut water will help you outperform professional athletes. Despite the marketing claims, replacing regular water with coconut water might be unnecessary. Studies show that regular water will suffice if you are engaging in low to moderate exercise (less than 60 minutes per session).

Onto the next “alt” water: maple. Derived from maple trees, advertisements for maple water boast that it contains 46 nutrients and is a “good source of calcium.” Looking deeper at its Nutrition Facts Panel, a 12-ounce serving of maple water has a measly 3 percent of your recommended daily value of calcium. This water alternative may not be magic elixir that people are seeking.

Finally, the newest replacement that recently hit the shelves is birch water. News headlines claim that birch water is the “craze everyone will be obsessed with in 2015.”  Originating from the silver birch and the North American sweet birch, birch water has a similar nutritional profile as coconut water but also contain saponin. Saponin is a chemical found in many different plants and gives a foamy, sudsy quality to liquids. Some reports do show the positive effects of saponin on health outcomes. But none of these studies was performed in humans, let alone conducted as randomized clinical trials.

These alternative waters have some nutritional value, but if you are eating a healthful, balanced diet, you are getting more than enough of these nutrients. Additionally, these beverages bring along with them extra calories, which is the main driver of weight gain. So feel free to enjoy a coconut, maple, birch or (insert new trendy alt water here) from time to time, but don’t forget about good ol’ plain water. 

Sign Up to Get Regular Servings of FACTS

Imagine you actually had a resource that broke down the sensationalism about food, agriculture, and nutrition into real, science-based information.

  • Join the tens of thousands of mythbusters out there fighting against bad information on food
  • Get no-nonsense, easy-to-understand nutrition and safety insights
  • Read Q&As with experts explaining the latest studies, debates, and news stories
  • Be empowered to make your own decisions about your diet
10 + 5 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.