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Perhaps the Most Toxic "Health" Drinks of the Century

June 04, 2011 | 292,695 views
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By Dr. Mercola

By now you have probably seen the ads for MiO Liquid Water Enhancer, Kraft Foods' new gimmick aimed at young consumers seeking "cool" new ways to stand out among their peers. Leave it to the food and beverage industry to find a way to turn your perfectly healthful water into a mixture of toxic chemicals. This latest craze has you squeezing brightly colored flavor drops into your water from a cute little purse-sized bottle, and watching the mesmerizing nebula of color diffuse slowly into the clear water.

Very clever… a science experiment you can drink.

The market has been flooded with "functional waters," fortified (supposedly) with everything from vitamins and minerals to electrolytes, oxygen, fiber, and even protein. Supermarket beverage aisles can entice you along a virtual sea of beverage choices—energy drinks, vitamin waters, fitness waters, and sports/electrolyte concoctions in every imaginable color and flavor.

You can even buy a bottle of water infused with positive affirmations, said to "raise the consciousness of humanity" (Aquamantra). Or how about this one—bottled water fortified for your dog, called FortiFido?

But if you take a closer look at the labels, you'll discover they're spiking your punch with a lot of unsavory ingredients, many capable of wreaking havoc on your metabolism, hormones, and other physiological processes—and some of which are outright carcinogenic.

If you aren't already a label reader, it's time you became one, lest you fall prey to these clever marketing ploys.

Flashy labels, pretty colors, and seductive scents are not always harmless to your health—but they are incredibly alluring, especially to kids. Your child will be drawn in like an Emu to dangly earrings. So what's in this cute little bottle of liquid "water enhancer" with the equally cute name?

Mama MIO! More Like Factory Runoff than a Beverage

Here is the ingredient list for the Mango Peach variety of MiO:

Water, Malic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Citric Acid, "natural flavor," Sucralose, Acesulfame potassium, Potassium citrate, Polysorbate 60, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Potassium Sorbate (preservative).

Basically, this is a scary mixture of TWO artificial sweeteners, THREE dyes, one preservative, and propylene glycol (PG)—a solvent that can potentially result in cell mutations and skin, liver, and kidney damage, if ingested in high enough amounts. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates propylene glycol as a moderate hazard.

Artificial sweeteners are bad news for your health (they can lead to impaired kidney function, depression, headaches, infertility, brain tumors, and a long list of other serious health problems) and are unnecessary food additives—because there are SAFE natural sweetener alternatives. This is such a huge issue that I wrote a book about it called Sweet Deception.

All artificial sweeteners are risky, and MiO contains TWO of them!

Let's look at the rap sheets for some of MiO's flavor "enhancements":

  • Sucralose (an artificial sweetener otherwise known as Splenda) is associated with respiratory difficulties, migraines, seizures, gastrointestinal problems, heart palpitations, and weight gain, and the list of reported problems is growing by the day.
  • Acesulfame potassium (or Acesulfame-K) is another artificial sweetener that has been linked to kidney tumors.
  • Food dyes have been connected to a variety of health problems, including allergic reactions, hyperactivity, decreased IQ in children, and numerous forms of cancer—and MiO has THREE of them.
  • Polysorbate 60 is an emulsifying agent that, like PG, is rated as a moderate health concern by EWG and can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, two carcinogenic industrial pollutants.

Now, why go to the trouble of purifying your water, only to dump right back into it what you have just filtered out—a bunch of toxic chemicals?

This makes NO sense at all.

But MiO is just one example of a much larger problem. Enhanced waters have become an enormously lucrative business as people have begun to abandon soda pop for what they believe are better alternatives. Beverage battles (and now, water wars) have left manufacturers clamoring to come up with products that outdo all the rest. Are these beverages really better for you than soda? Not by a long shot.

Dysfunctional Beverages… Think Before You Drink

I don't want you to think I've singled out MiO as the big villain—it's just the most recent new recruit. Let's look at the labels for several other varieties of "enhanced" water, to see how they compare.

The following table shows the ingredients in 10 other popular brands of "enhanced" water. I've highlighted the most glaring offenders in bold.

Propel Fitness Water Water, sucrose from corn syrup, natural lemon flavor with other natural flavors, citric acid, sodium citrate, potassium citrate, sucralose, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E acetate, niacinamide (vitamin B3), calcium disodium EDTA, calcium pantothenate (vitamin B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), acesulfame potassium (ace-K), vitamin B12.
VitaminWater Vapor distilled, deionized, and/or reverse osmosis water, crystalline fructose, cane sugar, citric acid, vegetable juice (color), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), natural flavor, berry and fruit extracts (acai, blueberry, pomegranate and apple), magnesium lactate (electrolyte), calcium lactate (electrolyte), monopotassium phosphate (electrolyte), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6), cyanocobalamin (B12)
Voosh Water, crystalline fructose, citric acid, vitamin blend (ascorbic acid, grape seed extract, niacinamide, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin B12, pyridoxine HCL), fruit and vegetable juices for color, natural flavors, magnesium lactate, calcium lactate, potassium phosphate
Sobe Life Water Filtered water, sugar, natural flavor, citric acid, ascorbic acid (C), grape skin extract (color), sodium citrate, modified food starch, l-theanine, vitamin E acetate, calcium phosphate, gum arabic, calcium pantothenate, yerba mate extract, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6), cyanocobalamin (B12)
Fruit2O Relax Essentials (Cranberry Raspberry) Purified Water, Contains less than 2% of Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin (Fiber), Potassium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Manganese Gluconate Dihydrate (Mineral), Potassium Chloride (Electrolyte), Potassium Citrate (Electrolyte), Potassium Pyruvate (Electrolyte), Vitamin E Succinate, Zinc Lactate Gluconate (Mineral), Calcium D-Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Vitamin B6, Selenium Chelate (Mineral), Citric Acid, Sucralose, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate
Aquafina (Berry Burst) Sparkling water, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium citrate, potassium benzoate, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, calcium disodium EDTA
Dasani Plus (Pomegranate Blackberry) Filtered Water, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Potassium Benzoate and EDTA, Phosphoric Acid, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E) Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6) Red 40, Blue 1, Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Relatively Safe Flavored Waters

Glaceau Smart Water Vapor distilled water, electrolytes (calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium bicarbonate)
MetroMint Purified water and mint
OWater Water, natural lemon and lime flavor, electrolytes, and potassium sorbate (preservative)

As you can see, the majority of these "health" drinks contain a lot of dangerous chemicals that you wouldn't want to put in your body. (Three relatively safe flavored waters are listed above.) Not only that, but sugar is a common ingredient. In fact, some of these drinks have nearly as much sugar as Coca Cola! Take VitaminWater, for example.

VitaminWater: A Candy Bar in a Bottle

Glaceau VitaminWater (made by the Coca-Cola Company) has a whopping 33 grams of sugar per 20-ounce bottle (and 130 calories), which is only 6 grams less than a can of Coke. In fact, Coco-Cola Company was sued in 2009 for promoting VitaminWater as a healthful product. Not surprisingly, VitaminWater was rated the "Worst Healthy Drink" by Eat This, Not That.

VitaminWater is not water—it's a candy bar in a bottle. Much of the sugar in VitaminWater is the worst possible kind—crystalline fructose—which is even more damaging to your health than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Crystalline fructose is 99 percent fructose, whereas HFCS is only 55 percent fructose.

Fructose is known to significantly raise your triglycerides, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease because it metabolizes into triglycerides and fat, not glucose. And if that's not bad enough, crystalline fructose may be contaminated with arsenic, lead, chloride and heavy metals.

But it doesn't end there.

Many of these so-called health drinks contain as much caffeine as 6 ounces of Starbucks coffee or 12 ounces of Folgers mountain brew. If you are curious about the caffeine content of your beverage of choice, check the following databases, Overcaffeinated or Caffeine Informer. But what about the nutritional claims made by some of these companies—how accurate do you think they are? One journalistic group decided to actually have these beverage products tested.

Men's Journal Puts Enhanced Water Claims to the Test

It's pretty clear these beverages have tons of garbage in them that you don't want or need in your body. But do they really offer the nutritional benefits advertised? Men's Journal decided to test that out. They sent samples of several enhanced waters to an independent lab to investigate whether or not the beverages contain the nutrients claimed, in the amounts advertised on the label.

Guess what?

They found major discrepancies between what labels claimed and what was actually present.

For example, Fruit2O Essentials (Peach Mango) contained only HALF the vitamin B5 it claimed, and NONE of the vitamin E. Its total dissolved solids (TDS) is advertised to be less than 2.5 grams but tested at 7.0 grams. According to the lab, those solids could be anything "from flavoring to dirt."

In general, the vitamin-enhanced waters contain negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals, far less than if you were to take an oral supplement. In most cases, the drinks provide less than 10 percent of the recommended daily serving of any one vitamin. The sugar content negates any health benefit you could hope to gain—and even worse are the artificial sweeteners.

The electrolyte waters contain insufficient amounts of electrolytes to replenish you, if you were truly dehydrated. And it's unlikely that most people exert themselves hard enough, and for long enough, to develop dehydration and electrolyte depletion—unless you are running an all-out marathon.

But saying a sports drink contains "electrolytes" just sort of sounds good from a marketing point of view.

The bottom line is, you are far better off relying on fresh whole foods for your nutritional needs, rather than falling for ridiculous boasts by the beverage industry. If you suspect you need extra vitamins due to a less than optimal diet, you are much better off taking a good quality vitamin/mineral supplement with a tall glass of PURE water. You'll come out ahead, in terms of both your budget and your health.

Duped by the Bottled Water Industry

The bottled water business has become a multi-billion dollar industry. But bottled water isn't the pristine elixir you've been told it is.

Consider the following:

  • Studies show that 40 percent of bottled water is actually regular tap water with possibly no additional filtering treatment.
  • The EPA standards that apply to public water supplies do NOT apply to bottled water. Overall, bottled water is less regulated than tap water.
  • There are no restrictions preventing a source of bottled water from being located near industrial facilities or waste dumps.

A recent EWG report uncovered 38 contaminants in 10 brands of plain bottled water, including DBPs, nitrate, caffeine, arsenic, Tylenol, bacteria and industrial chemicals. There is every reason to expect that, if tested, these new flavored bottled waters would be found similarly contaminated with hormone disruptors and industrial waste chemicals. Not the type of "enhancement" you thought you were paying for!

The High Cost of Plastic Water Bottles

In the time it takes you to read this one short sentence, over 8,000 empty water bottles are being thrown into the trash worldwide. According to the Container Recycling Institute, in the U.S. alone, more than 67 million plastic water bottles are discarded each day. That's enough plastic water bottles to fill 5,500 garbage trucks each day or wrap around the Earth 149 times each year.

Plastic bottles have become an enormous problem for humanity due to the following four problems:

  1. The sheer volume of plastic waste they create
  2. The lack of adequate recycling capability for plastics
  3. The amount of oil required to manufacture these millions of plastic bottles
  4. The adverse health problems caused by the plastic itself

As good as it feels to haul your plastic bottles to a recycler, realize that 86 percent of plastic bottles never get recycled, leaving a massive number of them sitting in landfills and floating like massive plastic islands in our oceans. In fact, the enormous plastic "stew" of bottles discarded into the Pacific Ocean is currently twice the size of Texas and growing steadily. Only 5 percent of all discarded plastic waste is currently recycled in the U.S.

And the plastic bottle you toss out today will not finish biodegrading until the year 3011.

But waste isn't the only problem. It takes a lot of OIL to manufacture those plastic bottles.

According to the Sierra Club, the United States alone uses 1.5 million barrels of oil to create the water bottles we toss into those landfills every year, releasing toxic by-products like nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene into the environment. 1.5 million barrels is enough oil to fuel 250,000 homes or 100,000 cars for a year!

And to compound the issue, drinking from plastic water bottles can pose serious health risks from industrial chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which leach from the plastic itself into the contents of the bottle.

BPA (or Bisphenol A) is an estrogen-mimicking chemical linked to reproductive defects, learning and behavioral problems, immune dysfunction, and prostate and breast cancer. Phthalates are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to a wide range of developmental and reproductive effects, as well as liver cancer.

There is an excellent 2009 documentary called "Tapped," about the high cost of plastic water bottles to human health, as well to as the environment, which can be watched online for free

Another excellent film is the recently released "Waste Land," which poignantly illustrates the sheer volume of our plastic waste. This award-winning documentary tells the uplifting story of how New York artist Vik Muniz teams up with Brazilian locals to artistically turn waste into money at the world's largest landfill near Rio de Janeiro. You can watch the trailer here.

Your Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The answer to all of this is to minimize your use of plastic water bottles (and plastics in general) and refrain from buying plastic-bottled waters, enhanced or otherwise. Why not make plain, pure water your beverage of choice?

You can filter you own water at home, inexpensively and easily, and take it with you in reusable glass water bottles, which have a much smaller ecological footprint. The very best water, however, comes from a natural spring.

If you want to jazz it up with something, why not add natural ingredients that are actually GOOD for you? By avoiding the sugar, chemicals and caffeine in so-called energy drinks, you'll be able to truly rehydrate while avoiding the energy "crash" that inevitably follows.

Here are a few suggestions for spiffing up your water without sacrificing your health:

  • Add fresh lemon or lime juice (or peels) to your water, whole gingerroot, or even slices of cucumber can add a refreshing twist. If you want it sweet, you can add natural stevia, which is an herb that has no downsides for your health.
  • Try adding a drop or two of natural peppermint extract or a few crushed mint leaves from your herb garden.
  • If you're adventurous, there are mint-flavored chlorophyll drops on the market that can be added to a glass of water. Chlorophyll may help flush toxins out of your blood and improves your breath.
  • If you want an electrolyte type "sports drink," try coconut water, which is a rich natural source of potassium and electrolytes. Look for one that has no additives. Or choose a fresh, young coconut and harvest it yourself!
  • If you want the ultimate refreshing vitamin-rich drink, make up some green juice from fresh, organic veggies. Avoid adding fruits due to their high sugar content when juiced. Add a pinch of sea salt and some lemon juice for a very refreshing beverage that is heavy on nutrition and light on calories.
  • Iced green tea is also a great pick-me-up that's high in antioxidants. Although green tea contains caffeine, it also contains a natural protein called theanine, which actually mediates caffeine's adverse effects.
  • Here's a recipe for a refreshing homemade fruit drink that's actually good for you. You can even throw in frozen berries, instead of ice cubes.

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