Water is water, right? Au contraire, my friend. If the disaster of toxic levels of lead and iron in the water in Flint, Michigan, has taught us anything, it’s that clean water is not only a basic human necessity, it’s a right. Yet companies are always trying to improve upon what already exists (for most people in the United States). Enter the detox water and energy water trends. These smart waters target marketers’ holy grail: health-conscious consumers with a few extra bucks.
We hear studies claiming coffee is horrible, and others touting coffee is a lifesaver. Water, on the other hand, everyone believes is good. Energy-infused water, like Avitae, uses green coffee bean extracts to energize its water with no calories, for 45 to 125 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to ½ cup to a 1½ cups of coffee. You can get flavorless water or fruit flavor infusions, still or sparkling. It’s a healthier alternative to doctored coffee, sugary teas, and sodas.
The Dirty Lemon brand also has an energy water, using ginseng, green tea, and ashwagandha, an Indian ginseng- adaptogen, that’s supposed to help the body adapt to stress, yet the benefits aren’t proven. Besides the sleep and skin + hair blends, the company’s product line also includes Dirty Lemon Detox to support liver and kidney function and offer anti-inflammatory benefits. Using an innovative text-to-buy model, Dirty Lemon includes another trend, activated charcoal, sourced from another trend, coconut shells, mixed with cold pressed lemon juice, ginger root and dandelion root. There are disclaimers that these products haven’t been evaluated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, so they can’t diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
If you see any of these smart waters make too-good-to-be-true promises, go with your gut. Those wellness tonics aren’t to be trusted when you ask science and nutrition experts beyond TV’s The Dr. Oz Show, fitness celebrity Jillian Michaels, and all those quick-weight-loss companies, says Ben Cosgrove on Berkeley Wellness, a health division of the University of California, Berkeley. Smart water isn’t a magic potion that will cleanse your body of toxins or flush out fat. Good old-fashioned water in general does some of that, and if these fancy waters get you drinking more water, then that’s a good step in the right direction.
Detox used to only refer to what state you were in after you abruptly stopped excessively drinking alcohol or taking drugs. For alcoholics, extreme cases of detox can result in delirium tremens, or hallucinations and shaking. These days, people use the word in much more casual ways. A detox can mean cleansing your body of almost anything, or that ascetic period of penitence after a binge of hard-partying or junk food. Many cold-pressed juice shops sell detox blends aimed at this goal. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop wellness and lifestyle site is often ridiculed or refuted for its ever-growing list of environmental toxins and solutions that opponents say are unscientific, such as that mugwort-infused vaginal steam. Yet Paltrow has made wellness chic, especially to the “wellthy.” Toxins are everywhere, according to Goop, and therefore detoxing is a must.
What are toxins anyway?
Toxins are generally defined as substances created by plants, animals, and microorganisms that are poisonous to humans, according to Berkeley Wellness. Some medications can also be toxic when used in large amounts. But Paltrow and others are often referring to refined sugar, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, gluten, and tons of environmental contaminants as well.
The body already detoxes itself, doctors say. The liver acts as your body’s primary filter, digesting food and ridding the body of toxic substances. Your kidneys also filter out toxins, via your urine. These special detox waters are like throwing money down the drain because clean, basic water is naturally detoxifying enough, helping your liver and kidneys do their jobs.
While staying properly hydrated is important and most people don’t drink enough water, there is too much of this good thing. “As long as you are producing light-yellow urine and don’t feel excessively thirsty, you are drinking all the water you need,” according to Berkeley Wellness. Too much water can hurt the kidney’s ability to exchange electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride, and at worst, lead to potentially life-threatening problems such as cardiac arrhythmias.
Bottom line: Most people don’t drink enough water. And if they are drinking enough liquids, it’s often soda or sugar-filled juice drinks with a small percentage of real juice. So if the choice is between drinking these wellness waters or being dehydrated or over-sugared, then yes, these smart waters are a good thing. If you have the cash and that’s how you want to spend it because the flavors or touted benefits make it more likely you’ll drink enough water, that’s your prerogative. And little clean energy is nice too. (Although, it’s a good idea to try creating less trash and recycling as well.)
“More water makes the body’s job of flushing toxins easier,” said Cornell nutrition and chemistry professor Thomas Brenna to STAT, a national health, medicine, and scientific magazine, “but I can get that water from my tap.”
Unless you live in Flint.
— Head photo: Getty.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She’s trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.