‘Wellness water’ is very popular – but is it better than what comes out of the tap? | Food

The interesting thing about “wellness waters” – bottles of mineral water with improbable things added that makers say keep you well – is not that they make wild claims, it’s how difficult these are to definitively disprove. You’d think science would be all over this: “No, nitwit, there is no such thing as hydrogen water.” In fact, the approach is often a mild, “we do not know, for certain, that this wouldn’t work”, with a hint of tacit eye-rolling in the footnotes.

Wellness waters, in their most modern iteration, claim to be infused with, say, hydrogen or able to maintain blood pH levels (which a healthy body is quite capable of doing) with extra alkaline. It would be unfair to start there, however. There is a long tradition of ridiculous claims attached to the word “water” or – insert woo-woo time-traveling music – “aqua”. It started with Aqua Libra sparkling water in the 1980s. “We pioneered the first generation of wellness drinks back in the 80s, with fans that included Lady Diana and Darcey Bussell,” reads its website. The health secret then, folks, was pretty simple: it was a fizzy drink that did not contain alcohol. There followed Purdey’s (fizzy, no alcohol, with extra vitamins, which were pretty novel then). This is not to be confused with Coca-Cola’s Vitamin Water, which the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in 2011 contained so much sugar that an advert claiming it was “nutritious” was banned.

Hydrogen water has been around since the 60s in Japan. Its current form – brands such as Coca-Cola’s Smartwater, which claims to have extra hydrogen added by electrolysis for antioxidant purposes – is much more recent. No conclusive longitudinal studies have shown any benefit, but maybe just because they haven’t had time. Sceptics say if you want an antioxidant, just drink tea. Alkaline water has attracted the most comprehensive debunking, with the international nutritional world in consensus over the idea that your body already regulates pH on its own, because you’d die if it didn’t.

So perhaps it is best to consider what you are really using your wellness water for: if it’s for the timeless purpose of just not having a beer (isotonic waters were designed for athletes who previously used to restore themselves with alcohol), then drink what you like. But if you are thirsty, it’s probably best to just turn on the tap.


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