Should you be drinking plant-based waters?

Plant-based waters are sprouting up everywhere, boasting a boost of nutrients and optimal health in a bottle— but how do they stack up nutritionally?

“People want healthier refreshment,” according to Gary A. Hemphill, managing director of research at Beverage Marketing Corporation, who said he expects this sector to grow. “They want less processed and more natural. And plant-based waters fit perfectly with the direction that consumers are moving,” he said.

Yet when deciding to consume any new product, it’s important to look at the science, make sure the product is safe and use a little common sense. Here, read on to find out if these plant-based waters are better than tap or just plain trendy.

1. Coconut water
The most popular plant-based water, coconut water is rich in potassium and has been touted as an ideal sports drink. In fact, a recent study in the journal Motriz found that men who drank coconut water before exercising in the heat were able to work out longer, had a higher heart rate, and retained more fluid, compared to those who drank sports drinks and plain water.

Yet coconut water actually lacks sodium, the primary electrolyte that you want to replace after an intense workout, said Kelly Pritchett, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Coconut water may also work to counteract sodium, lower blood pressure and in turn prevent heart disease but if you already lead an unhealthy lifestyle, coconut water won’t do you much good. What’s more, you can get enough potassium if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and tons of fiber to boot.

“It’s not a magical elixir,” Pritchett said. “People are looking for a magic drink, but I’m not convinced we have something like that on the market.”

Be sure to read labels because some brands add sugar or artificial sweeteners for flavor. Plus, an 8-ounce container has about 50 calories, so down a few a day and you can easily pack on the pounds. If you’re drinking coconut water to rehydrate after a workout, have a few salted pretzels or add salt.

2. Aloe vera water
With a cool, distinct flavor similar to cucumber, both aloe vera water and aloe vera juice (the former is more diluted) are rich in B vitamins and claim to help with digestion and digestive regularity. Yet drinking aloe vera water long term has been linked to  hepatitis, calcium excretion, protein loss and electrolyte imbalances.

“It’s not meant to be taken every day,” said Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Aloe vera is considered to be an herbal supplement and can have a pharmaceutical effect on the body. It can also alter the absorption of some medications or cause drug interactions.

Although the sweeter types may have some recovery benefits from the simple sugars, the calories can add up fast so read labels carefully.

3. Cactus water
Derived from the prickly pear cactus, cactus water is high in vitamin C, electrolytes, minerals, and flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory. Many have added sugar and most of the fiber is lost in the juicing process anyway, which is why it’s better to eat the prickly pear cactus instead.  
“You want to try to consume it in its more whole form in order to get all of the nutritional benefits,” Lemond said.

4. Artichoke water
Artichokes are a superfood, rich in vitamins C and K, magnesium, potassium and folate. They also contain antioxidants, specifically the phytonutrients Cynarin and Silymarin, which are good for the liver. Artichoke water can give you a vitamin boost,  but get all of the vitamins, nutrients, and fiber—7 grams worth—and less sugar with a whole, medium artichoke instead.