April 1st, 2011
10:09 AM ET

Can you explain Vitamin Water to me?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Asked by Becca from California

I was wondering what the professional opinion on Vitamin Water is. How can it be zero calorie when it has over 5g of carbohydrate per serving? Also, should I be concerned about vitamin toxicity? I know most of them are water soluble, but could I accidentally be consuming a dangerous amount of things like vitamin C?

Expert answer

Hi Becca,

Rather than commenting on a specific product, I'll respond instead by discussing water, or any beverage for that matter, with added vitamins. Regarding your calorie question, many of these zero-calorie products contain sugar alcohols (sweeteners that end in "ol"), which are considered carbohydrates but are not metabolized by the body, so they do not contribute to the total calorie count of a product.

Regarding vitamin toxicity, the active vitamin levels that you are actually consuming are probably much lower than what is listed on the label. According to Diane L. McKay, Ph.D., FACN assistant professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, water-soluble vitamins, which include vitamin C and all the B vitamins, can degrade when they are subjected to water for a prolonged period. If you also subject them to heat and, for some, light, they will degrade even more rapidly.

In addition, the fat-soluble vitamins, which include A, E, D and K, are not absorbed unless they are consumed with fat. So unless you consume fortified beverages with a meal or a snack that contains some fat, you will not absorb any of these added vitamins. One exception is when vitamin D is added to fat-free milk or orange juice. In this case, the vitamin D is encapsulated to improve absorption.

Because the vitamin levels your body is absorbing are likely considerably less than what is listed on the bottle, vitamin toxicity from beverages alone is probably not a significant risk. However, it is worth considering in terms of total daily vitamin intake, especially when you take into account how many fortified foods Americans consume and how many of us take a daily multivitamin and additional dietary supplements. McKay notes that "When you consider how much you already get from other sources in your diet, you could be getting too much of a good thing. For some vitamins, like B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), and B12 there are no negative health effects of consuming high amounts. For others, like folate (or folic acid), niacin, B6, C, as well as all of the fat-soluble vitamins, the consequences of getting too much can range from something like diarrhea to irreversible nerve damage, or even liver damage."

So in my opinion, these products are not dangerous, but they are not a health food either (beyond the fact that they contain water). Nutrients should be consumed as close to their natural state as possible to ensure that you get all the potential health benefits. If products like this help you consume more water and don't drain your pocketbook, then enjoy them, but don't consider them a substitution for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. And limit sugar-filled water and beverages, fortified or not, as these simply add rapidly digested calories to our already calorie-dense diets.

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soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Justin

    This is legit.

    April 1, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Conrad Shull

    This is easy to explain: marketers know lots of ditsy people will buy any nonsense krap. Thought process: "How can we get those bamboozled bottled water users to shell out even more of their money without use having to spend more that 1/10 of a penny additional cost?"

    April 1, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Michael

    While Dr MacKay is correct that vitamins in solution can degrade over time, it is incorrect to state that 'active vitamin levels that you are actually consuming are probably much lower than what is listed on the label.' Food and beverage products are required by law to have 100% of the vitamin concentrations claimed in the label by end of shelf life. To ensure they meet this standard, companies will put in overages at time of manufacture. Furthermore, fat-soluble vitamins are encapsulated to keep them soluble. Otherwise they would precipitate out while onshelf. This helps keep them absorbable in ALL beverages, not just orange juice and fat-free milk.

    Michael McBurney, PhD, Head of Scientific Affairs, DSM Nutritional Products LLC, http://TalkingNutrition.dsm.com

    April 1, 2011 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GGuest

      She probably is talking about the bioavailability of the vitamins...which is lower than the amount on the labels (the actual amount in the bottle).

      April 3, 2011 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
  4. Nick

    This is a well-written response. Closing paragraph conclusion is exactly what people need to know.

    April 1, 2011 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. james76er

    Vitamin water is the least of our concerns. Check out this morning's article on noshmeat.com. Hilarious.

    April 1, 2011 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. 50

    I'm on the pursuit of happines and I know........

    April 1, 2011 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Conrad Shull

    It's for people who don't know what a mutli-vitamin is.

    April 1, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. T

    Sad how little people know about nutrition. I won't take vitamin's because it might be unhealthy but I'll buy a super sized meal at Mc Donalds. Make food your medicine and medicine your food. What is worse is our health care system is the third leading cause of death in America. Personally I would never drink vitamin water to get my vitamins seems like they put the word vitamin on a unhealthy drink to make it look like your being healthy.

    April 1, 2011 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. James

    Vitamin water? Great!! Now, a good selling point would be put the water in brown colored glass like the beer and charge 30-50 cents more and tell the American people you are looking after their welfare! Brilliant!!

    April 1, 2011 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Gastricbypass

    We put vitamins in cereal, bread, fiber in yogurt (I cant figure that out) and other products. We take the vitamins out in the processing then put artificial ones back in. So why not put vitamins in water. Maybe they should put them in cigarettes.

    April 1, 2011 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. kake79

    I'm still trying to figure out how these companies get away with calling what they are selling water. To my mind, once you add flavors and sweeteners to water, it becomes a soft drink.

    April 1, 2011 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Smokey Waterz

    Extremely well written and factual. This is one of the best articles I've ever read on this website.

    April 1, 2011 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jim

    Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator. It's got electrolytes!

    April 1, 2011 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sheesh

      It's what plants crave!

      April 3, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse |
  14. Hoebot

    good article hoe

    April 2, 2011 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Andrew

    Valid question , M Mc Burney PhD is right on the money

    April 2, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. funny

    One 20-ounce bottle of vitamin water contains 33 grams of sugar. in January 2009, a non-profit public interest group called the Center for Science in the Public Interest first sued Coca-Cola for “deceptive and unsubstantiated claims on its Vitamin Water line of beverages.” In July 2010 as an attempt to get the case dismissed, Coca-Cola defended itself saying that consumers would not reasonably believe that vitamin water is a health drink.

    April 2, 2011 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. dx2718

    Vitamin water doesn't claim to be 0 calorie. Some of them are 10, some 50 calories per serving, and I think there are 2 servings per bottle.

    April 3, 2011 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Janice

    I use an Infuser container, but you could probably make the same thing. It has a cylinder in the middle of a water pitcher an I cut up different fruits that I either grow myself or purchase at the store and it becomes my flavored fruit water for the week. I just fill the pitcher with water when it gets empty. I have even cut up sage or mint from the garden and put it in there with the fruit. I love it.

    April 3, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. spoofle

    I love Vitamin Water but really only for the taste, and even then only a few flavors – some of them are plain nasty, especially the "zero" varieties. Of course I don't believe I'm getting half the vitamins in it, but it doesn't have the overwhelming sweetness of other drinks like Snapple (and I bet VW's at least a little healthier, too).

    April 3, 2011 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Alex

    Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin. Get your facts straight.

    April 4, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Ed Gauthier

    The doc is also wrong that vitamin C causes any damage whatsoever. It is an anti-cancer miracle that the body never overdoses on – it just takes what it needs and moves on. In recent months, certain globalist types have tried to demonize vitamin C, in an effort to get rid of it. Sorry to see this nonsense has spread so far.

    April 4, 2011 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Bill W.

    This article really makes me wonder what's so bad about water? Nobody said you have to overdose on it – just drink a little plain water every day.

    April 11, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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