When Water Isn’t Really Water, You Need To Read Labels

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Elisabeth is a 13-time Emmy-winner, a critically acclaimed personal finance author, and a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. Connect with her via Twitter @ElisabethLeamy and on her website, Leamy.com.

When Dr. Oz wanted to look into the pros and cons of the new flavored water craze, I knew I was the woman for the job. After all — don’t tell anybody — but I basically only drink two things: water and wine. And that means sometimes regular water gets a little boring and I go searching for a little excitement in the form of fizz or flavor. So I was super curious to see what we would find when we sent six flavored waters and some diet soda to a lab for comparison testing. We wanted to know: Is flavored water the new diet soda?

The results were fascinating. Of course diet soda is calorie-free. Two of the six waters also contained zero calories, but the other four contained between 20 and 120 calories — per serving! And there were two to three servings per bottle, so you could be drinking up to 360 calories while consuming what you think of as water!

Watch: A Close Look at Flavored Water

We also tested for sugar. Again, two of the waters contained none. But the other four ranged from 4 grams of sugar content to 30 grams! Whoa! At 30 grams, you can forget the diet soda comparison. That’s more like some regular sodas. Thirty grams of sugar is a real sweet bomb and, for me, a real turn off.

Oh, trust me, I’ve got plenty of vices, but for some reason I’ve always been grossed out by sickly sweet drinks. As a TV reporter, I often shoot on location all over the country and the best we can do for lunch is hit some country convenience store. Let me tell you it is HARD to find a non-sweet drink other than plain bottled water!

I’ve taken a big swig of sickly sweet drink enough times to learn my lesson. Now I read labels. If it says “water” on the front, that doesn’t mean it just says “water” on the back on the ingredients list. Look for sugar euphemisms like “dextrose,” “syrup,” and — my favorite — “nectar,” as clues that the flavored water may contain sugar. Artificial sweeteners go by much more than just Nutrasweet, Aspartame, and saccharin. Code words include: Aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester, Sucaryl, erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, neotame, polydextrose, and sugar alcohol.

The truth is, the flavored waters we sent to the lab were labeled with their calorie and sugar contents. We just tested them to make sure they were living up to their labels, which, by and large, they were. So, it’s up to us, as consumers, to turn the bottle around and read it, before we turn it upside down and drink it.

Several times I’ve discovered a brand of flavored water or iced tea I like because it’s unsweetened, only to find, a few months later, that they’ve now reformulated it by adding sugar or artificial sweetener. Apparently most Americans don’t share my sweet drink aversion! But if you ARE like me, let’s form a club! Leave a comment below listing clean, healthy, unsweetened drinks the rest of us might enjoy.