One a Day?

October 1, 2007

It’s tempting to grab a vitamin drink when you’re late to class. It seems an ideal combo: healthy and refreshing. And there are more vitamin-enhanced options than ever—now there’s even vitamin-enriched Diet Coke Plus. But nutritionists caution they’re far from the best way to get your daily dose. Here’s the skinny.

Mixed Message in a Bottle


Cost vs. Benefit
Brands like Vitaminwater have great names like “endurance” and come in pretty pastel colors. But read the label and they turn out to be water, sugar, and a smattering of vitamins and minerals. They usually deliver far fewer nutrients than the average multivitamin. And at $1.29 and more, they’re not cheap. “There’s no magic in them,” says Beth Glace, a New York nutritionist with Lenox Hill Hospital who works with athletes and dancers. “It’s a pretty expensive way to get the basics.”


Health(ier) Choices
The vitamin traces in these fortified drinks won’t hurt you—unless you drink a prodigious amount of them. But there’s a simpler, more frugal way to get your daily dose. Eat antioxidant-rich foods (think carrots, beans, berries), plenty of fruits and vegetables, or simply take a high-quality multivitamin with plain water. “That way you don’t need to worry about portion control from sugary drinks that add calories,” says Joy Bauer, a nutritionist at New York City Ballet.


Don’t Sweat It
Your body needs nutrients most right after dance class or rehearsal. A vitamin drink or sports drink may be a smart choice if you sweat a lot. Otherwise why not opt for a handful of pretzels (which replenish sodium), a banana (potassium), or a snack pack of nuts (to boost your iron) washed down with some plain water? If you haven’t been exercising vigorously, many of the branded vitamin drinks are a sugar-water splurge. Some Vitaminwater flavors rack up 125 calories per 20 oz. bottle, less than a 20 oz. bottle of Coke (230 calories), but not exactly a diet drink.


What You Don’t Get


What’s Enough?
It sounds great that there’s a SoBe Life Water that has 10 percent of your daily dose of B vitamins, which are essential for your cells to utilize energy. But you could get a lot more of those B compounds just by adding wheat germ to your morning yogurt or eating an orange every day. Many vitamin water and soda drinkers feel they’re boosting their immune system and making themselves stronger. In fact they may still get too little of what they need, especially if they don’t make an effort to vary their diet because they feel the drink they’re gulping after class does the trick.


What They Say . . . and What They Don’t
Don’t think Uncle Sam is watching out for you on this one. Vitaminwater’s “endurance” flavor says it will help boost physical stamina because it has the same amount of vitamin E as two apples. It doesn’t say that the amount of vitamin E you absorb depends on how much fat you’ve already consumed, because it’s a fat-soluble compound. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent piece on the vitamin drink trend, the makers’ claims fall into a gray area that draws little attention from the Federal Trade Commission.


Lauren Kay is a writer and dancer in New York.