The Deets on Detox Water
While no one would suggest we drink the water we rinse our fruits and veggies in, a glass of water with a sprig of mint and a handful of blueberries has a certain cachet, especially when it’s called “Blueberry and Mint Infused Water.” In a similar vein, a jug of water with slices of lemon, lime, and orange is likely to be “Citrus Fusion Detox Water.” Detox waters or infused waters, in recent years, have been much touted as one route to healthy living. The labels, often used synonymously, refer to waters infused with the flavors and essences of various edibles. Add a few berries, cucumber slices, or lemon wedges to your bottle of water and what you’re now sipping is a detox water. There are detox water recipes for clearing acne, preventing bloating, aiding weight loss, and the list goes on.
Claire Tylke, 18, a University of Vermont freshman, has several favorites including mint water, cucumber water, lemon water, and strawberry water. “Sometimes I combine them and have cucumber mint water or others like that,” she says. “There are so many different combinations to try.”
How does she decide what to drink? “It’s mainly based on what’s in the fridge, so it’s very dependent on the season,” she says. “In the summer, I make infused water with more fruits and citrus and then use vegetables and herbs in the winter. If I’m drinking it for a specific purpose, for instance, to gain electrolytes or help with digestion, then I will choose one that has ingredients that help with that particular need.”
The benefits of drinking water have been well researched. Adding a subtle fruit flavor makes it easier for some to keep hydrated all day. So, what’s not to love? As registered dietitian Shahana Khan of Naperville, Illinois, will tell you, her issue is with the use of the label “detox.”
“When people call a product ‘detox,’ that bothers me. There is no single, consistent definition for a product claiming to be a ‘detox,’” says Khan. “While, for some, detox waters imply drinking water to be healthier, for others it means water as a meal replacement to lose weight; for a third, a detox is yet another product,” she says.
When marketers use the word detox, she explains, it’s a catch-all term that’s being manipulated depending on what they want to sell. There are too many unsubstantiated, unscientific promotions of all these so-called detox products. The underlying implication, however, is a cleansing of the body. “And that’s wrong,” says Khan.
“The body cleanses itself through the liver, colon, skin, and kidney. When you work up a good sweat at the gym, your body is detoxifying. Similarly, when you have fiber in your diet it serves to bind the toxins in your intestines and contributes to regular bowel movements. That, too, is your body detoxifying. When you choose organic foods and aren’t inadvertently adding pesticides to your system, that’s detoxification. Fasting is a detox,” she says. “Even if we’re drinking more infused water, we still aren’t detoxifying our body if we’re continuing to eat sugars, processed and fried foods.”
Detox waters are gaining popularity despite being promoted without any scientifically proven data, agrees Hannah El-Amin, dietitian and practice owner of Nutrition that Fits in Chicago. “Detox water has just become a catchy phrase for infused water. They’re not really extracting toxins/detoxifying beyond [what] plain water [does].”
So are detox waters pure urban myth? It would seem so, especially when it comes to detox waters that claim to promote weight loss. “Water should not be considered a meal replacement because foods alone replenish nutrients,” says Khan. “As dietitians, we don’t recommend that people not eat anything and end up drinking just water. That’s not a great way to do it. If you’re really concerned about weight and what you’re eating, add greens, nuts, yogurt, sprouts, cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, to your diet,” Khan advises. Her approach to weight loss centers on eating only that which adds nutrients to one’s body. Whatever you eat or drink, her mantra is, “You want it to count and be nutritious.”
When it comes to weight loss, El-Amin finds drinking water, whether infused or not, helpful, as thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Drinking more water feeds a feeling of satiety and, therefore, often helps prevent excessive grazing.
While there isn’t much proven benefit in regards to detoxing properties of these waters, El-Amin says they serve as an excellent option to encourage water consumption. “I appreciate that people tend to drink more water when it’s infused. I often recommend using frozen berries as a replacement for ice that will infuse flavor at the same time. I often will add lime, ginger, and mint to my water. This blend helps settle the stomach,” admits El-Amin. “All in all,” she continues, “the main benefit that I see in detox water is simple—it helps you drink more water.”
When Khan adds one to two tablespoons of raw organic apple cider vinegar to an eight-ounce glass of water, the combination waters down (no pun intended) the bitter taste of vinegar. “Apple cider vinegar gives you nutrients and energy. I [drink a glass of apple cider vinegar water] every day, whenever I remember,” says Khan. Vinegar, a food mentioned in the Quran, contains vitamins and plenty of other well-researched health benefits.
Tylke recalls her soccer coach encouraging players to drink lemon water throughout the day on hot game day because citrus replenishes electrolytes. “I decided to try it and found that I really enjoyed it!” she says. “I continued to drink lemon water before my major sporting events because I played in very hot conditions and I don’t drink sports drinks. Because I enjoyed lemon water so much, I looked into other things to infuse my water with, for other health benefits.”
She believes infused water has made a difference in her health by providing added nutrients and antioxidants from something other than her food. “In addition, it tastes so good that I find myself drinking more water in general!” adds Tylke. “Just try it! What have you got to lose?”
Naazish YarKhan is a prolific journalist and communications strategist whose work has been featured in over 50 media outlets including NPR, PRI, and Huffington Post. She works with students across the US as a writing and college essay coach. More at WritersStudio.us.