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Ask Dr. Gourmet



Are calorie-free water flavorings okay to add to my daily water intake?

There has been a lot of discussion about the flavors you can add to your water for variation. For example: the generic brand of Crystal Light, actually marketed by Wal-Mart: Sugar Free Pink Lemonade individual packets. 5 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, potassium 50 mgs, and 0 carbs, 0 sugars, 0 proteins.

It only has taste value... nothing nutritional. It does contain aspartame. It is okay to drink this a few times a day with my daily 64 or more ounces of water?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

three glasses of water, each garnished with a slice of lemon

This is certainly controversial. On the one hand, these are chemicals that create the artificial flavors and colors in water. It appears that they are safe for you. The second issue is aspartame, which many folks feel is very harmful. The present evidence, however, doesn't seem to support this.

The main issue is whether using artificial flavors and sweeteners is better than or as good for you as water. My answer is no, since there's not much better for you than water. Are they better than drinking sugared drinks? On the one hand, the answer is yes, because there are far fewer calories.

Interestingly, we don't have research to support this, however. In fact, there was a recent report indicating that those who drank artificially flavored sodas were just as likely to be obese as those drinking regular soda. To be honest, I am not sure what to make of that research and it will be a while before we have some idea of whether the artificial sweeteners might do something in the body to trigger weight gain also. Intuitively one would think this not possible, but in science and medicine intuition is often found to be a poor predictor of the truth.

As far as the recommendations I make to my patients? It goes something like this:

"I would always prefer that you drink water. Next in line would be coffee or tea - both known to be good for you (even a teaspoon of real sugar in your tea will only add 16 calories). Drinking artificially sweetened drinks is O.K. but it's best to avoid them. Soda can be a major problem and contributes too many empty calories. It should be drunk only occasionally. "

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet