By: Matthew Smith, DACM, MSOM, Dipl.Ac., CPT
***Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be used as grounds to claim a cure of any disease. If you are thinking about using an herb, supplement, or therapy of any kind please first consult your primary care provider ***
Healthy & Better Tasting Naturally Flavored Water?
Well it is easy to make and truthfully I enjoy the process, and especially drinking it! But before we dive into that, what even inspired me to write this article in the first place?
Everyone Has An Opinion From Safe To Toxic When It Comes To Flavors
Sounds like a joke trying to make water “healthier” right? Well there is a deeper reason to why I decided to bring this idea to the forefront. You may actually be surprised by this but there are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to “flavors” that are in beverages and rightfully so. It is common to not know the difference regarding what the FDA allows as an artificial flavor, a natural flavor, or natural essence. There are blogs and individuals who seem to give people the idea that a natural flavor is toxic, while there are others who may claim that artificial flavors are nothing to pay attention to. So in this article I wanted to help clear some of that up as well as give you an easy and enjoyable recipe you can make yourself that will give you a little antioxidant pep in your water.
The FDA Guidelines, A Beaver's Anus and Science
Flavors… Now this is a bit of a scary and eye opening one. Let’s start off with the clearer picture here and I will do my best to simplify based on what the FDA guidelines read. If you would like to see them for yourself you can access them HERE.
Let’s keep it simple to start, natural flavors and natural essences are very similar based on the FDA guidelines. In simple terms, there must be some sort of natural derivative present in the flavoring for it to be considered a natural flavor (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2020). However, it is not as simple as that and so what seems to be the issue? Well, the flavor itself doesn’t tell the whole story. This is because the actual process to getting to that natural flavor can be not as “natural” as you may think it is. Personally, when I used to think of natural orange essence, I would picture a little bit of squeezed orange or orange puree, or at the very least orange oil. The truth is, yes that could be the case. But in most foods, natural flavors are way more complicated than that. There are extensive processes that take place in order to create these natural flavors. The natural flavor vanilla for example could be derived from vanilla beans or the castor sacs of beavers (Kennedy, C.R., 2015), yumm… but don’t worry the castor sacs are different than the beaver’s anal glands, they’re just near one another. Anyway, back to the flavors. The point I am getting across here is that if it did not originate in a lab, it can still be considered a natural flavor after it has been altered in a lab. The origin is natural and therefore it could still fall under the category of a natural flavor. What is not taken into account in food products is if there are pesticides or chemicals used prior to harnessing the natural flavor. This is why we end up in such a gray area with natural flavors. Much to my surprise, there is even the argument that artificial flavors are “safer” than natural flavors because artificial flavors tend to have a “simpler chemical composition” (Scientific American, 2002).
Well It Turns Out There Isn't A Huge Difference
As it turns out there is not much of a difference between natural and artificial flavors because in the end they both are processed in a lab by a professional flavorist and tend to still have similar chemical constituents in them to still maintain the same flavor (Scientific American, 2002). This likely comes as a shock to many, because we have been trained to think natural and artificial are usually more easily distinguishable. The issue with all of this is the fact we really do not know what went into making a natural or artificial flavor. This is why there will always be a gray area with the present definitions placed by the FDA. This essentially means, you don’t completely know what you are eating or drinking and therefore, you do not know how it could affect your health.
Here Is What I Do About It When It Comes To My Flavored Water
Therefore, I always err on the side of caution and look for more “actually natural” alternatives. Instead of going to the store and buying whatever cheap flavored water I could find (which was usually in plastic where phthalates can become a potential health concern) I decided to start making my own instead. The best water to use would be one that comes from a glass bottle, but I use aluminum cans when I cannot find glass (not as good but still better than plastic). This can be as simple as grabbing a nice tasting fruit like blueberries and mashing them up or processing them into a puree. I personally like to use a mortar and pestle (I like traditional ways of making food when possible). Preferably using a non-gmo and organic fruit or vegetable (like a cucumber) you can flavor your water so easily and make it much more enjoyable to drink. Not to mention, if you use carbonated water, you can add more carbon dioxide to your system which can actually be a good thing for your performance. While that may be a conversation for another day, Ben Greenfield has some interesting things to say about that in his book “Boundless” and you can find him talking about it in his blog HERE (Greenfield, B., 2019).
Ingredients for your Healthier Naturally Flavored Water
-Water or Carbonated Water
-Food, Vegetable or Spice of your Choice: An easy go to I like is some blueberries and strawberries
-Smash or process the ingredients until you have made a puree, pour into a class and combine with your water.
Keep It Stupidly Simple
It really is that simple and now you can have a better grasp of what is going into your body. As a result you are removing many of the chemical concerns that could be hiding within the natural or artificial flavors and plastics that you would normally consume in your water on a daily basis. Have fun with it and enjoy the real thing, you can experiment and you may surprise yourself how you suddenly become a master flavorist in your own kitchen!
But I Don't Have Time!
If you simply do not want to take the time and you are always on the go I personally would recommend the brand Spindrift. This brand uses fruit puree and water rather than utilizing natural or artificial flavors. I even tested it myself by opening one and leaving it for several weeks to see how well it was preserved. It turns out it became moldy and therefore the puree was breaking down as a normal fruit would in water so I gave it the natural and safer green light of approval. For the record, I am not sponsored by spindrift, I actually just like their product.
You can have a look at spindrift and purchase it here: SPINDRIFT
Greenfield, B. (2019, August 27). The ultimate breathwork ninja guide: How to banish stress & kiss high cortisol goodbye. Ben Greenfield Fitness - Diet, Fat Loss and Performance Advice. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/the-ultimate-breathwork-ninja-guide-how-to-banish-stress-kiss-high-cortisol-goodbye/.
Kennedy, C. R. (2015, September 21). The flavor rundown: Natural vs. artificial flavors. Science in the News. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/the-flavor-rundown-natural-vs-artificial-flavors/.
Scientific American. (2002, July 29). What is the difference between artificial and natural flavors? Scientific American. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-difference-be-2002-07-29/.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, April 1). CFR - code of federal Regulations Title 21. accessdata.fda.gov. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=501.22.
Health & Human Performance Coach, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, professor, and competitive strength athlete, Matthew Sabey Smith DACM, MSOM, LAc., Dipl.Ac,, CPT is the owner and founder of Strength Smith Training Systems LLC. With an extensive background in integrative holistic health, training and coaching, Dr. Matt uses his knowledge to help individuals improve their training, boost their recovery and maintain optimal balance as they chase their athletic, fitness and health endeavors.