Is Smartwater Any Good At All?

During a medical procedure some time back, my wife’s doctor told her to stay hydrated and recommended she drink Gatorade or Smartwater. (Or is it “Smart water”? Even Glaceau, now a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, can’t seem to decide.) We know from its advertising campaign exactly how Gatorade was invented, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it actually works. We also know that the early formulations were so horrible that they made people throw up — i.e. when you stick enough electrolytes in water to make a serious difference, and you don’t balance it out with something else, the resulting concoction makes people vomit. Why? Well, because it’s basically salt water.

Smartwater claims to have electrolytes in it. I’m sure it has some electrolytes in it, but the question is are there enough to make a medical difference? I have serious doubts and can find no evidence to support any claims for Smartwater being any superior to tap water or other bottled waters except for claims by nutcases and obvious shills.

Searching the web for answers is no use. Almost no-one who cares about bottled water seems to have two brain cells to rub together. Someone will ask a question on Yahoo Answers or some similar website about the product and get replies from people who haven’t even bothered to read the label (no, it’s not probably distilled, it is totally frackingly obviously distilled because it says so on the label) or joke about how it’s overpriced on the basis that all bottled water is overpriced. Yeah dude, I get that, but what do you think the profit margin on soda is? Well, it’s not like I’ve ever found a useful response to any kind of question on a website like that.

I did find an interesting blog entry on the topic. Although purportedly about Smartwater, the entry only gets to its alleged subject in the second-last paragraph, being mainly a swipe at bottled waters in general. When it does criticize Smartwater it seems to lump it in the same category as Gatorade and argues that it’s overkill for ordinary people. It did quote a chemist from UCSB (but Dr. Laverman appeared to be talking about Gatorade, not Smartwater), whom I am attempting to contact. I’ll update this entry if I receive any more information.

Anyway, I leave you with two bits of information that might be relevant:

Smartwater has some amount of Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, and Potassium Bicarbonate in it. First of all, if you dissolve a bunch of this stuff in water, calcium will react with carbonate and precipitate out, and the extra CO2 will make the water fizzy. There’s obviously not enough of these salts in Smartwater to have that effect. Second, you might wonder what this stuff tastes like. Well, according to Wikipedia, calcium chloride tastes extremely salty, magnesium chloride tastes bitter, and potassium bicarbonate tastes slightly alkaline. (Other equilibrium products, such as potassium chloride, are also salty.) Smart water isn’t salty, despite using even saltier salts than Gatorade uses from which we might conclude that it’s not going to have enough electrolytes to make a difference.

Second, Glaceau’s other products are all highly dubious. E.g. its “Vitamin Water” is sweetened with “crystalline fructose” which sounds really cool, right? “Crystals” are obviously healthy. Of course “crystalline fructose” is what you get by dehydrating high fructose corn syrup. If these guys were trying to make a genuinely healthy drink, they sure didn’t try very hard.

So, based on circumstantial evidence at least, Smartwater is a confidence trick. It’s certainly not much worse in this respect than any bottled water, but it’s pretty sad that some doctors seem to have fallen for it.

Post Script

I contacted Glaceau directly and received the following information from Glaceau customer relations:

we add a unique and purposeful combination of electrolytes to smartwater®. one liter of smartwater® contains 10mg of potassium, 10mg of calcium, and 15mg of magnesium.

By contrast, Gatorade contains 440mg of sodium and 120mg of potassium per litre. Evian contains 78mg of calcium, 24mg of magnesium, and 4mg of sodium, but makes no claims about electrolytes. Indeed, from what I can tell, smartwater contains less in the way of electrolytes than most typical mineral or spring waters you might buy, and probably less than your tap water.

  • nicole

    As I finish off a bottle of Glaceau smartwater, I was wondering the same thing… what is this miracle water and what does it contain that makes it so frickin fantastic?

    Wikipedia has nothing useful in the article about smartwater. I read all about the man who had NO experience in health, nutrition, or general medical knowledge that went on to create a “better” water.

    I really appreciate the time you took to find out exactly what electrolytes are added. I also liked seeing the comparison between Gatorade and Evian. I will most certainly return to using my Brita filter and some good old fashioned tap water.

  • http://www.mobilemassagemaster.comwww.dreamlanddays.com jace

    It is good for many reasons.
    1) it is distilled so all chemicals are gone
    2) the type of plastic it is stored in is the best for preventing “leaching” of plastic into
    your drinks.
    3) it does contain some electrolites to keep your kidneys happy.

    The downer is that it is expensive.

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio

    I don’t think you actually read (or parsed) my post. Your first point essentially contradicts your third — “electrolytes” are “chemicals”. What did you think they were? Smart water contains no more electrolytes than any other spring water (indeed fewer than most). As for your second point, where did you get that information? Even Glaceau doesn’t make any such claim. In any event, the water from my refrigerator comes in no bottle at all.

  • http://thanksforyourpost Scribbler8

    I am trying to find out if Smart Water is alkaline or not. It sounds like maybe it is not, and if not, then why is it good for the body?

    Thanks for your research.

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio

    Smart Water is … water. It’s essentially distilled water (i.e. pure water) with a minuscule amount of “electrolytes” added. Some of those electrolytes may be weakly alkaline, but not to the extent it would affect health adversely — especially given the tiny amounts involved. The main objection to Smart Water is, if anything, that it doesn’t have enough electrolyte in it to be called anything except “water”.

    That said, these days Smart Water seems to be no more expensive, and possibly less expensive, than most of its brand name competitors.

  • Taylor

    I had food poisioning from a resturant and was vomiting for 2 days and now diarreah for 3 days, I can’t seem to digest food so I naturally knew that water and honey usually makes it go away. Smart water helped a lot with the digestion, the magnesium mainly even though it’s a small increment. With that said I’m just going to take magnesium and make it a little more potent.. I think they go a little skimpy and glorify the benifets to sell product.. that’s how it is now a days. I Never ever knew about the crystall being a dehydrant of HFCS.. The drinks have always made me feel sluggish and fatigued after the inital vitamins kicked in and now I know why. Thank you!

  • Olly

    Tonio, thx alot for your research. In an effort to consume fewer calories, I was looking to replace the G2 I consume during excercise. I thought if smartwater had enough electrolytes it might be the perfect choice. I’m glad u did the research so that we can reap the benefits. I guess G2 will do for now.

  • Erin

    I just want to let others know that if you are looking for electrolytes and potassium in a natural way for either daily hydration or before a work out , Pure cocunut water can do the trick.

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio

    As in Coconut milk from young coconuts? I love coconut milk from young green coconuts. (According to wikipedia “coconut water” is the “correct” term — except that all the folks I’ve met who live around coconuts call it coconut milk or coconut juice.) You can get it canned at Asian groceries (it comes with small bits of coconut suspended), and presumably at Whole Foods, but it’s around 17 calories per 100g (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_water). It is high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium — but it’s half the calories of Coke.

  • Irene

    Hello, I love smart water and I found that it is better to drink when I am feeling sick or when I am feeling like I need a pick me up or I have been working out a lot. It also has WAY less calories and WAAAYYY less sugar ect. I LOVE SMARTWATER!

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio

    Fewer calories than water?

  • Dorothy

    I am looking for ways to increas potassium. I appreciate your research — Smartwater’s 10mg of potassium per liter would not justify the price. Thanks for posting this.

  • Richard Green

    Simply put paying for water that has always been free is STUPID water!

  • Johnjohn

    As to the above comment by Richard green, yes peoe today pay for water that has been bottled. Is that such a horrible thing? Some people can not buy a house, and thus they rent. In the same way I would love to spend $1000+ on a alkaline filter, or even something just maka the water taste less like anything, un fortunatly I can’t, and in many areas they put so many bad chemicals in tap water to “clean them” that it becomes overwelming. We used a pool test kit on the tap water at our house near las Vegas. It had more clohrine then most of the pools we would service professionally. I think bottled water is a smart purchase for many people today.

    As far as this atticle, I would like to thank the author as I found it both imformitive, and well researched. It answered most of the questions I had about the smart water convincing me of the placibo I had already believed to be in place.

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    I’m all in favor of filtering tap water (our local water smells of chlorine and unless it’s ice cold I find it undrinkable).

  • Noah

    First, thanks for your research. I just started trying smart water a week ago when they got it at my school (it’s expensive but I have a meal plan so..eh)
    Maybe it was different last year or something, but I have never seen anything about electrolytes in smart water. I’m looking at the bottle right now and it only claims that it is vapor distilled water (instead of spring I guess) and that there are some added minerals (it is made by coke and I noticed even if the amount is ridiculously small, it is different than dasani).
    My review -> it is expensive, but it actually does taste better than some waters (i.e. dasani does not taste very good).
    In the end, it comes up to preference, but people need to realize when it comes to water (bottled, brita/fridge filter, or tap -> only drink tap if your area is good because I’ve heard in some places tap water is not good for you at all), they are all very similar and it just comes down to taste preference, and cost. It’s all just H2O which is required to survive, so just drink it every day and stop worrying about ridiculous things like electrolytes.

  • Allison

    I give Smart Water a huge “thumbs up.” Before I began chemotherapy, I researched
    tips for getting through it with as little distress as possible. Smart Water was recommended. I drank the large bottle (6 cups) every day for four months and in addition to the help of acupuncture for nausea and other complimentary approaches, I actually felt fantastic the entire time. Unfortunately for me, I stopped drinking Smart Water after the chemo was over. Six months later, I began experiencing very intense post chemo side
    effects which included severe allergies
    causing horrible migraines and other symptoms. I started drinking Smart Water
    a week ago. My headaches and other
    symptoms have lessened significantly and I have more energy. Thank you, Smart Water!!

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    I’m glad to hear your symptoms have been mitigated, but this is hardly a scientific test. Smart Water is distilled water with a tiny amount of common salts added. I’d suspect that any benefit from drinking six glasses of Smart Water would be equalled by drinking six glasses of water, perhaps with a drop of milk of magnesia added.

  • Nic

    Tonio – Have you heard any research about chocolate milk as a rehydration drink? How do you feel about it?

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    Haha. I’m hardly qualified to answer, although I am in favor of chocolate milk in general.

  • Cat

    I cannot stand tap water! It’s a reason for me NOT to drink water. Dasani tastes awful to me as well. Would rather be unhealthy than drink it. I picked up a SmartWater this morning before work and I was so pleased by the taste that I decided to Google SmartWater (which is how I came across your article). So, is it equally as healthy for me as drinking any other bottled water? I only ask because I have a hard time MAKING myself drink water… but I’m trying really hard to get more than my recommended amount per day! :)

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    I can completely sympathize — I can only drink unfiltered tap water if I’m desperate. Aside from environmental objections (i.e. drinking water in disposable plastic bottles and carting bottled water around in trucks are both very wasteful), if you’re going to drink bottled water it makes pretty much no difference which brand you drink. They’re either “spring” water, which means they have a tiny amount of random salts in them or distilled/filtered water with or without non-random salts deliberately put in them. If SmartWater tastes good to you, then they’ve obviously picked their salts well.

  • Amanda

    BEWARE OF SMARTWATER! I drink smartwater on a daily basis and have been diagnosed with Hyperkalemia as a result. If you eat healthy your risk is even higher; many of the ‘health’ foods are also very high in Potassium. My doctor actually told me that as a result of drinking this water and eating certain vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers my potassium levels are so high that they could have been potentially lethal if I had not had my blood taken because of a separate medical issue. Just be aware of this possibility because I surely was not.

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    Hmm. There’s 400mg of potassium in a banana, which is 11% of the RDA according to this page: http://www.weightlossforall.com/potassium-rich-food.htm

    You’d need to drink 40L (~10 gallons) of Smart Water to take in the same amount of potassium as from eating one banana. So, your doctor is wrong — your potassium may be too high, but it’s not Smart Water.

  • Amanda

    Actually she said that because in this case smart water is infused within water it is easily absorbed into the blood resulting in high potassium levels in the blood which causes Hyperkalemia…maybe we should leave the science to people with a medical degree

  • Amanda

    Sorry that last it sounded snappier than I intended. I just mean that I can recreate her very scientific explanation of why this form of potassium more easily enters the blood stream. I did drink a good amount; I probably had two of the tall bottles per day at least

  • Amanda

    I can’t recreate*

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    It may have seemed scientific, but my original point is that Smart Water contains almost nothing, and any claims about it (positive or negative) are essentially unfounded. Bananas are mostly water and contain 40x as much potassium as a liter of Smart Water. I would imagine the benefits of drinking water (helping your kidneys flush out unwanted potassium) would outweigh the tiny amounts of potassium in smart water.

    My wife’s doctor suggested smart water as an alternative to Gatorade for its electrolyte content. This sounded great but was also unfounded. Smart water probably has no more electrolyte than tap water, and less than many spring and mineral waters.

    I’m not advocating smart water, I’m just saying it’s “water”.

    This link http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/potassium/ suggests that you need 18g of potassium per day to get into real trouble — that’s 1800L of Smart Water, or 450 gallons. Water alone will kill you faster than that.

  • Marsha

    I cannot drink tap or filtered water. It makes me sick, nausea, stomach ache and the worst taste in my mouth.
    I have no problem with Arrowhead water.

    Tonight I tried Smart Water and am having the same symptoms as tap/filtered.
    Anyone else have this problem?

  • meg

    hey Tonio, i’m wondering if Smart Water is free of chlorine and/or fluoride, as the tap water in my area is unbearable due to these. Simply to drink S.W. as a stop-gap measure until I can find a pitcher that effectively filters chlorine/fluoride (which based on a bit of research, seems that Brita does not filter these)

  • http://loewald.com/blog/ Tonio

    Smart water is actually rather thoroughly purified and according to their required declarations it’s remarkably free of pretty much everything* — http://glaceau.com/media/smartwater_report.pdf — so if you’re concerned about things like Chlorine and Bromine, it seems like it’s a good option.

    * You may notice that Smart Water does have detectable quantities of Radium in it, but much lower than allowed, and I can only assume that it’s no less safe than any other water in this respect — the unit of measurement is pCi/L (picocuries per litre) which is a very, very small unit. (pico == one billionth). Three Mile Island released approximately 2.5 million Curies of radioactive material.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/JamesBlakeAlan James Blake Alan Vignola

    Perhaps they call it “smart” water because “smart people” (supposedly) want purer water (they describe their water as vapor distilled).
    As for the plastic shluffing, questionable additives, and absorption of various trace elements through distribution… well… you’ll find these issues with most modern-day products. Luckily, more and more businesses are taking advantage of what used to be called the “health hype”.
    My advice? If one wishes to drink truly pure water, then one must truly gather it himself :)

  • disqus_hDGPPWf2kr

    I’m not entirely surprised a Dr. wouldn’t suggest coconut water for boosting electrolytes. That is my recommendation. You will find incredible results from using coconut oil alternatively to your normal cooking oil as well. As for water – I am completely with you on this note and am frustrated that every bottle of water has fluoride. If you look on the side of Smartwater – you see (total dissolved solids<40 ppm, fluoride ions: 0 ppm)-why do they have this on separate lines but in brackets? – I am looking for water that doesn't contain fluoride because my city chooses to have it. It is NOT healthy and messes with neurological activity. I have a sneaking suspicion that calcium chloride, another "ingredient" in Smartwater is not so smart to consume so What the heck is calcium chloride and why is it in my food?
    http://www.consumethisfirst.com/2010/02/23/what-the-heck-is-calcium-chloride-and-why-is-it-in-my-food/

    This "Smartwater" is it not another marketing gimmick – clean, safe water, a basic necessity for a living beings, especially humans…much like "naive" = "evian" spelled backwards…

  • disqus_hDGPPWf2kr

    Well said.

  • Ian deSouza

    Its $2 at my place of work. I put in a 4 stage under the sink filter at home and generally drink that. However, at work, I can’t find that kind of filtration. The brita filters don’t seem to take enough chlorine out of the water to be drinkable. So I drink it at work, not for what’s in it, but for what’s not (contaminants that might harm my health).

  • Ian deSouza

    After thinking about it, I just ordered 4 stainless steel bottles and will be bringing my water from home.

  • Jess

    I’m pretty sure that everyone pays a water bill. The only free water is at a public water fountain.

  • Mary

    The average human needs about 4700mg of Potassium per day. Smart Water has 10mg per Liter. So you would have to drink over 47 one Liter bottles to exceed the recommended daily dose of Potassium.
    If you have Hyperkalemia, it surely isn’t from the Smart Water you are drinking. You might want to check your diet.

  • Christian Soria

    If this water is distilled than that means all the minerals that are found in spring water that are so important to human consumption are not found in smart water?

  • http://loewald.com/ Tonio Loewald

    I don’t think the minerals in Spring water are in fact important to human consumption, but as far as I know Smart Water is distilled tap water (i.e. chemically pure water) with tiny amounts of salts (in the chemical sense, not table salt) added for taste.

  • Jamie Austin

    Smartwater has a very particular taste. Yes, taste. I grew up drinking cistern water which, for lack of any other description, tasted “sweet” to me. Not everyone is familiar with cisterns, so a short explanation would be collected rain water. When there wasn’t enough rain we bought water from the county fire department. We later had water provided through county lines (which we were at the far end of). The county water had a very slight chemical taste to it (a normal result of water purification by the municipal water works) and a slight sulfuric smell. When I moved to a more densely populated area the taste of chlorine was overwhelming. Chlorine evaporates as it travels through distribution pipes, so I must have been living fairly close to the waterworks or they were using more chlorine than had been used in my home town. It was repugnant. I am still acutely aware of chlorine in water (if you don’t grow up use to a thing it makes it more noticeable). I tried many bottle waters, some of which had no taste at all, but none tasted “sweet” like the cistern water I was use to. Enter Smartwater. The marketing wasn’t a draw for me at all. I was thirsty, a friend handed me an ambiguous bottle of water, and then WHAM! I had found water that tasted the way I thought it should. Unfortunately, it is stupidly expensive. Does anyone chance to guess the ratio of additives in Smartwater (or know where I could buy such additives so I could test for myself) so that I can duplicate the taste at a fraction of the cost?