Bottled Refreshment

Cool summer tonics

Photograph by Lane Johnson

Tired of drinking plain old water and iced green tea? Need to quench your summer cravings for liquid refreshment? The grocery store is crammed with bottled drinks touting health benefits. Here’s a look at four popular “healthy” elixirs available in your supermarket’s refrigerator case.

Coconut Water
Equally popular with professional athletes and stay-at-home moms, coconut water has become the go-to drink for post-workout or midday slump. It may be relatively new to Americans, but in places where coconut palms grow, people have been sipping coconut water for thousands of years. Rehydration is the drink’s main benefit, courtesy of electrolytes, magnesium, and potassium. Unlike coconut milk, coconut water contains no fat and is low is calories—about 120 calories per 16 ounces. A major bonus is that packaged coconut water doesn’t need to be refrigerated until opened. It is sold off the shelf in cans and aseptic containers (boxes), as well as in refrigerated bottles.

Chia Seed Drinks
If you can get past the liquid-gel consistency and the crunchy seeds in every mouthful, chia seed drinks dole out a rich dose of fiber, calcium, and B-complex vitamins. They also provide the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids of any non-marine food—great news for people who don’t eat salmon. Proponents claim that chia seed drinks offer digestive benefits and aid in healthy weight loss. The drinks come in several fruit flavors, all weighing in around 150 calories per 16 ounces. Or make your own chia fresca at home by combining chia seeds, filtered water, lime juice, and honey or fruit juice. And yes, chia seeds come from the same plant that was used in the kitschy “chia pets” of the 1980s.

Kombucha, a fermented beverage made from bacteria and yeast (not from mushrooms, as many believe) has a tangy vinegar flavor that’s an acquired taste. Many first-timers never get past the first sip. But since the Los Angeles-based company GT introduced its less potent “Enlightened” line, the drink has caught on among even non-believers. Fans claim that kombucha boosts their immune system and energy levels, aids in digestion, and helps control weight. Although these claims are unsupported, we do know that kombucha is naturally low in calories and sugar (60 to 100 calories per 16-ounce bottle). Try a kombucha drink in place of your morning coffee.

Aloe Vera Drinks
The gel from the interior of the aloe vera plant has been used since early Egyptian times to treat burns and other skin ailments. Aloe vera juice, which is made from the gel, was used in laxatives until 2002, when the FDA pulled them due to safety concerns. Bottled drinks made with aloe vera juice are now plentiful in stores, and their manufacturers claim they aid in digestion, boost immune function, and reduce joint inflammation. However, a study by the National Toxicology Program suggests a possible link between drinking aloe vera juice and intestinal tumors in rats. The National Cancer Institute has also raised concerns. So is it health or hype? The jury’s out on this one.