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By Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter (Tribune Content Agency)

With experts cautioning that sugar is a cause of obesity and chronic disease, combined with the trend toward all things “natural,” it’s no surprise that consumers are turning to plant waters as tasty refreshers. These waters certainly appeal to our desire for healthier, less-processed alternatives to overly sweetened ready-to-drink beverages. But are they as healthy as they sound?

1. Coconut water

Extracted from the inside of an immature green coconut, this thin, filmy liquid contains 600-700 milligrams (mg) of potassium and 40-250 mg of sodium per eight-ounce (oz) serving, which is why it’s touted as “nature’s sports drink.” However, you won’t see any added benefit from drinking coconut water after a light-to-moderate workout.

In fact, a 2012 study showed no difference in hydration status between consuming coconut water versus a commercial sports drink following a 60-minute bout of treadmill exercise. Unflavored coconut water boasts fewer calories and less sugar than the average sports drink, however.

2. Maple water

This drink is subtly sweet–a far cry from its counterpart, maple syrup, despite the fact it’s also made from the sap of a maple tree. You’d have to boil down 40 gallons of maple water to get just one gallon of maple syrup.

While studies have confirmed that maple syrup contains over 50 unique phytochemicals, including abscisic acid, a phytohormone that’s being investigated for its role in affecting blood sugar regulation, there’s no research available on maple water.

This trendy new drink contains less potassium than coconut water, but offers up a small quantity of other unique nutrients, like iron and calcium (both only two percent of the Daily Value) and a significant amount of manganese (40 percent DV).

3. Birch water

Similar to maple water, this drink is extracted by tapping birch trees. The resulting fluid boasts electrolyte and antioxidant content, yet offers a relatively small number of trace minerals, like calcium, zinc, iron, copper and magnesium.

Birch water also contains saponin, a compound that occurs naturally in plant foods and has been studied for its cholesterol-lowering effects; it’s unknown, however, just how much saponin the water contains. Popular brands of birch water also contain added sugar, so be mindful.

Plant waters can be included in a healthy diet as a lower-calorie, lower-sugar, less-processed alternative to soda and commercial sports drinks. However, the ticket price can be high. Plain water does just as good a job of hydration.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.) (c) 2015 BELVOIR MEDIA GROUP DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo credit: Phu Thinh Co via Flickr