Smart Water for Dumb Consumers

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If you watch TV, ads for Coca-Cola's Smart Water are inescapable. Also inescapable is that the ads suggest that the stuff will make you smart or perhaps offer some other health benefit. But the only thing smart about Smart Water is Coca-Cola's ability to make you shell out money to buy something you could pretty much get from a fire hydrant in Newark.

Have you seen the cringe-worthy TV commercial for Coca-Cola's Smart Water? If not, or you're a masochist, here's a link to the YouTube video. It's basically a few nauseatingly attractive young people who can't quite put the finishing touches on a hideous fashion exhibit that consists of blue feathers on a male mannequin. But as they stand there wracking their brains for a solution, one of them opens a bottle of Smart Water. Then another. And all of a sudden a light bulb goes on enabling them to solve this crucial problem by adding some hideous shiny blue fabric stuff to already-hideous blue feathers. "Genius!" one of them joyfully exclaims, as if they had discovered a revision of the Schrodinger equation. Can water in an attractive bottle make attractive people smarter? Probably not. Is there any reason to drink the stuff at all? More on that later.

A fine use of diesel fuel

If you go to Amazon, you can get a screaming deal on Smart Water – about two bucks per bottle for a 24-pack, which weighs 36 pounds – more than an average flat-screen TV. Now, in addition to having to pee in bottles (presumably not Smart Water bottles), the bedraggled drivers can add bilateral inguinal hernias to their list of Amazon-inspired woes. (Note: Although not impossible, it is unlikely that Jeff Bezos will have to pee in a bottle in his new $417 million super-yacht). Just a guess here, but neither a fleet of trucks driving "heavy water" (1) all over the country nor the yacht is likely to contribute to climate change in a positive sense.

Smart Water's ridiculous claims

But the barely-disguised health claims prompted me to look at what's in the bottle and see if Coca-Cola (2) is simply selling 20 ounces of pure BS. The following statements are taken directly from Smart Water ads. 

"Smart water is a purified water made using vapor distillation, a purification process that simulates the hydro logic  [sic] cycle similar to the way water is purified in nature."

Here's a simpler term for "hydro logic cycle": Rain. And the term is actually the hydrologic cycle, which, unlike the ad, does not imply that there is an intellectual component utilized by raindrops in a cloud.

Two raindrops using hydro logic to decide which direction to travel. Free image: freesvg.com

Distilled water has risks and benefits. Except for the benefits.

(Ad) "Vapor distilled ..."

Drinking distilled water not only has no benefit but can actually be harmful. Why?

  • The main risks of drinking only distilled water are linked to its lack of minerals, including magnesium and calcium
  • According to an older report for the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, some of the adverse effects of drinking just distilled or low mineral water include: a flat taste that many people find unappealing, leading to reduced water consumption, a decrease in the body’s metabolic function, an increase in urine output that could result in electrolyte imbalance.

Source: Medical News Today

So, how is Smart Water made? First, let's look at the most recent report on New York City's water, which is generally considered high quality. Note that, among other things, it contains the electrolytes calcium, magnesium, and potassium, pretty much like you'd find in any other water system in the country.

Coca-Cola magically makes Smart Water!

"...a unique blend of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, smart water creates a taste that is distinctly fresh, crisp, and pure"

Hang on. Let me get this straight,

  1. They distill the water, which removes all the minerals
  2. They further purify the water (why??) but won't say how
  3. Then they put back three of the minerals that were there in the first place

At the risk of being a bit gross, isn't this process somewhat analogous to scraping the uneaten food off plates, washing the plates, and then fishing the s### out of the garbage and smearing it back on the plate? Or perhaps adding caffeine to decaffeinated coffee. 

Dropping Acid

Smart Water comes in three "flavors": Original, antioxidant, and alkaline. Let's focus on the last one. Alkaline is the opposite of acidic. You can see this on a piece of pH paper. Red (pH1) means highly acidic (e.g., hydrochloric acid). The orange range is mildly acidic, e.g., lemon juice or vinegar. Your stomach's pH is about 2. The yellow-green (7) is considered to be neutral. Mildly alkaline solutions are in the 8-9 range. Much above that, the solution will eat your throat. Lye and Drano solutions are both 14. 

Coca-Cola claims that Smart Water is "Ionized to a 9+pH."

(As if it's so difficult to make the stuff - you can do it in your kitchen. Dissolve six ounces of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a quart of water. The pH will be 9, and the water may or may not be smart.) 

Quack time

The obvious question is, why should anyone care if their water is slightly alkaline instead of neutral? Well, these guys, let's call them promoters of super alternative medicine, do:

Natural News (Mike Adams) claims Alkaline Water Kills Cancer.

"This Is How To Prepare It: Lemon is well known for its pH balancing properties. Although it has quite an acidic taste, it is inherently alkaline and helps the body maintain its balance."

Mike could use a chemistry lesson or two. The only problem with the above statement is everything. Actually, "Lemon juice has a pH between 2 and 3, which means it’s 10,000–100,000 times more acidic than water." No, there is nothing basic about lemon juice. Source: Healthline (peer-reviewed)

And the perpetually fact-challenged Dr. Axe weighs in similarly on his website.  Alkaline Diet: The Key to Longevity and Fighting Chronic Disease?

"Alkalinity can help decrease inflammation and the risk for diseases like cancer."

Jillian Levy, CHHC  (Certified Holistic Health Counselor) writing on the Dr. Axe site

In real life, we know that the pH-cancer link is pure quackery. The pH of your blood is very carefully controlled in the range of 7.35-7.45. You can drink all the Smart Water that Amazon can deliver, and that won't change.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center knows a thing or two about cancer:

“There is no evidence that changing your diet to alter pH levels affects cancer growth...The actual science has been misinterpreted. Changing the pH in your saliva doesn’t mean your blood pH changes. Some patients try using chemicals to modify their blood pH, but that can be extremely dangerous.”

 K. Simon Yeung, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

And ACSH friend, Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the Director at the Office for Science and Society at McGill, has spent decades debunking junk science.

"The idea of an 'alkaline”'diet to prevent or treat cancer may sound seductively simple, but in reality it is just simple minded."

Dr. Joe Schwarcz, McGill University

Is Coca-Cola trying to cash in on the fallacy that alkalizing your body can prevent cancer or make you smart? Hard to say, but if you drink Smart Water and expect it to have any impact on your health, you're a dumb consumer. 

NOTES

(1) There's heavy water and there's heavy water. One meaning is D2O, deuterium oxide.

(2) Coca-Cola has already been in hot water (sorry) with water. The company's Desani Water turned out to be nothing more than purified tap water. This caused a bit of a scandal.