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All that our forebears drank for thousands and thousands of years was plain water. It’s all that they had available (apart from breast milk as infants). It’s also absolutely essential to life. Our bodies need it to transport nutrients to our organs and oxygen to our cells; to remove waste; to protect our organs; and to regulate our body temperature.

Plain water faces stiff competition these days, however. The proportion of tap water in our diet has diminished as we have shifted to drinking other beverages from tea and coffee to soft drinks and mineral waters.

The latest commercial beverage trend is “plant waters,” once part of traditional diets in northern Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands and North America. Now endorsed by celebrities and sports people, they have hit the hype home run. Take the health claims made about them with a large pinch of salt (the evidence is excessively thin on the ground) and enjoy them in moderation if you wish. Remember, they are a pricy alternative to “Chateau Tap,” and they come with calories. They will also affect blood glucose levels.

BIRCH WATER Drunk straight from the tree, birch sap was a traditional springtime tonic in northern Europe renowned for its strengthening and curative powers. Over two hundred years ago, Baron Pierre-François Percy, army surgeon and inspector general to Napoleon, extolled its benefits making health claims that would have modern marketers blushing to their boots. “Throughout the whole of northern Europe . . . birch water is the hope, the blessing, and the panacea of rich and poor, master and peasant alike . . . It almost unfailingly cures skin conditions such as pimples, scurf, acne, etc., it is an invaluable remedy for rheumatic diseases, the after-effects of gout, bladder obstructions, and countless chronic ills against which medical science is so prone to fail.”

These days, it’s not just a springtime tonic. It is bottled and sold in Japan, Korea, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe as a refreshing beverage. Leading brands include Denmark’s Sealand Birk and Finland’s Nordic Koivu.

What’s in it? According to the manufacturer, a 250ml (9fl oz) serving of Sealand Birk provides 210kJ (50 calories), 12.5g available carbohydrate (12.5g natural sugars) and 4mg sodium.

COCONUT WATER Tropical coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) flourish on shorelines in a worldwide band 25 degrees north and 25 degrees south of the equator. It’s considered the tree of life in many cultures, and is certainly a contender for gold when it comes to “world’s most useful plant”. With each tree yielding thousands of coconuts over a 60–80-year lifespan, it provides, in one neat package, a high-calorie food, potable water, fibre that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. What’s more it makes a handy flotation device if you need it. And it’s not a nut, it is a drupe or stone fruit.

The clear liquid inside the coconut has long been a popular drink in the tropics. There’s a lot of hype about its benefits, but little research to support the claims.

What’s in it? The Nudie brand, the only one tested, has a GI value of 55. According to the manufacturer, a 250ml (9fl oz) serving provides 198kJ (47 calories), 11g available carbohydrate (including 8g natural sugars) and 57mg sodium. The glycemic load is 6.

MAPLE WATER Maple water is a refreshing drink straight from the tree when the sap is running in maple country, and not just in the United States and Canada. In South Korea, drinking maple sap (gorosoe) is a springtime ritual with festivals and sap-drinking contests.

Until recently, maple water had a very limited season, as it could only be harvested during a narrow, six-week window. Now “the sap is frozen to maintain its healthful benefits and maximize its fresh shelf life,” says the manufacturer of KiKi Maple Sweet Water®. “At a local bottling plant, a hot fill process, with the liquid heated to just below 96 degrees Celsius, ensures that the drink remains below pasteurization temperature to preserve its purity, highlight the flavour and maintain healthful benefits. The product is then shipped, stored, and served chilled.”

What’s in it? A 240ml (9fl oz) serving of KiKi provides 115kJ (48 calories) and 12g available carbohydrate (11g natural sugars (sucrose, glucose, and fructose)). There are claims that it is low GI, but no published data. We assume the claim is based on the GI for maple syrup (GI 54).

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