Our team rated the waters on nutrition, taste, and packaging.
Sugary drinks are out, and flavored water is in—big time. Just two years ago, sparkling water sales rose by 22 percent, according to a Neilsen report; and market research forecasts sales of $24.4 billion by 2023, which would be a 29 percent growth from 2018. But it’s not just the fizzy stuff that’s having a moment. Flat waters now come in a whole host of interesting flavors like blood orange, cherry blackberry, and strawberry-kiwi (yum). With all the H2O options in the beverage aisle, which should you sip?
To help you choose, we decided to pit eight top brands against each other. I gave the waters a nutrition score based on their ingredients, and a team of thirsty Health editors rated them from 1 to 10 for taste, as well as packaging. Our overall champion turned out to be a bubbly water, but we tested and scored still waters too, since not everyone can handle carbonation. (It can trigger bloating and burping in some folks.) Read on to see how the rankings shook out.
But remember, while flavored waters do contribute to hydration, you should still rely on good old plain H20 as your main source of fluid. Think of these flavored waters as extras, or alternatives to products that contain sweeteners (real or artificial).
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees.
Our overall champion—with an average score of 7.7 out of 10—is flavored with real, squeezed fruit, and nothing else. The brand’s tagline: “Yup, that’s it.” (Many brands use “natural flavors,” which have come under fire recently, as they may contain incidental additives that manufacturers are not required to disclose.)
Infusing water with fruit is something I’ve been suggesting to my clients for decades, because produce not only adds flavor, but vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants too. That’s why I gave Spindrift a perfect mark for nutrition. My one minor criticism is the variation in calories. Cucumber provides just 2 calories per can, for example, while Grapefruit contains 17.
In terms of taste, the judges used descriptors like “big flavor,” “fresh,” and “natural.” One editor noted, “This tastes like it actually has a lot of fruit in it.” The packaging was a hit too; the editors appreciated the cute, modern look. And we appreciate that Spindrift is in the process of transitioning to BPA-free cans.
This one came in a close second with an average score of 7.5. I gave it a 9 for nutrition. The brand uses only reverse-osmosis purified carbonated water and natural flavors.
All of Waterloo’s 10 flavors contain zero calories, sugar, sodium, and caffeine. And though water is not commonly a source of gluten, I like that the brand has taken the steps to become Certified Gluten Free, and that it's Non-GMO Project Certified too. Also, Waterloo's cans are BPA-free.
Our testers gave Waterloo top scores for taste. They called out the water’s light and fruity profile. “It’s like drinking summer,” one editor said. And most judges were fans of the can’s “retro” design and bright colors.
With an average score of 7.3, LaCroix nabbed third place. Despite the controversy in the past, the brand maintains that its waters are made only with natural flavors. (The website states: “All LaCroix flavors are derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit used in each of our LaCroix flavors.”) The product is also calorie-, sugar-, and sodium-free. And as of April 2019, LaCroix cans are produced without BPA liners.
The judges’ panel gave LaCroix high scores for packaging. They appreciated the cans’ vibrant colors and pretty design. But the varied flavor ratings showed how personal taste can be. One editor wished the waters had more of a kick, for example, while another praised LaCroix for its subtle flavors. And some editors had mixed feelings. “The good flavors are really good, but the bad ones are really bad,” one judge noted.
Nutrition: 8 /10
Bubly slid in at fourth place with an overall score of 6.9. Like most of the other brands, Bubly is made with carbonated water and natural flavors, with no calories, sugar, or sodium.
Our judges loved Bubly’s packaging, including the adorable little messages on the tabs (like “Hold cans with me” and “I feel like I can be open around u”). But some editors felt the flavors were too “potent” and “candy-like.” However, for that reason, Bubly may be a good substitute for soda.
This brand scored a 6.8 to rank fifth on our list. I gave it an 8 for nutrition. Polar’s seltzer is triple filtered to remove sodium and contains only natural flavors. (According to the website, “Polar uses highest grade of flavor essences that have been extracted from original food sources such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.")
I like that Polar sells limited edition flavors in 8-ounce cans. If you want to enjoy some bubbles, but you're sensitive to carbonation, this smaller portion size may help you avoid any tummy trouble.
I couldn’t find information about whether Polar’s aluminum cans or plastic bottles contain BPA. And I would love to see the brand ditch plastic bottles completely. In terms of design, the editors gave Polar’s packaging luke-warm reviews, nothing that it wasn’t especially eye-catching.
In our taste test, lemon and lime stood out as clear favorites. Editors described them as light and smooth. “Lemon was the most refreshing,” one tester wrote. “It tastes like regular old seltzer served with a fresh cut lemon.”
Perrier landed sixth on our list, with a score of 6.7. Made from carbonated mineral water and natural flavors, each serving provides zero calories, sugar, and sodium. I also like that the waters come in glass bottles (as well as plastic bottles and cans), since glass doesn’t degrade and leach chemicals into the water.
This classic product rated pretty well for packaging: Our editors like the sleek shape and described the look as “classy,” “old-school,” and “fancy.” The flavors, however, generated disparate comments. One editor noted that the watermelon tasted like medicine, while another said she could drink the strawberry all day.
Hint—with a score of 6.4—ranked seventh. Like most sparkling waters Hint contains no calories, sugar, or sodium, and nothing artificial. It’s made from purified water and natural flavors derived from fruit essence from non-GMO plants. I just wish it came in glass bottles rather than pastic.
Hint is available in both sparkling water and flat—and we sampled both. Some editors criticized the simple, clean packaging as dull and “not very Instagram-worthy.” But on flavor, Hint fared much better. One enthusiast remarked, “My absolutely favorite brand—I love, love, love, the blackberry, sparkling and flat.”
Thought it scored a 6.4 overall, I gave our eighth and final brand—a flat water—near-perfect marks for nutrition. JUST is made from natural spring water that’s treated with two processes that filter out contaminants while maintaining the water’s tasty and healthful mineral content. The flavor added is derived from a unique process (not using natural flavors) in which plants are boiled in water and then distilled, which concentrates the flavor but adds no sugar or calories.
While our editors praised the environmentally-friendly packaging, which is mostly made from plants, they were less enthusiastic about the look. Some liked the simplicity of the container, but others noted that it's a bit boring and “so un-sexy.” Flavor feedback was also mixed. One judge praised the brand for having “a ton of flavor for a flat water.” Another criticized the flavor for being too ... powerful. (She compared it to the sickly-sweet liquid the ob-gyn makes you drink for a gestational diabetes test.) To each her own!