WaterTok: Flavored Water Recipes Are All Over TikTok—But Are They Healthy?

  • Videos of flavored water recipes have gone viral on TikTok, with creators claiming that adding flavor packets and syrups to their water helps them avoid soda and stay hydrated.
  • While dietitians agree that these benefits are legitimate, some are concerned that the artificial sweeteners and dyes used in these syrups and powders may not be great for a person's health.
  • Besides these "WaterTok" flavored water recipes, experts say that adding fruit to water or drinking carbonated water are good alternatives.

Piña colada water, unicorn water, or peach ring water may not necessarily sound healthy. But video recipes for these and other sweetly-flavored waters have gone viral on TikTok in recent months, with some creators claiming that flavored waters help them avoid soda and get enough water daily.

Many users on social media are skeptical, however. Commenters have flooded “WaterTok”—or, the unofficial TikTok community of people who make these flavored water recipes—with questions and concerns about whether drinking flavored water can really be considered healthy. 

In these videos, WaterTok creators mix zero-calorie and zero-sugar syrups and flavor packets in order to get a sweet but “healthy” beverage. The actual health benefits may be a bit harder to quantify, however.

“These can contain potentially harmful ingredients,” Dariush Mozaffarian, DrPh, MD, MPH, cardiologist and Jean Mayer professor at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told Health in a statement. “On the other hand, if someone regularly consume[s] sugary drinks like soda, presweetened coffees or teas, energy drinks, or juice drinks, switching to zero calorie, unsweetened flavored waters can have important health benefits.”

Here’s what experts had to say about how flavored water may affect your health, and what to keep in mind before trying this viral trend.

What Is WaterTok?

Flavored water generally refers to anything that adds flavoring to plain water, whether that be artificial syrups or powders, or something more natural, such as fruit.

For this TikTok trend in particular, creators use flavor packets sold in most grocery stores—these can come from more well-known drink brands such as Crystal Light, but also from candy or fast food brands, such as Skittles, Nerds, or Sonic flavor packets.

To make the waters more unique and to experiment with different flavors, many TikTokers add syrups to their water as well—these are essentially the same flavored syrups that people might add to coffee or cocktails.

The different combinations of flavor packets and syrups—or just the syrups themselves—are swapped in and out to create new flavors for TikTokers to try and share.

Besides the aesthetic appeal, making flavored waters has blown up on TikTok specifically as a mode of weight loss or weight management. It allows people to drink something other than plain water while still avoiding sodas or other high-sugar beverages.

Many others participate in WaterTok as a way to stay hydrated and drink more water. It’s trendy for creators to use a 40-ounce tumbler for their water concoctions—drinking about two full tumblers for women, and two and a half tumblers for men would put people around the recommended daily water intake.

Is Flavored Water Actually Good for You?

Parsing out the health benefits of flavored water isn’t necessarily easy—even experts don’t agree on whether the benefits outweigh the possible risks.

On the one hand, TikTok’s flavored waters are zero-calorie and zero-sugar, which means that they get their sweetness from an artificial sweetener. Again, this gives people the opportunity to enjoy a sweet beverage without ingesting added sugar.

For example, Jordan’s Skinny Syrups—which are popular among TikTokers—are flavored with sucralose, better known as Splenda. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, and it’s been approved by the FDA since 1998.

“There’s no evidence showing that [zero-sugar sweeteners] are going to affect long term health,” Courtney Ford, MS, RD, LD, senior registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine, told Health. “Studies that they’ve previously claimed that they cause cancer are not in humans, and they’re not relatable to how we consume them. So I think they’re perfectly safe.”

Other experts worry a bit more about how sucralose and other FDA-approved sweeteners may affect people’s health. Though there’s no glaring research that sucralose is outright dangerous, one study found that it may increase food cravings and appetites in women and in people with obesity. It may cause gas or diarrhea if consumed in large amounts, Ford added. And studies in animals have also shown a link between sucralose and inflammation in the gut that led to inflammatory bowel disease.

“Flavored waters, if they are literally water with cut-up fruit steeping in them, [are] healthy and basically are zero calories,” Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical dietician at UCLA Medical Center and assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told Health in a statement. “But, when they are flavored waters with chemicals and dyes and fake sweeteners, they are not healthy.”

Besides the sucralose itself, Hunnes has concerns about the dyes and additional chemicals that are in some of these products as well.

The unicorn Skinny Syrup, which is currently sold out online thanks to its TikTok popularity, has both red dye number 40 and acesulfame potassium. These two chemicals could be a cause for concern, Hunnes said. 

Research is still being published about these types of chemical additives to food products. But some reports found that red dye no. 40 may be contaminated with carcinogens, cause colitis in mice, or even prompt hyperactivity in children with sensitivities. And acesulfame potassium, another artificial sweetener, has been shown to cause cognitive issues in mice. It also may contain minuscule amounts of methylene chloride, which is a carcinogen. But the FDA said they had “reasonable certainty that no harm will result” from using the chemical.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seems to be conflicted on the subject. It mentions that, “Plain coffee or teas, sparkling water, seltzers, and flavored waters, are low-calorie choices that can be part of a healthy diet.” 

But CDC also quotes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, noting that “replacing added sugars with high-intensity sweeteners may reduce calorie intake in the short-term…yet questions remain about their effectiveness as a long-term weight management strategy.”

Engaging in the Trend Safely

We don’t yet have all the answers about the safety of these flavored water products, and experts themselves are divided on whether the WaterTok trend is a helpful or harmful one.

Ford does recommend flavored water in her clinic, she said.

“It’s a great way to get people to actually drink more water because in reality, it hydrates just the same as plain water. So if adding in a couple of pumps of flavored syrup that has no added sugar gets you to drink more water, I think it’s a wonderful tool,” she said.

Besides being hydrating, Ford also said that she recommends these products as a way for people to replace and cut out soda or alcohol.

Hunnes, however, is not so convinced. In addition to her concerns about artificial sweeteners and dyes, there’s also a possible risk that drinking these heavily-flavored waters too frequently may make some people “lose [their] ability to want the unflavored, just natural water,” she said.

Instead, Hunnes recommends flavoring water with cut up fruit, or by adding a small splash of regular juice to a large water bottle. Unsweetened tea or sparkling water are other good choices for people who don’t like the taste of plain water, or are trying to find ways to cut down on soda consumption, she added.

Despite the back and forth on WaterTok, it seems like anything besides drinking sugary sodas is a step in the right direction.

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13 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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