Birch & Maple Water – New Kids On The Block. Are they worth all the fuss?

birch_water_benefits

So, unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you are all well aware that coconut water has been the ‘go-to’ for a super cool, wellness conscious, friendly drink. It has been the drink of choice for some – to have post workout, as a base to your smoothie or as a mixer in your favourite mocktail.

According to Australian Food News, coconut water sales in North America and Europe went from zero dollars to a massive 1 billion US dollars by 2013 – which is only the tip of the iceberg for global sales!

It would seem that coconut water has had its time in the spotlight and although it is a tasty drink, it has not lived up to the hype surrounding its supposed health benefits (many of which are not backed up by scientific facts). There are now a couple of new kids on the block in the ‘wellness water’ category. So let’s check them out and see if they live up to the hype!

Maple Water (Maple tree sap)

Maple trees would be well known for providing us with that lovely, sweet, golden coloured syrup that most people put on their pancakes as a little treat – but the trees also produce ‘maple water’. Maple water is actually how maple syrup starts out! Maple sap (or water) is the thinner, less sweet liquid that flows through the maple tree to provide nutrients to the tree. The raw maple sap is collected and then pasteurised to kill off any yeasts or pathogens that may be present in the water.

maple_water_health_benefits

The Pros – Maple Water Benefits

  • Maple water is gluten free and dairy free!
  • Maple water does have ‘more manganese than a cup of kale’ – according to one brand. Two brands I was able to check out the nutritional panel of, had levels or 30-40%, but I am unsure as to if this relates to RDI or per bottle – I think it is RDI.
  • Manganese does have antioxidant properties and does have therapeutic uses relating to smooth muscle relaxation, skeletal and cartilage formation and is a co-factor in the synthesis of thyroxine (important for maintaining thyroid health). It is worth noting however, people with liver failure do need to be careful with supplementation of manganese. (Osiecki, 2006)
  • Maple water has a natural sweet taste, which according to Australian Food News is also a taste profile “that received an overall higher score than coconut water in consumer research.”
  • The primary source of sugar content is sucrose (which is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose), with one serving having about 3-4 grams. This makes it a ‘lower sugar’ alternative to coconut water and is definitely a much lower sugar option to a fruit juice or soda drink.
  • Maple water can be sustainably sourced, which is always a good thing to know! According to Business Insider Australia – “Milking the sap takes about 5% of the tree’s sugar reserves and slows its growth about the same amount, said Michael Ferrell, the Director of the Uihlein Forest, Cornell’s Sugar Maple Research & Extension Field Station. However, the trees live just as long. “Tapping is a minor intrusion on the tree,” he said” (Mar 28 2014)

The Cons

  • As you would expect – those selling maple water are quick to point out it has ’46 nutrients that include vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, prebiotics, electrolytes, amino acids and antioxidants.’ But generally only the levels of manganese, calcium and iron are listed on the nutritional panel. This makes me question the levels of the other ‘46 nutrients’ and if they are actually of any real significance? Otherwise, wouldn’t you be making a song and dance about them on a nutritional panel also?
  • Now with regards to the whole manganese thing – people (and product brands) love to mention all the things a single nutrient may help with. And in the case of maple water they point out that manganese may help with thyroid health, bone strength, blood sugar etc. We get that, we also write articles on the benefits of certain nutrients. But we also usually point out that no nutrient usually works on its own and has other synergistic nutrients that help it ‘do its thing’.
  • Manganese is no different. The synergistic nutrients needed for manganese are: Vitamin B, C and K, biotin, choline, copper, iron, zinc and glucosamine. The take home point – don’t drink maple water for the magical ‘benefits’ offered up because of the manganese. You should also keep in mind that it is the 40% manganese of the RDI – maybe don’t make it a habit of drinking 4 a day!
  • Price can also be a sticking point – it can be a bit pricy as is the case with many ‘health’ waters.

Birch Water (Birch tree sap)

Another new water that is ‘on trend’ at the moment is Birch Water – although it is anything BUT new! Funny enough, even chatting with Irey about writing this article, she mentioned drinking birch water as a child, having grown up in Europe.

According to Australian Foods News, “Birch sap is produced by birch trees every year in early spring and is harvested as a health drink in countries including Japan, Korea, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.” (March 5 2014)

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The Pros – Birch Sap Health Benefits

  • As with maple water, birch water is also gluten and dairy free.
  • The sap is clear and slightly sweet and is another good choice if you are looking for something ‘lower in sugar’ than say coconut water or even fruit juice and soda. A single serving of birch water will contain on average 1-1.5% sugars.
  • Birch sap has been used in traditional and folk remedies for such things as boosting energy, fighting fatigue and boosting the immune system.
  • Birch water is said to contain B vitamins, vitamin C, mineral and antioxidants.

The Cons

As is the case with a lot of these ‘wellness waters’ – many of the benefits and claims just don’t hold much substance.

  • Although it is noted on Australian Food News and various other articles that birch water contains vitamin C and even that is has been shown to be “high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamine and calcium” – I am yet to see this reflected in a nutritional panel. Two of the birch water brands I looked at had 0% vitamin C and 1 or 2% for iron and zinc and calcium. That is not really the nutritional panel of a ‘superfood’ in my books!
  • The main naturally occurring sugar in birch sap is actually fructose – so if you are someone wants to be avoid fructose, this is something you may want to keep in mind.
  • Birch water has also been linked to benefiting symptoms associated with arthritis, joint pain and migraines. These ‘benefits’ along with the traditional remedy claims for birch water are not backed up by science or research.
  • Price again – rates a mention in the con department.

Take Home Note

These new waters as well as other drinks such a coconut water are all really just drinks to be enjoyed for the taste, but not as some magical elixir. They are a great alternative to high sugar drinks such a fruit juices or soda drinks, but that is about where the health benefits finish – that we know of at this point in time.

The fact that they are traditional drinks may mean there is some merit to their consumption for good health; however this is not backed up by research just yet.

So for the time being – drink them because you like the taste of them, end of story.

** It is also worth just nothing that many of these drinks also may come mixed with additional sugars or fruit flavourings, so just keep an eye out. You may think you are drinking something lower in sugar, which actually isn’t!

References

Osiecki, The Nutrient Bible 7th edition, Bio Concepts Publishing

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/24/maple-water_n_5606092.html

http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2013/07/23/3808325.htm

http://www.drinkmaple.com/

http://ingredientsnetwork.com/News/Show/163/Maple_and_birch__the_new_coconut_#.VTh0FJOrEw8

http://ausfoodnews.com.au/2014/03/05/coconut-water-just-the-beginning-plant-%E2%80%98water%E2%80%99-drinks-emerge.html

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/what-does-vertical-water-taste-like-2014-3

http://www.verticalwater.com/nutrition/

http://www.amazon.com/Byarozavik-Birch-Tree-Water/dp/B00HNDO7TM

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Claire Yates

By Claire Yates

Claire Yates is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, holding a Bachelor of Health Science, who is passionate about paleo nutrition, health and having fun! She is the author of Optimal Health The Paleo Way and is a self-confessed lover of good food and good coffee.

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