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Plant waters are making a big splash among the fit and health conscious, who are swapping sugary, processed sports drinks for waters made from pure coconut, aloe, maple and even cactus. These waters squeezed from leaves and plants or tapped from tree trunks are packed with electrolytes that can speed rehydration after exercise, in addition to being jam-packed with age-defying nutrients that may even smooth wrinkles.

Drinking fresh coconut water is nothing new in Hawai‘i; however, sipping it from a recyclable, preservative-free carton has only been around since 2004. Since then, bottled coconut water has gained a loyal following as a recovery aid after a workout.

“Coconut water provides natural hydration, and helps muscle performance and rejuvenation,” says David Lin, CEO and founder of Hawai‘i-based Waiola 100% Coconut Water (waiolalife.com). “Our coconut water is one ingredient—coconut water—with no preservatives, and never from concentrate. It is higher in electrolytes than leading sports drinks.”

Waiola’s coconut water contains 730 mg of potassium, a mineral that’s good for the heart and blood pressure, as well as magnesium and calcium, but no fat, no cholesterol, 6 grams of natural sugar (which is considerably less than most sports drinks) and only 35 calories.

“Coconut water is here to stay,” Lin says. “Is it not just a fad; the nutritional facts are undeniable. We also introduced chocolate coconut water as a healthy alternative to chocolate milk for kids. Next, we are looking at producing a protein coconut water drink and a pineapple coconut water.”

Coconut water is very different from coconut milk, a favorite ingredient in Thai cuisine. Coconut milk is a thick, creamy liquid from a ripe brown coconut, and coconut water is obtained from young green coconuts. Slight variations in flavor result from different growing regions and the age of the coconuts.

Following the staggering success of coconut water, aloe vera, artichoke, barley, birch, cactus, maple and watermelon are making their way into water bottles. All of these new drinks promise nutritional benefits, but don’t be fooled by the term “water.” They are not calorie-free, and the amount of calories can vary among brands in the same category.

ALOE VERA WATER
The aloe vera plant you may have growing on your lanai or in your yard (just in case you have a burn) is also available in water or juice form. Aloe vera water is made from the gel inside the leaves. Some waters have gel-like aloe floating in them, while others are entirely clear. Because it has a slightly bitter taste, honey, cane sugar and fruit juices may be added to the water. Best known as an extract used in cosmetics and skin creams because of its anti-inflammatory properties, the prickly aloe vera is also rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Among the suppliers of aloe vera water are Lily of the Desert (lilyofthedesert.com) and Alo (alodrink.com).

ARTICHOKE WATER
ARTY Water (artywater.com) is a mixture of whole artichoke, pandanus leaf and mint sweetened with blue agave and monk fruit. Using the entire artichoke captures the nutrients, which includes antioxidants, silymarin and cynarin, which can help liver detoxification, lower cholesterol and improve skin texture.

BARLEY WATER
Water made from this grain can help treat nausea, constipation and urinary tract infections. Drinking grain water is an ancient practice and is considered an herbal tea in many parts of the world. The most available barley water in the U.S. is Robinsons (available on amazon.com), but it’s made in the U.K.

BIRCH WATER
Birch water is tapped from the tree in early spring and is usually flavored with ginger, lime, raspberry and other natural flavors. It contains xylitol, one of the better-digested sugar alcohols that help prevent tooth decay, as well as vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. People have been drinking tree sap in Scandinavia for centuries, but it’s only become fashionable as a sports drink elsewhere in the world in the past few years. Brands include Sealand BIRK (seal-andbirk.com) and Sibberi (sibberi.com).

CACTUS WATER
Cactus water is made from prickly pear concentrate, prickly pear extract, water and flavoring. Studies suggest that cactus water can boost antioxidant levels and even help reduce some hangover symptoms, although researchers used extract, not water. Brands include True Nopal (truenopal.com) and Caliwater Cactus Water (drinkcaliwater.com).

MAPLE WATER
Pure maple water is tapped from North American maple trees in early spring. It is much runnier and less sweet than the maple syrup poured on pancakes. Maple water reportedly contains 46 nutrients, including some that improve skin elasticity and fight wrinkles. It is a good source of antioxidants, has more manganese—a mineral that plays a key role in metabolism—than kale and less than 5 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Brand names include Seva (drinkseva.com), Wahta Pure Maple Water (drinkwahta.com) and Happy Tree Maple Water (drinkhappytree.com).

WATERMELON WATER
High in potassium and beta-carotene, watermelon water packs concentrated nutrition since no additional water is added. It is high in antioxidants like lycopene, which fights signs of aging, and l-arginine, which strengthens hair and boosts collagen production in skin. Brands include Hint Premium Watermelon Essence Water (drinkhint.com) and Wtrmln Wtr (wtrmlnwtr.com), a cold-pressed juice made with both pulp and rind.

KOMBUCHA
Another alternative health drink not to be overlooked is kombucha. It is a lightly effervescent, fermented drink made with sweetened black or green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Kombucha tea is made by adding the colony to sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment. The resulting liquid contains vinegar, B vitamins and a number of other chemical compounds. Proponents claim kombucha tea can stimulate the immune system, improve digestion and liver function, and even prevent cancer. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support these health claims.

WATER WORKS
Plant waters are more than a lower-calorie, lower-sugar, less-processed alternative to sports drinks. They have real nutritional benefits in addition to hydration. That post-workout glow might just be coming from more than exercise.