PUBLISHED: 4:56 PM on Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Do you really need fortified soft drinks?
AMARILLO, Texas - Want vitamins with that?

The latest trend in the soft drink and bottled water industries has been to fortify beverages with minerals and vitamins. Local experts, however, say the average person can probably do without them.

"They've got enough (nutrients) in them to feed a small sparrow," said Dr. Michael Meyers, professor of sports and exercise sciences at West Texas A&M University.

Meyers said that unless you're an elite athlete, the nutritionally enhanced beverages are overkill.

"They're not going to hurt you," he noted.

Brent Hoover, the food service director for the Amarillo Independent School District, said fortified water is a healthier choice than sugary soft drinks, but said consumers need to look at their individual situation before filling their bodies with things they don't need.

"It's better to have a good diet. ... Nothing out there can substitute a good diet," Hoover said.

He said the school district is getting away from carbonated soft drinks in vending machines and adding more water and juice choices. The district also is reducing the soft drink sizes from 20 ounces to 12 to cut back on the sugars and calories the children consume.

Gatorade became the first nutritionally enhanced drink when it was created in 1965, and is now the industry standard. Other companies have been expanding and diversifying the market by adding various vitamins and minerals to beverages not normally associated with athletics.

Products like Diet Coke Plus, SoBe Life Water, Propel Fitness Water and Aquafina Alive can be found in almost any grocery store shelf. But should those products make it to your kitchen?

"If you're an athlete you can justify putting it in there," Meyers said.

Hoover said the nutritional beverages are good for those who live an active lifestyle, such as athletes, but noted that those drinks also have more calories than plain water and can add weight to those who live a sedentary lifestyle.

"You really don't need a substitute or enhanced water or whatever if you're not active," he said.

Meyers said football players, distance runners and others who exert themselves physically and sweat a lot can benefit from the added nutrition, but the amounts in soft drinks aren't enough to make a significant impact. He said what they need more than anything is water.

He said when it comes to hydration, you need to look at quantity before you look at quality.

"You need to look at quantity first. Are they drinking enough (water)?" he said.

Meyers said there are two ways to determine whether someone is consuming enough water. The first is to weigh oneself before and after a workout. If there is more than a 2 percent loss in weight, it needs to be replenished. Another way is to check the color of urine. If it's dark, more water is needed. If it's light or clear, the person is getting enough to drink.