When I first spotted a liter of selenium-infused water in a local Spin studio, the first question that came to my mind was, why? Selenium is not a mineral that we typically focus on because the risk for deficiency is low in the United States, however it's an essential nutrient meaning it must be consumed in the diet. It's also a powerful antioxidant, but does this mean you need to be drinking it in your bottled water?
Let's Start With the Basics: What Is Selenium?
Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant properties that plays an important role in DNA synthesis, reproduction, and thyroid hormone metabolism. It's found in a variety of foods including walnuts and Brazil nuts, fish, beef, poultry, eggs, as well as some vegetables, fruits, and grains. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for selenium is 55 micrograms a day for adults, with the average American taking in about 110 micrograms on average from food alone.
Why Is Selenium in Bottled Water?
A diet rich in antioxidants is key to health since antioxidants play an important role in helping to reduce chronic inflammation. It's well known that the foods we choose to eat have an impact on this process, but since selenium is readily available in our food supply, and the average American gets well over the RDA per day, why is it being added to bottled water? "One reason? Marketing!" says Tara Mardigan, MS, MPH, RD, LDN, a nutritionist in NYC and founder of ThePlateCoach, LLC. "As sugar-sweetened beverages become less appealing due to the negative health effects, consumers are open to trying a beverage that (in theory) has a beneficial effect and isn't just plain water." The decreasing popularity of sugar-sweetened beverages is a trend we should all get behind, but don't jump into guzzling selenium-infused water just yet.
Are There Risks to Drinking Selenium-Infused Water?
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for selenium is 400 micrograms per day, meaning anything over that amount may have negative health impacts ranging from bad breath and hair loss to significant impacts on the nervous system. Take this example as explained by Mardigan: "Infused waters have about 10 percent of the daily value for selenium in 8 ounces. If you're having a few 16-ounce (or larger) bottles of antioxidant-infused water a day, you might reach half of the DV easily. Keep in mind, you're also getting selenium in your food and in a standard multivitamin (if you're taking one). Getting too much selenium is possible if you drink infused water in large quantities (more than four bottles per day). More is not better. Think 'one and done' if this infused water is your thing."
Should You Be Drinking Selenium-Infused Water?
This type of water is typically marketed to athletes because of the connection between exercise and hydration, so the theory is to get two for one – hydrate with antioxidants. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. "There's no evidence to support that antioxidant-infused waters are necessary or beneficial for athletes or active people. Consistency with hydration is what helps sports performance and recovery." Mardigan goes on to recommend water straight from the tap. "Plain tap water (or seltzer water) with fresh fruit thrown in for flavour works like a charm," she says. Antioxidant-infused water is not a requirement for health. "It's just another hydration option." Perhaps more importantly, Mardigan says it's unlikely that high doses of antioxidants in synthetic pills, powders, or infused beverages will accomplish the same results as a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The Bottom Line
Drink selenium-infused water if you want, but don't consider it a substitute for a diet rich in antioxidants from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And be sure to avoid multiple bottles per day if you think there's a risk you may go over the tolerable limit.