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Vitaminwater's Empty Calories Are at the Heart of What's Wrong with the Beverage Industry

Vitaminwater tells its customers to "hydrate responsibly." That means not drinking 125-calorie sugar rushes like ... Vitaminwater.

Many millions of Americans continue to seek all sorts of ways to become healthier and control their weight, but let's get real; it's not working. The health trend continues, yet our obesity rates remain on the rise.

In this past year, the obesity rates among adults rose in 23 states, according to a new report from the Trust for American's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the state of Colorado is the only state with an obesity rate below 20 percent at 18.9. In 1991, there was only one state with an obesity rate above 20 percent.

Based upon the upward trend, you would expect sales to have risen at fast-food joints. Maybe, but that is not the data that has me raising an eyebrow.

Consider this paradox: As we have become "larger" as a nation, our sales at health food a stores have skyrocketed. Between 2001 and 2008, sales of natural food and drink products at specialty stores in the United States rose from an estimated $11.9 billion to $19.6 billion.

What is it that we are not doing right?

As a former dancer and gymnast, I'm hyper aware of the need to push aside the sugar and junk and try to find the products that will keep me on the healthy straight and narrow. And I'm obviously not alone.

I've stood in lines at Whole Foods that seemed longer than lines I remember standing in for Space Mountain at Disneyland, as a kid. I've seen firsthand, by peeking into my fellow shoppers' baskets, that we certainly are making valiant efforts to improve our diets.

Not so long ago, I was standing in one of those long lines that backed up to the beverage aisle and discovered that maybe we health seekers are looking in all the wrong places, especially by trusting chains like Whole Foods and local health-food markets with our health interests.

I picked up a bottle of Vitaminwater to check out what the drink's hype was about.

For sports fans, it was hard to miss the ubiquitous marketing effort on behalf of Vitaminwater. It was all over the TV during the NCAA and NBA championships this year. There was the Kobe Bryant vs. Lebron James great debate in the Vitaminwater match-up, followed by the very popular Dwight Howard's Dwight vs. Dwight Vitaminwater commercial on network TV as well as YouTube and Facebook, exemplifying "where the 'man of steel' definitely gets his vitamins!"

I was vaguely familiar with Vitaminwater throughout the years, but now I was getting sucked in by the vibrant, sleek-looking, hipsteresque bottles with the nutrition information somewhat resembling a pharmaceutical label with bold-faced text.

I began to read the contents and had quite an eye-opening moment. Vitaminwater had "natural" ingredients like "processed crystalline fructose," "natural" caffeine and a lot of other things I didn't understand like deionized and/or reverse-osmosis water.

And as I did the math, I realized there were 125 calories in one of those sexy bottles, along with 32.5 grams of sugar …"natural" of course. Hmm ... that's almost what a can of Coca-Cola has.

That's when it dawned on me -- could Vitaminwater be a part of the obesity problem? Not Vitaminwater alone, but this false fantasy we're buying into, that we are doing something healthy for ourselves by drinking the stuff and consuming other "natural" products. Are Whole Foods and health food stores part of the problem by pushing sugar and caffeine on us in healthier packaging?

As I did with my previous "socially conscious" shopping epiphany in my article about who owns and markets Burt's Bees, Kashi, Toms of Maine, Naked Juice, etc., etc., I quickly went home and started to do my homework. What I found out shocked me.

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