Should you be drink­ing birch tree wa­ter?

High lev­els of man­ganese are at­tract­ing peo­ple to the drink

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - JEREMY MIKULA

Yes­ter­day’s sparkling wa­ter is to­day’s co­conut wa­ter is to­mor­row’s ... birch tree sap?

Birch wa­ter, a wa­ter­like sap tapped from birch trees, is the lat­est bev­er­age to join an al­ter­na­tive wa­ter mar­ket that ac­counted for about $2.7 bil­lion in sales world­wide in 2016, ac­cord­ing to food and bev­er­age con­sul­tancy firm Zenith Global.

The lure of the slightly sweet bev­er­age is its min­eral con­tent, in ad­di­tion to its lower-sugar con­tent than co­conut wa­ter, said John Kavchak, the co-founder and di­rec­tor of Sapp, a Chicago- and New York-based com­pany that sells birch wa­ter in the U.S.

“It’s ar­guably the low­est-sugar plant-based bev­er­age,” he said of birch wa­ter. “It’s rich in min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants, and it’s been used for cen­turies in Scan­di­navia and Eastern Europe as a nat­u­ral source of de­tox.”

Birch wa­ter con­tains a high level of man­ganese, a min­eral that helps blood sugar reg­u­la­tion and bone struc­ture through cal­cium ab­sorp­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter. Man­ganese is a com­po­nent of the an­tiox­i­dant enzyme su­per­ox­ide dis­mu­tase, an enzyme that helps fight nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring free rad­i­cals that “can dam­age cell mem­branes and DNA,” ac­cord­ing to the univer­sity.

Kavchak is quick to point out that birch wa­ter isn’t a mir­a­cle tonic, how­ever.

“I like to say it’s more than reg­u­lar wa­ter, but it’s only an ad­di­tion to your drink­ing oc­ca­sions,” he said. “We’re not try­ing to sell this as medicine. Our goal is to sell a bev­er­age that is hy­drat­ing and has health ben­e­fits.”

Though birch wa­ter con­tains five times the amount of man­ganese as kale, ac­cord­ing to Sapp, its price point — US$3.49 per bot­tle of Sapp and more than $40 for a 12-pack of Byaroza­vik on Ama­zon — is some­thing to con­sider, said Kristin A.R. Gus­tashaw, an ad­vanced-level clin­i­cal di­eti­tian at Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“As far as the amaz­ing qual­i­ties of birch wa­ter, it’s ac­tu­ally not much dif­fer­ent than what you can get in oats,” Gus­tashaw said. “When you look at the cost of a serv­ing of birch wa­ter against the cost of a cup of oats, oats are a frac­tion of cost. You can get the same or a sim­i­lar amount of man­ganese from oats at an es­ti­mate of 20 or 21 cents ver­sus $3.50 for the same amount of man­ganese. It’s an ex­pen­sive source of one nu­tri­ent that they’re ad­vo­cat­ing.”

A large part of that cost stems from the process of tap­ping and pre­serv­ing birch sap, which can ex­pire within days if not cared for, Kavchak said. There is only a three- or four­week pe­riod in April when the trees can be tapped, he said.

Not all tree wa­ters are the same. Maple wa­ter shares sim­i­lar­i­ties with birch wa­ter, but has a dif­fer­ent min­eral pro­file and a higher nat­u­ral sugar con­tent while lack­ing birch wa­ter’s trace amounts of xyl­i­tol, a nat­u­ral sugar al­co­hol that can help pre­vent tooth de­cay by in­hibit­ing the growth of Strep­to­coc­cus mu­tans, a bac­te­ria that causes cav­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion. And Byaroza­vik, for ex­am­ple, adds or­ganic cane sugar to its birch wa­ter.

While Sapp’s orig­i­nal flavour does not have ad­di­tives ex­cept less than 1 per cent of cit­ric acid, the com­pany of­fers birch wa­ter flavoured with net­tle and rose hip, which re­spec­tively sup­port kid­ney func­tion­ing and the im­mune sys­tem.

Those ad­di­tives can be­come too much of a good thing if you’re not care­ful, Gus­tashaw said, and could pose a risk for preg­nant women and peo­ple tak­ing blood pres­sure med­i­ca­tion.

Gus­tashaw said she isn’t wary of birch wa­ter as much as she cau­tions that no “su­per drink” is su­per.


Birch wa­ter, touted as the next “su­per drink,” has its fair share of health ben­e­fits but is an ex­pen­sive prod­uct.

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