Testing the Water: What's in Those Water Enhancers?

The animated ads for Kraft’s brand of "water enhancer" tell consumers to "flip it, tip it and sip it"  to  add a concentrated flavor and jazz up boring old water. But video clips posted online show young people and adults taking the concentrated liquid in shot form in what some have labeled "the Mio Challenge."

While safe in its diluted form, Kraft's product, Mio, and others like it, contain the chemical propylene glycol, an ingredient commonly used in food but also found in anti-freeze and di-icing solutions. Some other varieties contain caffeine.

Are those shot-takers putting themselves at risk?

NBC Chicago took 14 samples of five brands -- Kraft, Jewel, Walmart, Meijer and 4C -- to STAT Analysis for testing to get accurate reports on the ingredients -- and their amounts -- in the products.

The levels of propylene glycol, as high as 12 percent of the concentrated product by weight, aren't a concern when used properly, an expert said.

"It seems to have little toxicity in humans," explained University of Illinois toxicologist Dr. Peter Orris after looking at the results.

But one bottle, taken in shot form -- not as the makers intended -- could give a 110 pound teenager about five times the recommended daily limit.

"He could well be potentially damaging himself at that kind of dose over that period of time because we do know there is an intermediate toxicity that affects the kidneys, the liver," said Orris.

More troubling, according to the pediatrician, the toxicologist and the nutritionist with whom NBC Chicago spoke, is the caffeine in the energy versions of the water enhancers.

"Treat this like a medication and not treat it like a food supplement," said Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago pediatrician Dr. Stephen H. Sheldon.

Just one half teaspoon serving of the caffeinated water enhancer provides the equivalent of a six ounce cup of coffee. But taken in shot form, a teen would get the equivalent of 18 cups. That could lead to elevated blood pressure, an increased heart rate and nervousness, Sheldon said.

In a statement, Kraft said "no food products should be consumed in excessive amounts," and pointed out that its energy version is clearly labeled "not for children" and instructs users to "always dilute concentrate" before consumption.

Jewel reminded that all of the ingredients contained in its product are approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

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