A clear winner in the feel-good stakes

So you thought water was just a drink? Think again. It's a lifestyle choice. We can all safely drink our litre or more a day straight from the tap. But where's the cachet or the profit in that? It's almost as free as air. And wonderful and hydrating though tap water is, the latest bottled waters offer so much more - to make you sportier, healthier and less hungover.

So you thought water was just a drink? Think again. It's a lifestyle choice. We can all safely drink our litre or more a day straight from the tap. But where's the cachet or the profit in that? It's almost as free as air. And wonderful and hydrating though tap water is, the latest bottled waters offer so much more - to make you sportier, healthier and less hungover.

With Oxygizer you pay for air and water together. It's oxygenated, but not fizzy. Bottled in the Tyrolean mountains by a company based in Innsbruck, Austria, it describes itself as "a sip of fresh air". Already big in the Middle East - where water's a more precious commodity than it is here - it has been launched in Europe and now in the UK.

Oxygizer doesn't just slake a thirst, it provides the body with extra oxygen too. A litre contains 150mg of oxygen, around 25 times more than what's in a litre of tap water. This apparently helps remove toxins and ensures a stronger immune system, as well as assisting the respiratory system so you recover better from exercise. Some claim detox benefits, it helps hangovers, and even enhances flavours to make food taste better. Oxygizer itself tastes more boringly of nothing than water usually does. Cleverly they've added to water something that's not an additive, has no extra calories or taste, and sounds healthy. And it costs more than almost any other water.

At £1.50 for 500ml (so far only available in Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason), if you develop a serious Oxygizer habit, you'd spend £6 a day. Water is a necessity, and we should all drink at least eight glasses a day. Some recommend two litres. But bottled water has become an accessory.

The concept of "convenient hydration" accounts for the boom. Drinking mineral water was once just for medicinal purposes, but by the Sixties the supply of bottled water in the UK had almost dried up. We still drink 10 times less bottled water than the French or Italians, but we're catching up. Sales doubled between 1997 and 2002, and look set to double again in the next couple of years. Highland Spring, the top-selling brand of sparkling bottled water (though sparkling accounts for only 20 per cent of bottled water sold), says "only 47 per cent of the UK population drink bottled mineral water". That's more than 25 million people - what do they mean only?

Yet water connoisseurship is reaching new extremes. The website www.finewaters.com is devoted to the appreciation of bottled waters. There are water sommeliers, and Bar à Bulles at Galeries Lafayette Haussmann in Paris has a water bar, where they have flavoured waters including fennel and coriander. These days, water even comes long haul from Fiji.

And, with celebrity endorsement and molecular restructuring, from San Diego. Penta is San Diego tap water (or any other water) that has had its composition altered by a unique, patented physical process. Here comes the science bit: it is devoid of minerals, and, according to the supporting explanation from Penta, breaking down the clusters of molecules so they are smaller makes water easier to absorb.

Celebs swear by it (it was given out and eagerly gulped at last year's Oscars ceremony), professional footballers and athletes are using it for enhanced performance and recovery, fitness trainers and alternative health practictioners recommend it. The results of independent tests on these detox claims, however, are not yet available.

Penta water costs £1.47 for 500ml. Mark Fairhead, who imports it into the UK, distributing to health clubs, fitness advisors and health food shops like Fresh & Wild, is a Gulf War veteran and extreme survival teacher who believes it has improved his health. He recommends four bottles a day as the optimum amount. "But," he admits, "that's expensive. A serious lifestyle decision." At that price this water ought to do more than what's on tap. E

Something for the weekend?

Vitalize, by Tiger Smoothie

Apricot & apple £1.29-£1.60, Texaco forecourts, for more stockists call 0845 345 1194, www.tigerbaybev.co.uk

Apple and apricot, banana and orange with spirulina as the active ingredient, giving it a toxic-looking green colour. At first it's fizzy like past its sell by date orange juice, then a sludgy sweeter juice taste kicks in. Also Chill Out, Enrich and Energize smoothies.

Wake Up, by Firefly

£1.49-£1.99, Harvey Nichols, Fresh & Wild, delis, City canteens, more stockists www.feelonform.com

Fruity no-sugar-added drink, from a range including Sharpen Up, No Siesta and Chill Out, this is a herbal hangover cure with cinnamon, angelica and ginseng among the botanical extracts. Certainly tastes as if it ought to be doing you good; it's sweet with a herbal tug.

Natural Detox Super Smoothie, by Innocent

£1.79, stockists 020-8600 3939

Beautifully packaged, wonderfully simple, truly delicious; we're sold on Innocent's smoothies. Made of nothing but the whole fruit (not just the juice), plus honey and ginger, this has substance and bits without being too thick. Sounds like a cold cure, but the taste's not medicinal, just wholesome and lively.

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