There are lots of different variations of water, from alkaline water to black activated charcoal water, but one that might seem the most strange is thick water.
You read that right; water that is thick. So, what is thick water exactly? Is it just fluid that has something added to alter the consistency? At a glance, the idea of thick water might sound silly but it exists for a good reason. For those who have trouble swallowing liquids, thickened water is a handy way to help stay hydrated. You might have already heard of thick water on social media, but it’s much more than a fad.
Thick water is designed for people who have difficulty swallowing- a condition called dysphagia. By thickening the water, they are able to drink water easily and stay adequately hydrated. While stores carry pre-thickened liquids, thick water can be made at home with thickening agents.
- What is Thick Water?
- Why is Thick Water Popular On Social Media?
- Why Do People Drink Thickened Water?
- Is Thick Water Healthy? Are Thin liquids Better?
- Thick Water Nutrition Facts
- What Brands Make Thick Water?
- Can you Make Thick Water & Thickened Liquids Yourself?
- How Do you Make Thick Water at Home?
- The Bottom Line
What is Thick Water?
Thick water is regular water made ‘thicker’ with some thickening agent. The texture is often compared to aloe vera gel. It should however not taste much different from normal tap water or bottled water.
With thick water compared to regular water, the main difference is the consistency, ranging from slightly thick, moderately thick to a much thicker consistency. Store-bought thick water will often use phrases like “nectar,” “honey,” and “pudding” to describe their thickened drinks’ texture and viscosity.
Many people didn’t hear of thickened water until it became a social media trend. More recently, the “Thick water challenge” spread through TikTok, which saw users trying thick water for the very first time.
Some social media trends regarding food and drinks can be dangerous, so always approach that kind of content with extreme caution. Some users have expressed concern that buying thickened water for a trend can leave those who need it without some.
Why Do People Drink Thickened Water?
Thick water is aimed at people with swallowing problems. There is no need to drink thick water at all – unless you’re curious or happen to like it better.
If it’s not medically necessary, you probably won’t like the texture or the sensation of drinking it. A study found that healthy participants had trouble swallowing it.
However, there is a wide range of conditions in which thickened liquids could be of aid.
- People with dysphagia are typically recommended thickened water. This condition is not uncommon in those with Parkinson’s disease but can also be due to old age or the shape of someone’s throat. It’s very common for some nursing home patients to be required to consume thickened liquids.
- Additionally, thickened water is usually recommended for people with swallowing issues, neurological conditions, acid reflux, spinal cord injuries, or even acid reflux.
- Thickened water is also recommended for those with aspiration pneumonia as the water does not flow as quickly down your throat, meaning it is less likely to enter the airway aka “the wrong pipe” – thus potentially preventing an additional lung infection.
Do People Thicken Other Liquids?
If you drink thick water due to necessity, it is very likely would need and benefit from other liquids being thickened as well. Many thickened water brands sell other thickened fluids like juice. People can also thicken tea, coffee, skim milk, broth, and any other thin liquids they’re consuming.
Does Thick Water Really Help?
Whether thickened water really works depends on why someone needs it but there is some debate about whether it is worthwhile.
If the goal is to aid the swallowing process for someone with an injury, then it could be effective.
That said, there have been calls to reevaluate how dysphagia is treated. A review found that thickened liquids reduced aspiration, but there was post-swallow residue in the pharynx after consuming extremely thick liquid. Another review noted that there is not enough solid evidence to prove that thickened liquids can reduce instances of pneumonia in people with dysphagia. It also suggested that switching people onto modified foods like pureed foods and thickened liquids could actually reduce overall fluid intake.
With that said, a 2008 study found some effect when looking at rates of pneumonia in elderly patients with dementia or Parkinson’s. The study found that those drinking liquids with a nectar consistency had lower rates of pneumonia than those drinking liquids as thick as honey. It also noted that those drinking thickened liquids compared to drinking all fluids in a chin-down position had more instances of dehydration, urinary tract infection, and fever. So, more research needs to be done to determine is thicker fluids is the best approach for these patients.
Is Thick Water Healthy? Are Thin liquids Better?
Generally, thick water or any other liquid should be just as healthy as it thinner alternative. There is not enough research to say that thin liquid water is healthier than thickened water. After all, there are lots of different flavors of thin water with added sugars. For many people with swallowing disorders or other medical conditions, thick water serves as an essential aid.
However, some store-bought brands could contain high fructose corn syrup or other added sugars – especially if it’s flavored. With that said, standard flavored water can also contain added sugars too, so thickened store-bought water is not much worse from that perspective. Do read the ingredients and nutrition label before purchasing.
Additionally, thickened water can often have more sodium than regular water. While there can be around 4 grams of sodium in tap water, thick water can have up to four times as much. Sodium in water is not always a bad thing. Sodium can actually play a key role in hydration as it is an electrolyte. Electrolytes can help you stay hydrated for longer and help to maintain the right balance of fluids in the body.
However, too much sodium is an issue because it can raise blood pressure and potentially impact heart health. According to the FDA, the daily recommended amount of sodium is 2,300 mg per day, so a few glasses of thick water should not be harmful.
Thick Water Nutrition Facts
The exact nutritional breakdown of thickened water will vary brand per brand, or in how much thickener you use, but it plain unflavored thickened water should look something like this:
- Calories: 0
- Total Fat: 0g
- Sodium: 40mg
- Total Carbs: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 0g
What Brands Make Thick Water?
The following are well known thick water brands:
- Lyons Ready Care
- Hormel Healthlabs
Many of these brands sell water thickeners, too so you can make it yourself to the right consistency.
The following brands also sell thickeners:
- Nestle Health Science ThickenUp®
- Special Ingredients
Can you Make Thick Water & Thickened Liquids Yourself?
It’s straightforward to make thickened liquids yourself, but many people prefer to get pre-made thick water for convenience and accessibility.
Many thickened water brands sell their thickening agents. These are often a mix of starch-based thickeners like modified food starch and maltodextrin. Some pre-thickened water might be made from Xanthan gum powders. The difference between gum-based and starch-based thickeners is that starch can sometimes cause the liquid to continue to thicken after preparation, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with gum.
The following can be used to make thick water and other thick liquids yourself;
- Aloe vera gel
- Unflavored gelatin
- Tapioca starch
- Cassava flour
- Banana flakes
- Instant potato flakes
- Slippery elm herb
- Marshmallow herb
- Food-grade Diatomaceous earth
How Do you Make Thick Water at Home?
How much water and thickener you need depends on your specific requirements. Many people prefer pre-made thickened water because they don’t need to experiment until the right consistency – or they won’t be able to determine if they made their water right by trial and error.
It’s good to start with one teaspoon in your glass of water. If the water is still too thin, add more until you land on the right consistency.
Can you use ice cubes in thick water?
It’s not advised to use ice in thickened water as it thins out your thick water when the ice melts. If you want ice, you can freeze some thick water in advance or use reusable ice cubes which will not melt into the drink.
The Bottom Line
If you don’t have a medical reason to consume thickened liquids, you can bypass this trend and stick to thin drinks. Although how effective thickened water is at helping people with difficulty swallowing remain hydrated is debatable, it does seem to help people have better control over the flow rate of liquids.