Water water everywhere…but which one should I drink?

You would think that with the invention of indoor plumbing and tap water, that we would have been satisfied with the clean affordable water that comes right into our homes.

bottled water on a shelf

But in 1977, someone saw the profit in H2O, and now there is a $4 billion/year industry that sells us what comes right out of our faucets. (is that good advertising or what?)

Water  was bottled, and marketed as “healthier” and “cleaner” than that “disgusting stuff that comes from your faucet”.  (even though some of it comes from your faucet) Soon there were dozens of brands of water all stating that they were better for one reason or another.  There are roughly 200 different bottled water companies in the USA (Germany and Italy have over 600!)

Our eyes see a seal on the bottle and we perceive this product as “safe”.

But let’s take a real look at all the water there is on the market and what they all mean.  And let’s get the facts, not the fiction, about which one is healthiest.

Tap water

Tap water falls under the jurisdiction of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and is federally regulated and locally enforced.  Regular testing is mandated on many contaminants on a regular basis and reports are required to be publicly posted once a year.

Bottled water falls under the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) jurisdiction and the testing is much less strict.  For example, local tap water is required to test for bacteria over 100x/month, whereas bottled water is required to test for bacteria 4x/month.  But for other contaminants, like lead, and fluoride, the EPA just gives suggested levels

Fun Fact:  It might surprise you to learn that 25% of all bottled water actually comes from tap water.  Some of it is treated, some is not. Dasani and Aquafina are two popular waters that come from city sources, are osmosis filtered and bottled. Some  brands don’t bother to even filter it and it is bottled straight from the tap!

Source:   Surface water or ground water by way of your local water purification plant system.

Cost:  $0.00125/16 oz (or $0.01/gallon)

Contains:  You can go here to see what your local drinking water contains. Mine (southeast USA) contains

  • fluoride
  • lead (the allowable lead level in tap water is actually higher than the allowable level in bottled water because the the FDA allows for lead that is leeched from pipes.
  • carbons
  • chlorine (disinfection)
  • copper
  • nitrates
  • chlorite
  • trihalomethanes (by product of disinfection)
  • haloacetic  (by product of disinfection)
  • Ph:     (it is suggested that a water that is alkaline, high Ph, is healthier as it enables your cells to resist disease.  7.5 is considered the ideal Ph for water health)
  • calcium content    (the county is not required to list)
  • magnesium /sodium.  (While I know that there is magnesium and sodium in my tap water, the county system is not required to list that.)
  • there is evidence that drugs are in your tap water. Drugs like tylenol, anti-convulsants, antianxiety, hormones, heart medicine and antibiotics.  They get there by people. Either urinating them out, or flushing unused meds down the toilet.  The amounts are extremely small (parts per billion or trillion) but they are there.  To date, the federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits yet for drugs in water.  If you drink purified bottled water, there is a good chance that the purification process used does not filter drugs out either.

Spring Water

By definition, spring water is any water which is derived from an underground source and flows to the surface.  Any water that is derived this way can be labeled “spring water”.  Poland Springs, (owned by Nestle), has an  illustration showing what process the water undergoes to reach the bottling facility.

Source:  Spring …from an underground source that comes to the surface. One company can have many different “springs” that they source from.  The water can be from a glacier, or rainwater that is absorbed into the earth at a higher elevation and runs down to an outlet.

Cost:  $.40 – $1.50/16 oz (or $3.20 – $12.00/gal) or you can pay $2600 (yeah, there’s no decimal point) for one bottle of Bling. or $28.00 for 8 oz of the “breast cancer bling” which has a pink ribbon….but no donation to any breast cancer organization.

Contains:  H2O and ??

In 2007, the FDA proposed that water bottlers have the ability, and should list on their labels the chemical breakdown of their contents, but the proposal did not give the FDA any authority to act if the bottling companies choose not to, therefore, most don’t.

Purified Water, Purified Drinking Water

Source: local tap water. By definition, “purified” means it is treated with a process to remove solids (minerals) and bacteria. Water can be purified by reverse osmosis, distillation, or deionization.  Water that is used for product manufacture, like soft drinks, cosmetics and cleansers are made with “purified” water.  Purified drinking water is just H2O but often has minerals added for taste.  When bottled water companies add something to your water, it must appear on the label. Smartwater is one brand of distilled.  While the Smartwater folks will tell you that their distilled water is a “more natural” water , all they have is just distilled H2O. (oh yeah, and Jennifer Aniston as a spokesperson)

You use distilled water in your car battery and in the iron because it won’t leave any mineral deposits.  While distilled water is drinkable, it is not recommended to be your #1 choice for water intake unless there are minerals added as frequent consumption could, over time, draw minerals from your blood leaving you short.

Watch out for brands that just say “drinking water”.  This could be a brand that just bottles the water from the tap without any processing, packages it, and marks it up 10,000%. (when Wallmart brand water was tested, it had the exact same contents of all minerals and chlorine as the local tap water)

Cost: similar to spring: $0.40 – $1.50/16 oz ($3.20 – $12.00/gal)

Contains: H2O plus whatever else the bottler has added.  Purified drinking water must undergo some form of anti-bacterial  purification as well because the processing doesn’t always remove the bacteria.

Club Soda is purified water with carbonation.   Sodium bicarbonate is added to counter the acidity of the carbon dioxide.

Soda water is plain water with carbonation added.

from foodreference.com

Mineral Water

Source: Can be from a spring, aquifer, well, or any other source which yields water that has at least 250 ppm (parts per million) total solids (minerals) No minerals can be added to the water to obtain this, it must be in the water at the source.  A few of the minerals found are Sodium, Calcium and Magnesium…all necessary minerals for health.

Cost: roughly $ 2.40/16 oz or $19.30/gal

Contains:  Each mineral water has it’s own mineral content.  By law, a mineral water has to have at least 240ppm of total solids.  The main solids are usually listed on the bottle or you can go to their web site for more info. As an example, Perrier a French mineral water that was one of the first to be imported into the US contains Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Fluoride (occurs naturally from rock), Magnesium,Bicarbonate, Nitrate, Chloride, and Sulfate.  It has a Ph of 5.6 which is acidic for water.

Nestle is a huge company that has acquired many smaller bottled water companies.  They import the two most popular brands of mineral water Perrier and San Pelligrino. (not a big fan of Nestle for many reasons)

Perrier is sparkling, which means it has carbonation that occurs in this case naturally.  Water can be made to sparkle by introducing carbon dioxide artificially as well. (you can now buy one of these machines that will carbonate anything)

Mineral water is considered the “healthy” water because of the minerals contained in it.  Someone who drinks over 1 liter of mineral water/day can get up to 15% of their calcium intake from the water alone.  There was some concerns about the carbonation causing tooth decay because of the carbon dioxide, but that was proven false.

Artesian Water

Source: Underground water under positive pressure that can flow without pumping.  Fiji brand water is one example. Although “artesian” sounds very exotic, artesian just means coming from underground.  A well that flows on it’s own without pumping is also considered “artesian”.

Cost:  approx $2.20/16 oz or $17.90/gal

Contains: various minerals. These are less than 250ppm, and can be silica, fluoride, and bicarbonate among others.

Well Water

Same as artesian, only you have to drill for it.  Where I live, and many other places, well water is consumed regularly from a personal well.  There are a few companies that bottle their waters from wells.   The source of well water is from and aquifer in the bedrock, not just from digging down below the water table.   The contents are similar to artesian water.

Vitamin Water

This really has no business being called “water” at all.  It really is a sweetened beverage.

Source: Processed flavored product using any water they choose.

Cost: anywhere from $1-$4/16 oz depending on the brand. Some popular brands are Vitaminwater, Powerade, Propel, Waddajuice, SoBe Lifewater among others.

Contains: water, vitamins, coloring, sugar or sweeteners. It can also contain preservatives and artificial sweeteners, and caffeine.

In July 2010, a judge ruled that the brand Vitaminwater had to remove claims on their label that it is “healthy” as it contains 33 grams of sugar. (a can of Coke has 39.9)  The 2 major bottling companies, Pepsi and Coke have the majority of the “alternative-to-soft-drink” market.

Coconut Water

The newest member of the water family, coconut water, has exploded onto the stage making claims that it is better than any sports drink. In the last 5 years the coconut water industry went from $0 – $35 million in sales.

Source: from the young green coconut, this is the precursor to coconut milk. While coconut milk is high in fat, coconut water is high in carbs and minerals and is 95% water.

Cost:  $2-4 /11 ounces ($23-46/ gallon)

Coconut water is very high in potassium and also has some sodium and magnesium.  Some testing indicated that coconut water does not re-hydrate any better than plain water as it is the sodium that needs to be replenished when you sweat, not the potassium.  It’s not harmful, but if you read claims that it can cure cancer and prevent diabetes, don’t fall for it.  While I’m a big fan of coconuts, in the end it’s just fruit juice without the fructose (sugar).

Distilled Water

When you take water, no matter where you get it, and put it through a distilling process, you remove everything…I mean everything…but H2O.  Nothing is left behind like pharmaceuticals, fluoride, chlorine, lead, and any other impurities.  Distilled water is really the healthiest water to drink provided it is made alkaline as distilled water is very acidic.  I also like to add some minerals in the form of pink sea salt for taste.  Buying bottles of distilled water may not make the best sense because the acidic water pulls plastic chemicals from the bottle into the water.  You can purchase your own distilling machine which ranges in price from $100-$2000.  I would suggest buying one that has a glass bottle for storage.  Most are electricity driven, but a few are stovetop.  Think about that if you live in an areas where the power goes out often.

By adding baking soda… 1/4 teaspoon/gallon distilled water, you can turn the water alkaline.  I like to add 1/8 teaspoon pink Himilayan salt as well for taste and minerals.

Some facts:

–The bottling companies are left to self monitor their bottling practices.  While the FDA can inspect, they often just rely on the bottlers to report to them as  there is currently a dramatic shortage of FDA inspectors.

–Bottling companies are not required to post bacteria and other contaminate findings.

–Bottled water does not have to meet all the restrictions that are placed on tap water. However their lead restriction is 5 ppb (vs 15 ppb in tap water) because the FDA allows for leeching from lead pipes in tap water.

Testing of bottled waters by various groups found drugs, petroleum chemicals, fertilizers, caffeine, bacteria, and radioactive contaminants.

–drinking mineral water…specifically high Ph or alkaline mineral water… has been linked to a reduced incidence of heart disease and lower cholesterol. 🙂

image from justtrashit.com

The environmental aspect

  • Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year according to the Earth Policy Institute.
  • About 86 percent of plastic water bottles in the U.S. become garbage or litter, according to the Container Recycling Institute in Washington, D.C.
  • Plastic debris in the environment can take between 400 and 1,000 years to degrade.
  • One bottle of Fiji water takes 1 quart of oil to produce when you consider bottling and transportation to the USA.
  • water bottled in plastic may sit in overheated storage facilities and hot trucks.  This can cause the BPA to leech out and into your bottle.  There is not way to know what your plastic bottle has been through before you drink it.

So what should I do?

It depends who you are.

Even though I hate it, I have to say, if you want to save money, tap water is the way to go. Buy a chlorine filter for your tap or fridge to get rid of that harmful chemical at the very least. If you need to take your water with you, purchase a stainless steel bottle that resists bacteria growth and will keep your water cold.

If you are looking for an extra source of minerals to be healthy, and you want to get them from your water, try mineral water. Choose one with a high calcium and magnesium content and a high (alkaline) Ph as many illnesses proliferate in acidic environments. True pure mineral water has no calories and nothing added.

If you’re looking to replace soda with water, then ANYTHING is better, but if you need to wean off the sugar taste, try a flavored water that is flavored with fruit juice and does not have any preservatives or caffeine.  You can find these in carbonated and still. (without carbonation)

If you want something from a vending machine choose what ever is cheapest, but stick to water and not sugar-y flavored water as a healthy choice.

If you’re pregnant  or breast feeding, and you live in an older home (built before 1986, an older home is more likely to have lead pipes) check to see if the lead levels in your water are high. You can have your local water company do this or do it yourself.  The water system publicizes reports on lead content, but the content is general, not on your specific home.  Letting your water run for 30 seconds before you use it is one way to clear out the accumulated lead in the water after it’s been sitting in the pipes for a while.

Drinking just purified water all the time is not the best choice as there should be some amount of mineral content to your water, and drinking just mineral water all the time may give you too much sodium (and it can get pricey!) Standard water filters do not filter out lead.

If you want to hang with the beautiful people, then by all means hold that Bling up high for all the world to gaze at your “in-ness”!

I drink a lot of water.  Most of the water I drink is chlorine-filtered tap water, but I occasionally buy mineral water in glass.  I do use a stainless bottle for travel.  If I go out to eat, I usually like mineral water (bottled in glass) as I love the taste and can always use some extra calcium and magnesium!  I’m trying to save up for a distillation machine.  That’s really the healthiest for cancer avoidance and illness prevention.

I would love to hear your comments!

Sierra Club’s water Campaign

EWG investigation of bottled water

Know your water..The Iowa State University Extension

National Geographic..Bottled water is not healthier than tap

An index of all American waters and their mineral content

EWG’s shelf of shame

Water glossary of terms

Study showing EPA deemed safe levels of arsenic in drinking water lead to pregnant/lactation problems in animal models

Categories: health, health and wellness, healthy living blogs

Tags: , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. I drink a Polar, LA Croix, Syfo, or Perrier sometimes, and occasionally will get a ring in my ears afterward, or a brief heart fluttering. I know I’m sensitive to sodium, or maybe its all the carbonation? Just wondering what that could be, or if others experience.

  2. Checked the pH at “DASANI” and “AQUAFINA” bottled water, and the result was pH = 5.5. For now I add 1/8 tsp. baking soda per 16oz water, to modify the pH from pH=5.5 to pH =7.
    It is obvious that some acid is added to prevent spoiling of the water from the production line to the consumer, but would be fare the kind and amount of the acid to be disclosed on the bottle label.

    • Great! I do this all the time although 1/8 tsp/16 ounces is a bit much and you probably only need literally a pinch. That much may make the water taste “salty”, but it’s up to you. The acid also pulls the plastic chemicals into the water as well…Thanks for the comment!

  3. I guess the minerals are supposed to be coming from the Himalayan Salt. Since it seems to be the purest form of salt without pollutants and with the highest mineral content, it makes sense. I am doing this through a 21 day body reset from Beachbody and they suggest a small amount in your water is good for you. I am cracking salt in my water, I am not sure how much that would amount to, probably less than 1/16 of a teaspoon per 16 oz glass. And drinking between 4-5 L of water a day. But I am also not eating anything processed so my daily sodium intake is way down just because of that reason. I just wondered what you thought, 🙂

    • Interesting…I have used Himalayan salt in cooking and for medicinal purposes for years. If you’re eating a plant=based diet, there is natural sodium in all foods (one carrot for example has 50mg sodium) it’s not the sodium that got me thinking, it’s the amount of particles in the distilled water. if the mineral content is too low in the water, minerals will be pulled from your surrounding soft tissue into your blood to maintain blood pressure and such. That will deplete your mineral stores and can throw your electrolytes off. As I’m sure you know, there is a delicate balance of minerals (calcium, magnesium etc)that needs to be maintained for optimal health.
      Proceed with caution and check the credentials of the person who is advising you. I am not familiar with beachbody, but someone should have some kind of medical or nutrition degree (and I don’t mean from the back of a magazine) Just my opinion…worth what you paid for it 🙂

  4. I wonder what your thoughts are about distilled water? I have recently been drinking this with Pink Himalayan salt and it seems to be great, do you? The idea is that distilled water is in its purest form and then you are adding the minerals back in.

    • I have heard of people doing this. Of course you couldn’t drink distilled water all the time because you do need a certain amount of minerals to maintain a balance in your blood. How do you know how much salt to add?

  5. Hey Sista! Just got your comment on my blog (perks of cancer) so decided to check you out and so glad I did! I recently posted about water on my Healthy Living Page….but I only leave it up for a week. I agree with everything you said. I realized that I was paying more at the gas station for a litre of water than I was paying for a litre of gas…..and I could have had perfectly good clean water from my tap for FREE! Imagine if I could get perfectly good gas for free from a tap, would I still insist on buying it by the bottle…..hmmmmmm.
    I love your style. would you consider doing a guest blog post for me? Please get back to me at edpsychologist@hotmail.com
    Cancer Warrior

  6. Very enlightening. Thanks for the research and information.

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