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Is Bottled Water Healthier Than Tap Water?

Young man pouring fresh water

Hydration has become big business in recent years and the mind-boggling variety of water choices at the grocery store is proof. Flavored, unflavored, sparkling, distilled, purified, artesian and spring water – the choices are endless. Often labeled as healthier, natural and pure, some brands go so far as to claim their products will boost vitality and energy levels. And, although these designer hydration products don’t come cheap, people are buying them by the shopping-cart load.

A recent advisory by the EPA warns that even tiny amounts of chemicals found in drinking water can pose risks. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are manmade compounds found in many consumer products that have found their way into our water source. However, they’ve been traced to bottled water as well.

So what can you do? A variety of water filters and bottled water options exist. Let’s take a closer look to help you decide.

Tap Water: Filters May Help

The water that comes out of your faucet is filtered, disinfected and often contains added fluoride to prevent tooth decay. Safety standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and enforced by the town, city or state where you live. So, in general, tap water is good, cheap and safe to drink.

Some people choose to filter their tap water, either by attaching a filter to the faucet or refrigerator, using a filtered pitcher, or by installing a whole-house or under-the-sink filtration system. Different filters remove different chemicals, but most will remove or reduce contaminants such as chlorine, iron, sulfur and bacteria. Filtered water often tastes and smells better, but isn’t necessarily safer or better for you – in fact, some filters may remove the fluoride, which is beneficial for dental health. The filters also need to be replaced regularly to continue working properly.

Consumers have multiple choices when it comes to home filtration systems, some of which can remove many, although not all, of the PFAS chemicals from their drinking water. The two most common types of filters include:

  • Granular activated carbon (GAC). GAC filters are typically those installed in a water pitcher or refrigerator. Although they vary widely in their ability to filter out PFAS, they have proven effective in removing certain chemicals and objectionable odors from drinking water.
  • Reverse osmosis. Thought to be more effective at removing PFAS, these whole-house filtration systems push water through a special membrane and several other filters to remove sediment, dirt and chemicals from the water.

To filter or not-to-filter your tap water is a personal choice. The one exception is if you live in an area where the water supply is known to have high levels of contaminants. In this situation, it is a good idea to invest in a high quality water filtration system or buy bottled water for drinking.

Shopping the Bottled Water Aisle

All bottled waters are regulated by the FDA and are safe to drink. Some have flavors and/or additives, so if calories or sugar are an issue, be sure to check labels for added sweeteners.

Here’s a quick look at the different kinds of water available for purchase:

Water that is labeled “purified” has been put through a process of reverse osmosis, meaning it is forced through a membrane to filter out chemicals, microbes and minerals.

Water that is sourced from an underground aquifer – a body of porous rock in the earth’s surface that is saturated with groundwater. When the aquifer is positioned between layers of nonporous rock, it puts the rock and the water it contains under intense pressure. This pressure can force the water out of the aquifer and allow it to rise to the surface naturally, or the aquifer can be tapped by a well – called an artesian well – to collect the water it contains.

Some claim that the natural pressure acts to filter contaminants and add beneficial minerals; however, government agencies state that artesian water is really no different from regular groundwater.

Similar to artesian water, spring water comes from underground aquifers. It is essentially groundwater that has been naturally filtered as it rises to the earth’s surface through rocks like limestone, sandstone and clay. This process of natural filtration adds a range of minerals, including magnesium and calcium, which is why spring water may also be referred to as mineral water.

Distilled water is steam from boiling water that has been cooled and returned to its liquid state. Distillation eliminates contaminants but it also removes more than 99.9 percent of the minerals in the water, making it essentially flavorless. If purity, not taste, is your priority, distilled water is as pure as it gets. It is usually sold in gallon jugs and is the least expensive type of bottled water.

Electrolyte water is purified water with electrically-charged minerals added, including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Electrolytes are essential for many body functions and can be lost during strenuous exercise and sweating. This type of water is typically more expensive but may be a good choice for athletes or anyone involved in physically challenging activities that cause fluid loss through sweating.

Sparkling is just another word for carbonated – water that has been infused with carbon dioxide gas under pressure. Unflavored sparkling water may be sold as club soda or seltzer water and contains zero calories. Flavored sparkling waters are available in countless varieties and are a popular choice; however, many have added sugar, fruit juice or artificial sweeteners so it’s important to read the nutrition labels if calories and/or sugar content are a concern.

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Regardless of the type of water you choose for you and your family, it’s important to remember that adequate hydration and smart dietary choices are essential for good health. The clinical nutrition experts at University Hospitals are always available to help you craft a nutrition plan to help you meet your health and fitness goals.