Water, Water Everywhere
Flowing from taps and bottles, the world’s favorite beverage
comes in an array of choices
by Claire Sykes
You bathe in it and boat on it; cook with it and clean with it; spray your garden with it and, when you’re at the beach, sometimes you just want to look at it. And when it comes to drinking it, water couldn’t be more important for you.
There’s more water in your body than any other substance. It absorbs nutrients, carries them (along with oxygen) to your cells, carts off cellular waste and regulates your body temperature. It also is one of the best things you can swig for quenching a thirst. But since your body can’t store it your system asks for water every day, at least six to eight eight-ounce glasses (some of which comes from the food you eat).
So go ahead and turn on the tap: The United States has some of the safest municipal drinking water in the world. The quality does vary though, with some water sources containing more bacteria, pesticides or contamination (generally from lead or copper pipes) than others. The idea of all that muck in the water, even if it’s not enough to harm you, may impel you to attach a commercial filter to your faucet or main water line, or pour tap water from a pitcher with a carbon filter.
Water By the Bottle
Or maybe you’ll just reach for bottled water. You would then join the more than 50% of all Americans who buy bottled water, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org), amounting to $4 billion a year in sales.
Because that water is in a bottle, however, doesn’t mean it’s cleaner, safer or better-tasting than what spills out from your kitchen faucet. “Just as tap water quality varies from city to city, bottled water quality will vary from one product to the next, depending upon the quality of the source water and the treatment it undergoes at the bottling facility,” says Chris Dunn, general manager of the National Sanitation Foundation’s International Beverage Quality/Bottled Water Certification Program (www.nsf.org).
Wherever it originates from, you can be sure someone is watching out for your water’s welfare. “Bottled water is regulated as a packaged food product by the Federal Drug Administration, which mandates stringent standards to help ensure its consistent safety, quality and good taste,” says the FDA’s Michael Herndon. Another federal organization, the Environmental Protection Agency, regulates tap water. “By law, FDA bottled water standards must be at least as stringent and protective of public health as EPA standards for municipal drinking water systems,” Herndon says.
“Bottled water products are normally categorized according to the source of the water and the methods used by the bottler to treat it,” says Dunn. So make sure the label reads “bottled at the source,” with a specific location, and that the bottler is a member of the IBWA (International Bottled Water Association). The water’s mineral, sodium and fluoride content is a matter of personal preference. Whatever sloshes around inside them, commercial drinking-water bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Approved by the FDA, PET won’t harm the contents.
With so many water choices, which bottle do you grab? Here’s a guide to help you make a wise water choice.
A well that taps a confined aquifer—an underground layer of porous rock that contains water—in which the water level rises above the aquifer yields artesian water, named after a former French province where some experts believe the first wells were drilled. When the aquifer is tapped, the pressure from layers of rock or clay surrounding it pushes the water up to the surface.
In contrast, spring water flows naturally from an underground formation up to the earth’s surface. It is collected at the spring, or pumped up from the source though a borehole. Nothing can be added after the water is collected.
Water from municipal water sources is considered purified, just like natural water straight from a spring or aquifer. Tap water has been treated—by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or any other process that meets the US Pharmacopoeia definition of “purified”—to remove harmful substances.
All tap water is treated before being distributed to consumers. But you can clean the water from your tap even further but using either a carbon-filter pitcher or attaching a commercial filter to your kitchen faucet or house main line. Depending on the type of filter, it can block dangerous contaminants via physical obstruction, chemical absorption or both—before they reach your drinking glass.
Distilled water is that which has been evaporated into vapor, leaving most of its mineral content behind, then condensed back into liquid form. Distilled water is used for drinking as well as for curling irons, humidifiers and other appliances because of its low mineral content, which prevents clogging.
When an atom or molecule gains either a positive or negative charge, it has been ionized. Do that to drinking water molecules with a home water ionizer, and you isolate the water’s acid and alkaline content. This type of water is believed to help your blood carry oxygen effectively and to neutralize free radicals, harmful molecules than can cause cellular damage.
Mineral water includes, not surprisingly, such minerals as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, chromium, lithium and copper. Among other criteria, mineral water must contain “no more than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids...[and] have a constant level and relative proportions of minerals and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source,” according to the FDA. No minerals may be added after the water is collected.
Soda, seltzer and tonic waters may look like bottled water, but technically they are classified as soft drinks because they contain added sweeteners and/or chemicals. Regulations state that if bottled water is flavored, any extracts or essences must add up to less than one-percent-by-weight of the total contents, otherwise it is officially a soft drink.
Sparkling water—mineral, spring, tap or other—is water that contains carbon dioxide, whether natural or added. The carbonation is what gives the water its fizz.
No matter how you pour it, make sure you get plenty of water every day for peak well-being.