When it comes to bottled water, there are numerous types on the market: mineral, spring, artesian, purified, flavoured and alkaline water, to name a few. Stroll through any supermarket and you’ll be taken aback by the sheer diversity of choice. It’s a struggle to know which water is the best because there are just too many options. Each brand claiming to have wildly impressive additional health benefits. Some swear by glacial meltwater or whatever designer water is currently trending. It’s difficult not to make sweeping judgements about bottled water, there has to be more that just hype. But which is better for your health and do they all just do the same thing, keep you hydrated.
Is water well, just water?
Tap water in the UK is among the safest in the world, according to Dr Jim Marshall, the senior policy adviser at Water UK. It passes more than 99.9 per cent of quality tests. There are more standards regulating tap water than those applied to the bottled water industry. But despite this, whether it stems from concern about tap water, clever marketing or a fondness for a crisper, cleaner flavour, bottled water is hugely popular and is going from strength to strength.
So, what exactly are these different waters? Some of the larger water companies have admitted that their bottled water is nothing more than filtered tap water, so what you are actually paying for are large advertising campaigns and wonderfully designed packaging.
The UK bottled water market is worth £2.4 billion and has grown year-on-year since 2012. The total bottled water production stood at over 2,700 million litres last year. It’s no different in America, where consumers shell out $16 billion annually. Clearly the advertising men are doing a great job of selling something that we all need to stay alive.
Spring water comes from an underground source and must be collected at the spring or through a borehole tapping the spring’s source, according to the International Bottled Water Association.
Mineral water is natural water that has a constant level and relative proportions of mineral and trace elements, containing no less than 250 parts per million totals of dissolved solids, according to the water association. No extra minerals can be added to it.
Purified water the Bottled Water association defines as water that has been highly treated through distillation, deionization or other suitable processes in order to meet certain standards before being sold. Most bottled waters use this method.
Artesian water is derived from a well that taps a specific layer of rock or sand.
Filtered water is the home- made version of purified water, by using a water filter jug like Brita or water filter taps also referred to as 3-way kitchen tap, which filters the water automatically.
Alkaline water has a higher pH level than tap water. Natural alkaline water can occur when water picks up minerals from areas such as springs, when it passes over rocks in the environment or can be produced by water filter systems called ionizers.
Ionized water has antioxidant properties. Therefore, what you get is an abundance of hydrated minerals. It is said to taste better than regular water, Its filtered and purified by machine.
Flavoured and enhanced water Some varieties boast beneficial antioxidants from plant extracts, tea and fruit juices. It’s best to look for brands that are free of calories, sweeteners and artificial ingredients.
Sparkling waters are acidic. Carbonation introduces carbon dioxide, which lowers the pH level and increases the acidity. These can replace fizzy drinks like lemonade and soda water.
Coconut water forms naturally in the fruit and contains 94% water. It’s a good source of fibre, vitamin C and several other minerals. Evidence shows that coconut water may be no more effective than drinking plain water. But the potassium it contains can be a benefit to you, particularly after sports.
Artesian water is from underground wells, whilst spring water comes from surface water and mineral water (which accounts for the lion’s share 45% of the UK market) comes from natural springs rich in minerals like salt and sulphur compounds. Some of these like Buxton and Harrogate Spa have been famous for their healthy water for hundreds of years. I did drink water from a natural spring during a stay in Spain and the taste was more pleasant that tap water, which isn’t drunk very often my the locals.
A cheap way of purifying tap water for some time has been the Brita water filter system, I have used these myself in the past. There have been some recent health concerns raised. One of the downsides of filters is keeping them maintained, and if you don’t, they can become a hazard in themselves because of the potential hygiene risk. The filter can grow mould and break down and impart material in to the water and old filter’s are less effective. So, you’re could be drinking tap water with contaminants and whatever else has grown in the old filter. (As water attracts bacteria) Experts stress that there are no specific health benefits to water filters and its a matter of personal preference, but that filters should always be changed regularly.
You might have seen alkaline water in recent years, become popular due to a belief that it may benefit health. There’s not really a lot of evidence either supporting the health claims that are made about alkaline water or refuting the claims. A pH level is a measure of how acidic or alkaline something is. Tap water has a PH level of 7 containing one acidic hydrogen ion (H+) and one basic hydroxide ion (OH-), balancing each other out to make water neutral. Most alkaline waters lie in the PH range of 8 or 9, due to addition of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It been thought to provide better hydration, especially for athletes.
Water filter systems called ionizers are home appliance’s that claims to raise the pH level of drinking water by using electrolysis to separate the incoming water stream into acidic and alkaline components. These are often combined with Reverse Osmosis systems. To give the water a healthier mineral content it often has to be put through an ioniser as purified water (RO) tends to be acidic.
Reverse Osmosis uses a semi-permeable membrane system to remove ions, impurities, minerals and molecules to create pure water. Some systems have a remineralization filter which adds calcium and magnesium and other healthy mineral’s back into the water. During the purification process quite a lot of water is wasted and the costs involved can be high.
Plain drinking water can be a bit uninspiring and adding a wedge of lime or lemon to the water can help to improve the taste. Many prefer flavoured waters instead and it’s easy and healthier to make flavoured water at home. Simply add your favourite sliced fruits to cold water and the longer you let it sit, the stronger the flavour. To add a little bit of excitement you can try mixing fruits and herbs: grapefruit, strawberries, berries, lemon, lime, cucumber, ginger, celery, basil, mint and lavender. Pinterest has a lot of wonderful ideas. Invest in a carafe or Kilner jar, so it not only tastes great it looks lovely too. I have a reusable water bottle which has a lift-out section for adding extras in the centre. Re-usable water bottles are the best to use and a huge range of bottles and designs are on sale, for every taste. Some even show how much you have drunk during the day.
Who knew that water could vary so much? But as long as you are drinking it in some form or other, that’s fine!