Growing up, if I wanted a drink of water, I’d simply turn on the faucet, stick my glass under it, and drink to my heart’s content. On hot summer days, I remember gulping water right from the garden hose without a thought about where it came from or whether or not it was contaminated. These, along with the water fountains in my school, are the places I got my drinking water from.
Then, during the mid ‘70s, for the first time, Perrier introduced Americans to the concept of bottled water in individual servings. Since that time, due in large part to growing skepticism regarding the quality of our drinking water, the consumption of bottled water in the United States has increased to 8.6 billion gallons per year (about 29 gallons per person). The dizzying array of selections to choose from, including, among myriad others--Avita, Aquafina, Deer Park, Poland Spring, and Nestle Pure Life--has grown to include pricey designer water from faraway places like Fiji; New Zealand; Germany's Eifel mountains; Lombardy, Italy; and, yes, even Tasmania (that’s150 miles southeast of mainland Australia). Now that drinking bottled water has become associated not only with healthy living but with social status, some people are willing to pay upwards of $3 per bottle for these trendy transparent life-giving staples.
Today the serious business of selling and distributing bottled water has reached new levels of sophistication. Upscale restaurants now offer water lists along with their wine lists, and in 2009, Fine H2O, a premium water importer and distribution company, announced the opening of the first water bar and store in the United States: Fine H2O Boutique, offering gourmet bottled waters and beverage products for retail purchase and distribution to select restaurants, hotels, spas, and nightclubs across the country.
By visiting Fine H2O’s web site www.fineh2o.com consumers can gain a full appreciation of the “balance”, “virginality”, “minerality”, “orientation”, “hardness”, and “vintage” of the “still”, “effervescent”, “light carbonated”, “classic carbonated”, and “bold carbonated” waters they offer. Once sufficiently enlightened, they can confidently advance to navigating Fine H2Os boutique gallery of luxury water and opt to purchase a case of twelve 820 ml bottles of 420 Still water for $45.00 (that’s 27.7ounces per bottle @ $3.75 each). According to Fine H2O, this water comes from the 420 artesian spring situated at the base of the South Islands Banks Peninsula, an extinct volcano. Hundreds of years ago, this water fell on the Southern Alps and has for several generations filtered through the surrounding volcanic rock formation from over 20 meters below the surface under its own pressure.
If the website creates a thirst for further investigation, customers can peruse Fine Waters: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Most Distinctive Bottled Waters by Michael Mascha, who claims his book “turns water into wine”. In addition to instilling a deep appreciation for the unique and nuanced characteristics of individual waters into his readers, he offers them food and water pairing recommendations, stemware suggestions, and proper serving temperatures. Also covered is the topic of “mouthfeel”—the way the water feels in your mouth—kind of like the crunch, firmness, or softness that we ascribe to the foods we eat.
For the rest of us who do not aspire to such sophistication and would never consider spending $3.75 for a little over 27 ounces of water (no matter what its pedigree), I’ve included some helpful information for the hundreds of brands of bottled spring, mineral, distilled, and purified waters still within our reach.
According to a 2007 article in Life Extension Magazine by Dr. William Davis entitled, “Is Your Bottled Water KILLING YOU?”, 80% of the hundreds of brands of bottled water sold in the U.S. are processed water. Many of them are simply tap water purified by distillation, reverse osmosis, deionization, or filtration. The problem, Dr. Davis warns, is that while these processes reduce impurities like lead, nitrates, and pesticide residues and result in better tasting water, they also leave the water devoid of mineral content. Bottled water also lacks the fluoride added to tap water by many municipal treatment facilities. While the Food and Drug Administration (responsible for regulating bottled water) permits producers to add it back, few of them do. According to Dr. Davis, the other 20% of bottled water coming from natural sources—artesian, well, spring, or mineral waters—is typically richer in mineral content than processed waters, but the difference is still minute.
Years ago, essential minerals like calcium and magnesium were readily ingested from the water we drank. Today, the way we obtain our water has changed all of that. As a result, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that most Americans do not receive the recommended dietary allowance of magnesium (420 mg for adult males and 320 mg for adult females). Dr. Davis points out that “the implications of this widespread magnesium deficiency are frightening, inasmuch as communities with low magnesium content in drinking water show increased rates of sudden death. Magnesium plays hundreds of crucial roles in the body, including suppressing unstable heart rhythms, controlling blood pressure, maintaining insulin sensitivity, and regulating over 300 enzymes. Attaining optimal magnesium levels is an absolute requirement for good health.”
Fortunately, in addition to supplements, there are many food sources that are rich in magnesium—nuts, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and oat bran are among the best—that can easily be added to our diets, since our bottled water sources are so lacking in this essential mineral (Evian contains a mere 24 mg of magnesium per liter and Pellegrino Sparkling Mineral Water just 55.9 mg per liter).
Another thing to consider when purchasing bottled water are the warnings regarding microorganism and chemical contamination that consumer groups have long cautioned us about. In a 2005 article, “Bottled Water Full of Health of Full of Hype?”, author, speaker, and nutrition & health coach, Kelly Hayford reported that 500,000 liters of Coca-Cola’s Dasani brand water were recalled in England due to excessive levels of bromate, a carcinogenic chemical. She further pointed out that The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that one-fifth of the bottled waters it tested exceeded unenforceable state or industry bacteria guidelines. According to a 2007 Natural Life article entitled “Bottled Water Or Tap Water?”, a four-year study by the NRDC tested more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of bottled water and found that while most bottled water tested was of good quality, some results were “spotty”. Furthermore, the NRDC warns that because the FDA’s rules do not apply to water packaged and sold within the same state, it completely exempts 60-70% of the bottled water sold in the U.S. from its bottled water standards.
Of course, there is always the concern about the toxic chemicals that may leach into the water from the plastic bottles that contain it. According to a 2009 article in Natural Health & Vegetarian Life, women should avoid drinking bottled water that has been left in a hot car since the heat causes the plastic of the bottle to release highly toxic dioxins into the water. Bottled water heated this way has been linked to high levels of dioxins found in breast cancer tissue. Freezing water in plastic bottles should also be avoided since doing so also releases dioxins from the plastic.
With so many messages coming from our water bottles, fortunately there is an equal (or, perhaps, greater) amount of reliable, well-researched information from highly-credible organizations and watchdog groups to help us decipher them. Founded in 1958, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) works to protect the public health through a uniform comprehensive system of labeling standards for bottled water. IBWA members are required to undergo mandatory annual inspections of their plants conducted by outside third-party organizations to assess compliance with all applicable regulations. Accurate and reliable information regarding the bottled water of its member companies is available at www.bottledwater.org/bottled-water-brands. You can also check the NRDC’s study listing contaminants found in various brands at www.nrdcorg/water/drinking/bw/appa.asp, and for a water analysis provided by leading bottlers visit www.bottledwaterweb.com.
As with so many other things, our fast-paced, progressive world has made something as simple as taking a drink of water an increasingly serious and complicated matter. Fast-forward from the days when we received nutrient-rich water, freely and in abundance from open, pristine sources to the twenty-first century where progress and industry have led us from the end of a spigot, to the necks of highly-questionable plastic bottles, headlong into the devices of very clever and acquisitive marketeers. As wary, informed, and responsible consumers, however, we still have the power to make certain that what we allow ourselves to be influenced by and ultimately entrust our well-being to is both completely authentic and entirely wholesome.