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Water: The Battle Between Bottled & Tap

Drink bottled water?
Good or Bad?

Drink water. Fitness professionals will tell you it's one of the simplest things you can do if you're trying to adopt healthier habits. No problem you think, drinking water is easy. All you have to do is decide where you're going to get that water.

Should you fill a glass from the tap? Buy the latest bottled water? How about energy or vitamin-infused drinks? Over the last 30 years, the options have exploded, with designer waters being marketed to every segment of society. There are hundreds of choices and dozens of national brands.

Let's take a good look at bottled water.

The popular perception is that bottled water is the safest choice. After all, it's from some pristine spring high in the mountains, right? Wrong.

In 2007 approximately 40% of all bottled water came straight out of a municipal tap. That's right, the water that gets piped to your home for about two-tenths of a penny per gallon is being repackaged in a bottle and sold for 85 cents to over 9 dollars a gallon.

If you're looking to save money, you can save big by taking it right from the tap. But what about the quality? A big selling point for many bottled waters is the halo surrounding them that they're somehow "better" or "more pure."

Don't believe it. Your local municipal water supply is monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they're required to test their water for purity every 24 hours. Bottled waters that aren't sold across state lines, more than 60 percent of all companies, don't fall under the FDA's jurisdiction. So daily testing isn't required.

Without any FDA requirements, that leaves regulation to each of the states. That's another problem. In 2007 one out of five states had no regulations covering the production of bottled water. No independent testing. No monitoring. Not even annual inspections of the facility. There was no oversight at all.

That's where the "infused" waters come in.

Protein and Vitamins have been added to some of the bottled waters to make them appear like healthier options. It sounds good, because everybody knows protein and vitamins can be good for you. Unfortunately, research shows no immediate performance benefits from added protein, and there is no research showing any benefit of adding vitamins to a sports drink.

Oxygenation and/or Herbs are another promotion companies use to entice you to buy, but those are empty come-ons as well. Oxygen used by muscles is absorbed through the lungs, not through the stomach or digestive tract. Paying extra for an oxygenated drink is a waste of money. The same goes for added herbs like ephedra, ginkgo biloba or ginseng. To date, there have been no conclusive studies showing any performance benefits from these herbs and some have been linked to problems like heart attacks and stroke.

Remember, you should be drinking water to improve your health, not damage it with additives.

Want to save money? Think about this. If you buy a 99 cent bottle of water and drink it, you will have spent 99 cents. Now walk over to your faucet and fill that bottle up. You would have to keep refilling that bottle 1,740 more times before it cost you 99 cents. So it's your choice. Spend $1,722.60 on bottled water, or 99 cents filling your glass from the tap.

Then there's the whole environmental issue. Two million plastic beverage bottles are used every five minutes in the United States alone. That's more than 1.5 million barrels of oil just to manufacture the plastic bottles, not counting all the fossil fuels required to ship billions of bottles around the country every month.

Bottled water isn't the cheapest. It isn't the healthiest and it certainly isn't the environmentally friendly option. It just has the best marketing campaign. If your choice is between simple bottled water or the tap, the tap wins without a fight.

That doesn't mean tap water is perfect. In some sections of the country, depending on the minerals in the local water supply, it may smell or taste a little "off." If that's a problem with the water you drink, add a reverse osmosis filter to your sink. Many are available for under $100. Not only can it remove the smell, but it adds another layer of purification to the water you drink.

Finally, if convenience is what you're after, buy some reusable water bottles. Fill them up with tap water and put them in the refrigerator. When you want a drink, your water is waiting. It's the healthiest and most environmentally-friendly choice.

Water Labels - What do they mean? (Definitions provided by the
Environmental Protection Agency.)

Artesian water, groundwater, spring water, well water- water from an underground aquifer which may or may not be treated. Well water and artesian water are tapped through a well. Spring water is collected as it flows to the surface or via a borehole. Groundwater can be either.

Distilled water - steam from boiling water is recondensed and bottled. Distilling water kills microbes and removes water's natural minerals, giving it a flat taste.

Drinking water – water intended for human consumption and sealed in bottles or other containers with no ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable disinfectants. Fluoride may be added within limitations set in the bottled water quality standards.

Mineral water - Groundwater that naturally contains 250 or more parts per million of total dissolved solids.

Purified water - water that originates from any source but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia definition of purified water. Purified water is essentially free of all chemicals (it must not contain more than ten parts per million of total dissolved solids). It must also be free of microbes if treated by distillation or reverse osmosis. Purified water may alternately be labeled according to how it is treated.

Sterile water - water that originates from any source but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia standards for sterilization. Sterilized water is free from all microbes.

Note: Carbonated water, soda water, seltzer water, sparkling water, and tonic water are considered soft drinks and are not regulated as bottled water.

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