Pure preference? So many products: But is bottled water really better than tap?
Amie Streater @PensacolaNewsJournal.com
It’s as common as the air we breathe and, usually, just about as cheap.
But Americans pay big bucks to drink bottled water, for reasons ranging from better health to cleaner taste to higher prestige.
But is it any better for you? And what are you getting for your money?
The answers depend on who you ask, what you’re seeking from the water you drink and what brand of bottled water you buy.
According to experts on both sides of the bottled versus tap water debate, the choice can be a matter of life and death.
“Bottled water is better because you have consistency, higher quality and better taste, and you don’t get sick from it,” said Arthur von Wiesenberger, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based “water master” who oversees judging at the annual Berkeley Springs, W.Va., International Water Tasting Competition, which took place Friday and Saturday.
“People have gotten sick and died from tap water,” said von Wiesenberger, 49, whose lifelong obsession with bottled water began when, at age 12, he got typhoid from drinking tap water in Rome, where he lived at the time.
“It’s not a nice disease,” he said.
Yet the Natural Resources Defense Council cautions that bottled water is “subject to less rigorous testing and purity standards than those which apply to city tap water,” therefore “some bottled water may present a health threat to people with weakened immune systems, such as the frail elderly, some infants, transplant or cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS.”
What’s a thirsty soul to do?
Up to 25 percent of the bottled water sold in the U.S. is actually processed tap water, according to von Wiesenberger’s Web site, www.bottledwaterweb.com, touted as the definitive bottled water site.
“The label will tell you a lot,” said von Wiesenberger, who has also written several books about drinking water.
Not that there’s anything wrong with processed tap water, which includes the popular brands Dasani and Aquafina.
“I think Dasani and Aquafina are acceptable products, but it’s comparing apples and oranges. They are like the screw-top wines of the world,” he said. “Waters that are bottled at the source are like a good chateau wine. They are both water, but they are very different.
“If you’re paying a dollar (for processed water) and you can get a bottle of natural spring water for the same price, I think you get more value when you buy the real thing versus buying something that is processed,” von Wiesenberger said.
“It’s up to the consumer what they want to spend their money on.”
Of course, von Wiesenberger has a water cellar in his home and trains tasting judges on such esoteric matters as a water’s “mouthfeel” and aftertaste.
For the rest of us, tap water is perfectly fine, said Dr. John Lanza, director of the Escambia County Health Department. “I drink ECUA (Escambia County Utilities Authority) water,” he said.
“I have no problems drinking ECUA water. I know there are people who will only drink bottled water and that’s fine, but the tap water here is perfectly fine to drink. Water from any of the water utilities around here is perfectly fine water to drink.”
Lanza said drinking water is simply a matter of personal choice, not a health question.
“I can’t tell someone not to buy bottled water, but from a health point of view, there is no reason to do it unless you like the taste of water out of a plastic bottle, which I do not,” Lanza said.
“Do I think you’re getting healthier water or cleaner water? No. Are you spending money unnecessarily? Perhaps. “The (tap) water around here is tested regularly, and the results are made public.”
Susan Shimel, clinical nutrition manager and registered dietitian at West Florida Hospital, said the main advantage she sees for bottled water is shelf life.
“If you’re preparing for a war or a hurricane and you need to keep something more shelf stable, you might want to stock up on bottled water,” Shimel said. “But I don’t think you’re getting better nutritional value for your money.”
Shimel drinks both bottled and tap water.
“If I’m going to a dog show, I may not have time to run and get water,” she said. “It’s a convenience more than anything.” Then there’s the cache factor, as well. “There is a social acceptability to it,” Shimel said of bottled water. “It satisfies a psychological need.”
And there’s another benefit to reaching for a bottle of H2O when you’re out and about, Shimel advises: “If you’re trying to cut down on your alcohol intake, you may feel more comfortable, while everyone is raising a bottle of beer, to raise a bottle of water.” Label lingo A close reading of the label will tell you exactly what kind of water you’re drinking.
“Natural spring water”: The water must have come from an orifice in the Earth from which water flows naturally to have the word “spring” on the label. Examples: Evian and Zephyrhills.
“Purified water” or “purified drinking water”: This is municipal drinking water that has undergone additional purification processes, such as reverse osmosis, deionization or activated carbon filtration. Examples: Dasani and Aquafina.
“Enhanced water” or “fitness water”: This is lightly flavored water with added vitamins and/or minerals. Examples: Propel Fitness Water and Aquafina Essentials.
“Artesian water”: This water must come from a source that flows above the water table. Example: Fiji.
“Naturally sparkling”: This naturally carbonated water comes from a spring. Example: Badoit.
“Mineral water”: This contains at least 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids. Examples: Perrier and Pellegrino.
Sources: https://www.bottledwaterweb.com/ and active.com