Bottled Water vs Tap Water: Is the Extra Money Really Worth It?

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A glass of water next to a faucet, the phrase "VS" and water being poured out of a bottle into a glass.

We’ve never been more informed about our health as now in today’s fitness crazed world. More fitness apps populate the internet than one can count. Diet fads come and go like seasons and days of the week.

But one firm truth holds: drinking water is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But some ad campaigns maintain that only bottled water is safe for drinking.

Other research says tap water is better for us overall than bottled water. Is the bottled water vs tap water debate ever going to come to an end? Which is fundamentally better for us to drink: bottled water or tap water?

And if we believe big bottle water companies, we should shell out whatever is necessary to buy a bottled liter or gallon of water fresh from the hills of Evian.

Should we take the side of dissenting research, we can save our pretty pennies and drink filtered water from the tap. Bottled water vs tap water is a raging debate. Let’s see where the facts weigh in.

A graphic explaining the various health aspects of dehydration.

Benefits of Drinking Water

Water is second only to oxygen as essential for human survival. In fact the human body is 75% composed of water.

Thus even with the bottled water vs tap water debate, getting water in the system by hook or by crook is important.

Here is why:

  • Water regulates body temperature when we sweat, dissipating cold and heat, and removing toxins from the body.
  • Water moistens the lungs to aid in the breathing process.
  • The kidneys purge wastes by dissolving them in water.
  • 75% of the body weight supported by the spinal cord is done so with the aid of water volume stored in the spine.
  • 85% of the brain tissue is water and the brain uses up 1/20th of the blood supply to the body.
  • Dehydration can play a critical role in causing depression, migraines, overheating, heat stroke and other ailments. Drinking water staves off these maladies.
  • Drinking water helps to maintain an equilibrium between bodily fluids which aid in digestion, circulation, and regulating body temperature.
  • Water can regulate calories and control weight. In fact drinking cold water helps to boost metabolism. That in turn burns more calories throughout the day.
  • Water fuels the muscles. If cells run low on water, unable to maintain a healthy balance in fluids and electrolytes, they ultimately diminish and cause muscle fatigue.
  • Drinking water helps to keep the skin looking young and fresh. Dehydration can cause the appearance of wrinkles, dry skin and shriveling.
  • Water boosts the immune system helping to fight off stubborn illnesses and fatigue.

Why Drink Bottled Water?

Bottles of water.

Before we weigh in on the bottled water vs tap water debate, let’s run the numbers on why proponents for bottled water and proponents for tap water sing their respective praises.

Bottled water fans and advocates point to the newest wave of products that are infused with vitamins and minerals that ordinary H20 doesn’t boast. Take a look at the aisles in any grocery store and you’ll find a plethora of super fitness waters brimming with an added punch in the way of fluoride, calcium, and magnesium for example.

Some of these waters swear to replenish all the missing fluids drained during a vigorous workout, faster than any regular water can. But that’s yet to be proven. What is certain, with more than 3000 brands of bottled water on the market, there is no shortage of options for finding a bottled water product for every occasion.

And of those thousands of brands there are 5 sub genres:

  • Artesian: water that filters through a porous rock, gravel or sand (i.e. Fiji)
  • Mineral: still or sparkling water that contains at least 250 mg/liter of dissolved calcium, magnesium, sodium, and other ingredients
  • Sparkling: effervescent water that naturally receives its carbonation from minerals or volcanic gases (i.e. Perrier)
  • Spring: natural water that comes from an underground source
  • Enhanced: waters enriched with electrolytes, vitamins and minerals

Americans alone spend millions on bottled water. In the economic war of bottled water vs tap water, clearly bottled water wins with sales. But why is drinking bottled water beneficial?

According to the CDC, bottled water may help people with weakened immune systems better defend themselves against parasites like Cryptosporidium which causes some nasty symptoms like watery diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. People with immune deficiency are at particular risk for succumbing to waterborne illnesses they may otherwise get from the tap.

Bottled water that uses reverse osmosis, filtration and distillation aims to curb those risks significantly. Another benefit from using bottled water vs using tap water is that bottled water can be infused with fluoride to help growing babies as they’re nursed through infancy.

However, as you’ll see in a moment, the very same argument can be made for tap water vs bottled water with regards to getting a healthy intake of fluoride.

Further, bottled water is convenient. It’s never been easier to transport water from one place to the other without worry of the container in which you transport it being too big and bulky. There are even new digestible containers set to hit the market.

Why Drink Tap Water?

A tap with a drop of water hanging from it.

Is tap water better than bottled water? Part of the answer to that question can be subjective, relative to personals tastes. But when it comes to just pure science, tap water has its bright pluses.

Tap water boasts all the essential nutrients and minerals that bottled water claims to have over it in the bottled water vs tap water debate. The only differences between the two really come down to how enhanced bottled water may be, levels of purity, quality and price.

Nothing quite beats the word “free.” And until Evian, Vitamin Water, and Pellegrino decide to dump all their product on the consumer public with no price tag attached, tap water wins hands down in the money saving department.

In penny pinching times like these, most people are eager to save at every opportunity they get. So drinking from the tap instead of splurging at the store is one viable option to cut back on costs.

Another plus to drinking tap water is that tap water in the western world is already fortified with the minerals and nutrients we need to keep running on all cylinders. In fact, for those of us nursing babies, fluoride naturally occurs in water. If anything, pushing the levels of fluoride in water up may run the risk of causing fluorosis in babies.

Secondly, your tap water probably comes from a spring source that like some of the bottled brands of spring water has the exact same nutritional content, just minus the fancy bottle in which to package it. If you don’t want to take my word for it, look at Nestle’s own legal issues with false advertising claims.

The powerhouse brand has been hit with allegations of selling bottled tap water and not bottled filtered water. While big bottled water companies would have the general public believe that bottled water vs tap water is ultimately better for us, some of the very same companies are stocking shelves with water bottled at the tap.

We can assume they’re doing this for one of a few reasons:

  1. to save money,
  2. no difference in quality,
  3. more readily and easily saturate the market with available product in order to quell supply vs demand.

We’ve all heard about the climate change scourge hitting us. In the bottled water vs tap water argument, nothing says going green stronger than drinking from the tap. We create far less of a carbon footprint by avoiding plastic bottles that take ages to decompose naturally when we simply drink from the tap.

Imagine the legions of plastic bottle islands (over 1.5 billion tons of plastic bottles) slowly but surely amassing in your local waste dump (if they’ve not been recycled). Now whittle that down to absolutely nothing when you simply fill a glass from your very own tap.

Convenience is a big factor in drinking tap water vs bottled water. While you can lug your bottled water with you while on the go, what do you do when you run out of bottled water? The tap is always at the ready, there to keep you hydrated. It’s no hassle to go to the sink and fill a glass. But having to make several trips to the grocery store to stock up on bottled water can ultimately be a chore.

Further tap water is highly regulated by the FDA, checking for traces of E. Coli and other dreadful contagions and parasites that can wreak havoc on our health. Unlike bottled water that isn’t held to the same regulatory standards as the tap, tap water undergoes some heavy screening to make sure the public isn’t exposed to vicious health threats.

In Canada, tap water is screened aggressively for our nasty little friend Cryptosporidium. Bottled waters just aren’t held to that same level of scrutiny our very own taps undergo.

Having pointed out all those bright qualities to tap water, the question still remains. Is tap water better than bottled water? Perhaps it’s worth looking at the risks involved with drinking either one.

Risks From Bottled Water vs Tap Water?

Water being poured into a glass.

We know what the benefits are from drinking tap water and bottled water. But what are the risks involved from drinking bottled water vs tap water?

First there are the obvious concerns with bottled water. The plastic bottle container itself has been held to some serious scrutiny. Bisphenol-a (BPA), a component of the polycarbonate used in the production of plastic water bottles, has been linked to a number of health risks, including enlargement of the prostate, reproductive problems, breast cancer, obesity and sexual development issues.

While BPA is generally digested and excreted through the urine within 24 hours, some residue can remain within the body.

How does BPA enter the body?

  • When plastics are heated up, the chemical releases into the food. For example a microwave tupperware dish containing food may in actuality be no different than a bottled water sitting in the sun. The BPA contained in the water bottle and in the tupperware releases directly into the food or water and then is digested in the human body.
  • Physically handling plastic bottles can transfer BPA into the body. The same is true for receipts.

Another glaring issue is transparency. Bottled water vs tap water debates tend to fall along finely drawn lines of ethics. In the case of bottled water, companies are not aggressively compelled to list the source of their water, how it was bottled, and if and how it was filtered and/or treated.

In fact as strange as it may seem, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has little pull in controlling bottled water companies. We may never fully know what we are getting in our bottled water. It could be tap water bottled at the source for all we know. Or it could be poorly filtered water in a pretty bottle.

In fact Nneka Leiba, an environmental researcher for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) spoke with CNN on EWG’s investigation of bottled water companies. She said with regards to some of the leading brands being the least likely to be forthcoming with their water ingredients, “We’re really pushing for a consumer’s right to know what’s in their water.”

However, we may be a long way off from every truly knowing what’s in the water. Many of these waters are actually imported and are subject to varying levels of regulation in their respective host nations.

Bottled water is not required to be tested for fecal matter or E. Coli. While one would hope that no bottled water company would subject its paying customers to such dangerous agents, unless a company submits to transparent testing and conforms to the same standards that tap water is held to; we’ll never know. That being the case, if a bottled water product is rife with any parasites, contagions, viruses, etc.; we run the risk of falling dangerously ill.

And yet another shocker is that bottled water may actually contribute to tooth decay. Over the past few years the upsurge in bottled water that is non-fluoridated has been dramatic. Bottled water can actually dilute the benefits of fluoride.

When we increasingly turn to bottled water vs tap water as our source of hydration, we deprive ourselves of our necessary daily intake of fluoride. Not only do we shell out more money for the product, our teeth lack the proper amounts of fluoride to protect against decay.

Fluoride makes the surface of the tooth more resistant to decay. If bottled water companies consciously remove fluoride from our drinking water, we are actively subjecting ourselves to tooth decay in our future. It’s the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that bottled water may actually be harmful to our teeth. But the reality is mortifying.

Tap water for its part can equally play havoc on our health. Many of the water delivery systems used in US cities’ municipal water supply is pre World War I era. Meaning the very pipes and transport systems through which we receive our drinking water is aging. An aging pipe for example can leak dangerous contaminants into our water supply (i.e. lead). And they fail to filter out modern day contaminants like pesticides and arsenic.

How do these contaminants get in the tap water supply?

  • Lakes, rivers and streams become polluted
  • Pipes are not regularly maintained
  • Treatment facilities do not satisfy a modern day standard
  • Runoff from sewage systems overflows into water supply after heavy storms or natural disasters
  • Human error

That being said, while many of us have probably been exposed at some point or another to a contaminant in our drinking water, not all of us can easily shake off the effects from that exposure.

Who is most at risk from tap water?

  • Chemotherapy patients
  • People living with HIV/AIDS
  • Transplant patients
  • Pregnant women
  • Children

That’s a pretty damning list in the bottled water vs tap water debate. But fortunately for us most US cities send its customers a quality report form once a year to gauge the quality level of their drinking water, sometimes called a consumer confidence report. No such procedure exists for bottled water.

Conversely, some cities have opted to add chlorine to the water supply as a disinfectant against any of the contaminants that may sneak through the transport system. Chlorine can interact with organic compounds in the body to create trihalomethanes (THMs) which destroy cell tissue.

And because so much of the water that we drink ends up in the bladder and kidneys, the resulting damage from THMs tends to localize itself in those very organs. Higher incidences of rectal, bladder and breast cancers have been linked to cities where chlorine is used in the water supply.

If you weigh the risks involved in your local community (i.e., environmental factors, transparency of local bottling companies), you’ll find yourself getting closer to answering if tap water is better than bottled water.

That’s only the beginning. There are some other prudent steps you can take to ensure you’re not endangering yourself by drinking either tap water or bottled water.

How to Protect Yourself?

If you are still wondering where you may stand when it comes to bottled water vs tap water, you can always be proactive in protecting yourself against any unforeseen contaminants in either water source.

Protect your tap water:

  • Get a filter for your tap. Carbon purification systems remove chlorine. Ceramic systems remove bacteria, cysts and asbestos. KDF (copper, zinc, alloy) systems remove heavy metals.
  • Test your water
  • Boil your water

Protect Your Bottled Water

  • Never leave it in the sun or heated areas
  • Never freeze your bottled water
  • Buy spring water and not “purified” water
  • Look for certification from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) or the NSF International which test bottled water companies annually to meet inspection standards
  • Know what you are buying. Read the label. If it looks suspicious, it probably is.

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