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Many of us may feel squeamish about drinking water straight from the tap. But are the other water options better? Is purified water, such as distilled water, really all that safe to drink? Is alkaline water the elixir for good health and longevity? In the United States, we’re fortunate to have one of the safest water supplies in the world, but despite water’s general safety here, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the type of water you decide to drink and how it could impact your health in the long run. Here are five common types of water people are drinking these days.
1. Tap water
The quality of the water that flows out of your faucet can vary based on whether it comes from a large public water system that is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or a small community system or small private well in your backyard—which are not regulated. If your water isn’t regulated, it is up to you to make sure your water is safe for drinking (visit the EPA website to learn how). Tap water contaminants can include:
- Toxic chemicals, such as arsenic
- Viruses, bacteria, and parasites
Even EPA regulation does not guarantee clean water. To be sure your water is safe, you can test it through a state-certified laboratory. Find one in your area by visiting the EPA’s laboratory network. Note: Using water filters for your tap water can be a great way to get rid of contaminants and gain access to clean water.
2. Spring water
Spring water comes from an underground water source that flows to the earth’s surface. It can have fewer contaminants and more minerals, with more health benefits, than unfiltered tap water. You can find natural springs around the country by visiting Find A Spring (note that the natural springs listed here are not guaranteed to be safe for drinking).
Spring water is also available in bottles; however, many brands do not identify the water’s source, treatment, or purity. It may be just as polluted as some sources of tap water—if not more, with the additional toxins that leach from plastic bottles. It’s also important to keep in mind that the disposed bottles can contribute to landfills and can pose a hazard to the environment.
3. Distilled water
You’d think the purest form of water would be the best for you, right? Not necessarily the case. Distilled water goes through a boiling process that strips away all of its contaminants—and all of its healthy minerals. While it’s obviously good to eliminate the contaminants in your diet, there are potential health concerns that come from removing the minerals from water. Distilled water can:
- Negatively influence mineral and water metabolism in the body by increasing urination, the amount of water in the body, and the elimination of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium ions, according to a World Health Organization report
- Leach more nutrients from food when used to boil food
- Increase the body’s absorption of toxic metals. This is because calcium and magnesium, which are removed from distilled water, can help prevent the intestine from absorbing certain toxins, such as lead and cadmium.
4. Alkaline water
Alkaline water is processed with a filter that raises the pH of the water. Many believe that drinking this water can alkalize, or raise the pH of, the body to help prevent illness. However, the filters are expensive, research on its effects is scant, and there are speculations that consuming alkaline water in excess could actually cause a pH imbalance in the body.
5. Electrolyte water
Some bottled water, such as SmartWater®, Nestle® Pure Life®, and Dasani purify the water first and then add electrolytes. The amount of electrolytes added back to the water are not considered significant, and some of these drinks can contain sugar or sodium. And, as mentioned above, the bottles themselves can be a health and environmental concern.
Coconut water can provide a natural alternative to man-made electrolyte drinks. With natural carbohydrates and electrolytes, it can be just as effective as carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drinks for hydration during physical activity, and can cause less nausea, fullness, and stomach upset.
While there is no perfect water choice, you can maximize the safety and health benefits of the water you drink by making sure it is as clean as possible—such as filtering tap water or finding a safe spring water source. You can also choose a type of water that maximizes water’s potential mineral content and minimizes additives such as sugar.
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*Editor’s Note:The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.