The water business is a multimillion-dollar industry with bottled waters becoming the norm in every convenience and grocery store. According to Nestle Waters of North America, bottled water is the fastest-growing segment of America's beverage business and is the fifth-best-selling beverage in the United States. Most people are simply grabbing a bottle of water and drinking it, thinking they are doing a good thing for their body -- but are they?
When choosing water for yourself and your family, you want to ensure that the water you choose is safe (free of bacteria and chemicals), clear and colourless and has no unpleasant odour. Yet with a myriad of options available – including bottled waters, charcoal filters and in-home systems -- choosing the healthiest water can be a confusing task.
Straight from the tap
There are several types of water to choose from. The worst water to drink is tap water. Tap water, also known as utility water, runs through extensive piping prior to coming out of your faucet. It is often treated with chlorine to kill off unwanted bacteria and may also contain lead or aluminum. In terms of water quality, I do not recommend drinking tap water due to the presence of numerous impurities. In order to determine the state of your tap water (i.e., detection of bacteria or parasites), contact your local health official to have your water tested or bring it in to an independent laboratory for testing. Although the latter will cost you approximately $100, it is well worth the investment.
A charcoal filtration system is a step up from tap water and can be found in millions of homes across North America. In a nutshell, charcoal filtration systems catch the "big critters"; however, sometimes the small bacteria and viruses can get through. Also, certain carbon filtration systems do not remove lead. If purchasing for lead removal, purchase a solid block and precoated absorption filter. Charcoal filters must also be changed on a regular basis as the filter will clog up over time and can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Distilled, reverse osmosis and ionized water are classified as bottled water. Bottled water is extensively regulated on three levels: federal, provincial and industry association. While most tap water is drawn from surface water (lakes, rivers, etc.) that is subject to potential contamination, over 75 per cent of all bottled water originates from protected underground sources.
Distilled water is treated by boiling and condensation to remove impurities: solids, inorganics and some organic chemicals. While it is true that the distillation process also removes minerals along with contaminants, a healthy diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and a high-quality multivitamin should make up the difference.
However, distilled water is now causing some controversy as some claim that it leaches minerals from the body and is overly acidic. The body does not thrive in a state of acidity -- bacteria, fungi and viruses proliferate in an acidic environment. In fact, the pH (potential of hydrogen -- measurement of alkaline and acid states) of the bloodstream is very fine-tuned, with the normal pH range being from 7.35 to 7.45. The more acidic the environment is, the lower the pH number; the more alkaline the body, the higher the pH number. Acidic food sources include red meat, alcohol, dairy products, refined flours and sugars.
Two of the highest-quality water options available as bottled water or in home units are reverse osmosis and ionized water. Reverse osmosis is the passage of water through a semipermeable membrane and occurs due to the difference in osmotic pressure created by differing solid contents of the liquid. However, similar to distilled water, reverse osmosis water produces demineralized water with an acidic pH. Some recent reports claim that "prolonged consumption of distilled or demineralized water can lead to various forms of mineral deficiency."
Water ionizers can be purchased and connected directly to a faucet at your sink. Water first passes through a multistage granular activated carbon filter that removes chlorine, metals, sediments and various volatile compounds. The filter also contains silver to prevent bacterial growth. Ionized water is alkaline, not acidic.
Consumers looking for added quality assurance in the bottled water they select should visit the Canadian Bottled Water Association's list of brand names you can trust.The CBWA produces 85 per cent of all the bottled water in Canada.
The bottom line
The body relies on water for survival. Ideally, you should drink six to eight glasses of fresh, clean water daily. When selecting the type of water you drink, any type of filtration system is better than none at all. If selecting bottled water that has been demineralized by a process such as reverse osmosis or distillation, it is important to eat an abundant amount of mineral-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. It is also best to supplement with a high quality multivitamin daily.
Dr. Joey Shulman is the author of bestselling book The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2006). For more information, please visit www.drjoey.com.
Page 2 of 3 – Find out the other side of the story on page 3.
[Editor's note: We've had lots of feedback on this article by Dr. Joey Shulman. What's the healthiest water to drink? That's up to you to decide. For another side of the drinking-water story, the executive director of the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association has this to say:]
The healthiest water to drink?
By T. Duncan Ellison, Executive Director, Canadian Water and Wastewater Association.
Dr. Shulman's opinion piece attempts to simplify a complex situation but is incomplete. Her statement that “the worst water to drink is tap water” has to be challenged.
Municipally water is regulated by provincial authorities based on the Guidelines on Canadian Drinking Water Quality, published by Health Canada and which are based on detailed health risk assessments of potential contaminants. The levels allowed are well below any predicted health effect based on a projected consumption of 6 L/person/day over a period of 70 years. The provinces have comprehensive regulatory programs with regular inspections of the treatment plants, mandatory monitoring and reporting of water quality, and requirements for trained and certified staff. Water quality results are available to any resident and the municipality will assist residents in checking their own tap water quality. Local public and environmental health authorities also monitor the situation. If there is a concern, they can and do order remedial actions. Municipal water services are public, municipally owned and not-for-profit. They are regulated and inspected.
The bottled water and the point-of-use filter industries, on the other hand, are private, for profit, and not generally regulated or inspected. Bottled water in Canada is subject to a minimal requirement of the Food and Drug Act, Section 12, which addresses only microbial risk. The presence or absence of chemical contaminants is left to individual producers; not all are members of the Bottled Water Association. They are not subject to the same level of external (governmental) inspection as municipal water. Vendors of filtration systems may be selling products that are certified by NSF International, but many systems are not certified, and in filtering tap water, may actually not be serving any health purpose. The maintenance of the devices (e.g., regular filter replacement) is entirely up to the owner. Poorly maintained devices can increase a health risk.
CWWA does not oppose the sale of bottled water nor the filtration devices. Properly regulated and inspected, each have their place to serve customers' needs -– but remember they do add to the cost of drinking water and may not provide commensurate benefits.
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