Over the past few years, the old maxim of “8 glasses of water a day” has grown more complicated. Now, we also need to pay attention to the type of water, its source, and the added benefits (or hazards) that may come with it.
A quick visit to the bottled water section of any grocery store will show a large selection of attractive labels and water sources. From artesian well water to purified, spring, or glacier water, there are dozens of options.
But how many of these terms actually mean something? Do these options actually mean anything for your health?
Below, we examine what’s behind two of the most popular water labels: purified water and spring water. As it turns out, these two widely-used terms are easy enough to find and they both have their fans and detractors.
What is Spring Water?
In the United States, the term “spring water” is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Spring water is a type of bottled water extracted from an underground source, where the water “rises above ground level naturally at a known location.”
So what does this wordy definition mean? It means that spring water has to come from deep in the Earth, mainly on its own, usually from a nearby aquifer or groundwater reservoir.
To meet the FDA’s definition, spring water should also be collected close to its flowing point. Then, it is either bottled on-site or transported to a bottling facility.
On its way to the surface, spring water must cross several layers of sandstone, clay, or limestone. As a result, it is free of any debris or contaminants, although it usually carries a high content of minerals such as potassium, calcium, or magnesium.
Other types of underground water
Spring water has two closely-related cousins, who also enjoy legally-regulated names:
- Artesian well water also comes from an aquifer or underground river. However, artesian wells are man-made: we bore through the rock layers in order to pump it out.
- Mineral water is a type of underground water with “constant levels and proportions of trace minerals”. Mineral water usually comes from isolated springs, which don’t mix with nearby aquifers. This ensures a consistent mineral profile (and often, a unique taste)
Pros and Cons of Spring Water
Spring water is considered pre-purified because it crosses different layers of rock on its path to the surface, it loses any debris, spores, or microbes that could be floating in it. However, it contains a higher mineral content than regular surface water. As a result, it will…
- have a slightly different, “richer” taste
- not undergo any chlorination or fluoridation process
- contain more significant amounts of essential minerals
On the other hand, just like beneficial zinc, calcium, or sodium can pass through a natural spring, so can certain metals or nitrates.
What is Purified Water?
According to the FDA, purified water is any drinking water that has been treated until it contains fewer than 10 parts per million of dissolved solids.
The purification process is usually applied to surface waters, such as those from rivers or lakes. It strips the water from any contaminants, bacteria, or parasites – but it also gets rid of most beneficial minerals.
After being purified, the water is rated as safe to drink, and it is fit to be bottled or used in municipal water supply systems. In fact, many bottled purified water plants harvest water from local municipal systems and then treat it again to strip some of its chlorine taste (or even sell it as is!).
Purification methods matter
There are several methods used to purify water. In most cases, these involve a combination of the following:
- Flocculation: This involves adding positively-charged chemicals to the water, which cause debris and sand to clump together. Then, these larger clumps are filtered out.
- Sedimentation: This involves letting the water rest, causing heavier contaminants or solids to fall to the bottom of the reservoir.
- Disinfection: Chlorine or other chemical agents are added to kill any microbes or viruses.
- Distillation: In this method, water is brought to a boiling point, and the steam generated is cooled down again until it recondenses.
- Reverse osmosis: In this method, the water is sent through a series of filters and membranes, which trap any suspended metals, minerals or contaminants.
Pros and cons of purified water
With the exception of distillation (which is very expensive!), most purification methods require adding extra chemicals to the water to cleanse it. Besides, they also strip away any suspended minerals that would otherwise be present in the water – and that includes all the beneficial minerals that are essential in our diets, not just the possible metals and contaminants.
As a result, purified water tends to have a bland taste, which many consider unpleasant.
Which One is Best For Your Long-Term Health?
If you are interested in improving your nutrition rather than just quenching your thirst, then spring water will offer you some mild advantages over its purified peer.
Spring water may have a higher mineral and metal content – but it is still routinely tested in order to ensure these mineral levels are safe. As a result, their effect tends to be beneficial, and their risk pales in comparison to those of chlorine or fluoride.
Naturally, any benefits will only be available if you drink enough water every day. Perhaps this is the most important part: stay hydrated, drink whenever you are thirsty, and make sure to cut back on the sugary substitutes!
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