Maybe you’ve heard that you should drink one ounce of water for every half-pound of your body weight for optimal hydration.
That’s a great, helpful guideline, but it raises a big question: “What kind of water should I drink?”
When it comes to water, there are a ton of options out there promising to help keep you healthy and quench your thirst. Not all types of water are alike!
Here’s a field guide to seven of the most common types of water you’ll find in the wild:
1.) Tap Water
One of the biggest selling points for tap water is that it’s cheap and easy to get. Just turn on your faucet, and you’re good to go!
But many people worry about the contents of their tap water. It’s common to hear stories of people getting sick from drinking tap water, which may be contaminated by lead and other heavy metals. On top of that, tap water’s taste and composition will be different everywhere you go, since it will always be coming from different sources and treated in different ways before it makes its way into your cup.
For example, the tap water available in Chicago is considerably more mineral-dense than water in the Pacific Northwest, which has naturally “soft” water. Areas that draw their water from reservoirs may not need to filter their water as much as areas that source their water from busy rivers and lakes.
On top of all of this, almost all tap water in the U.S. is treated with chemicals, including fluoride and chlorine. This treatment makes many people leery—and plenty of others just don’t like the taste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does maintain strict standards for tap water, and requires water suppliers to issue a Consumer Confidence Report at least once per year. To do some research on your local tap water, don’t hesitate to do some digging on the EPA’s website.
You may also want to take matters into your own hands! Many local plumbers, city governments, and water filtration companies offer water quality testing services, and you can order a “Do It Yourself” water testing kit from many hardware stores or online.
2.) Purified Water
For anyone who wants to have a greater level of control over what’s in their water, installing an at-home water purification and filtration system is a great starting point. There are many different types of water filtration methods available, but two of the most common and widely available are known as reverse osmosis and carbon filtration.
Reverse osmosis works by forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane at high pressure. This process is capable of removing “99%+ of the dissolved salts (ions), particles, colloids, organics, bacteria and pyrogens from the feed water,” according to a report from PureTec. There are a few different types of reverse osmosis systems available for home use, so if you’re considering this option, you’ll want to do a little research to see which one will work best for you.
Carbon filtration systems can be added at different points in your home—such as beneath your faucet or at the tap. Small filters can even be added to water pitchers. In this process, water flows through a bed of activated carbon material, which helps remove bacteria, chemicals, metals, and other contaminants from your drinking water while keeping the stuff you do want, like healthy minerals, in.
3.) Mineral Water
Have you ever seen a bottle or jug of “mineral water” and wondered what exactly set it apart from other kinds of water?
Most commonly, mineral water is obtained from underground sources, and is naturally rich in good minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and manganese. In fact, some mineral water may contain up to as much as four times the calcium of regular tap water!
Did you know that companies that sell mineral water are not allowed to add additional minerals to the water they source, bottle, and distribute? And the exact makeup of mineral waters will vary from brand to brand, depending on its source. So if you drink mineral water, or want to try it, be sure to do your research about where the water comes from, and find out if the water is treated in any way before it makes its way into your bottle.
4.) Spring Water
Spring water is sourced from deep, naturally occurring wells or springs, where it has been filtered by natural processes in the earth. Generally, spring water is not chemically treated; instead, bottlers and suppliers may use ozone or UV light treatments to kill off unwanted bacteria or parasites.
A word to the wise: It’s important to do your research when it comes to bottled spring water to make sure that you’re not gulping down empty promises!
Over the years, many individuals and brands have raised a fuss over the provenance of so-called “spring water.” For instance, one National Resources Defense Council study found that an “estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”
5.) Alkaline Water
Have you heard of alkaline water? It’s a major health trend at the moment—but there’s a very real debate raging about whether it actually works.
First off, let’s break down just what alkaline means. Acidity is measured using the pH scale, which ranges from 0 to 14. A substance with a pH level of 1 would be very acidic, and a substance with a pH of 13 would be very basic, or alkaline.
Normal drinking water is fairly neutral, with a pH right around 7; alkaline water has a higher pH—around 8 or 9. Sometimes, this increased alkalinity is naturally occurring; in other cases, it is created through a chemical process known as electrolysis.
Either way, that small pH increase can make a big difference—but is it a good change, or a bad one?
On the one hand, some studies have shown the potential benefits of alkaline water for reducing pepsin (a cause of acid reflux) and treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. On the flip side, critics point out that an overall excess level of alkalinity in your body can lead to a ton of adverse side effects, like nausea, muscle twitching, and confusion.
From what we can see, so far, health experts seem to think that drinking alkaline water is probably fine, given that it also contains other healthful minerals to help keep your system in balance. But until more comprehensive research is conducted, they also recommend taking any sweeping claims about alkaline water’s health benefits with a big pinch of salt.
6.) Distilled Water
One of the oldest forms of purified water in the world, distilled water is created by boiling water until it evaporates. The vapor that is produced is then caught and condensed back into liquid form (and perhaps even purified another time).
By doing this, all impurities and contaminants get removed from the final product. But, at the same time, all the good stuff, like essential salts and minerals, also gets removed.
While drinking a limited amount of distilled water won’t be harmful, experts advise that you shouldn’t rely on it as your primary source of drinking water, as it’s been linked to mineral deficiencies, oral health problems, and serious electrolyte imbalances.
7.) Sparkling Water
Have you ever been at a restaurant and have been asked whether you prefer “still” or “sparkling” water? When this happens, your waiter is asking if you want plain, flat water or carbonated water. “Sparkling” is a broad term used to describe all sorts of fizzy, bubbly waters.
Most often, sparkling water is created by adding carbon dioxide to spring, purified, or mineral water; in some cases, brands bottle water along with “natural carbonation,” which means that the carbonic gas is sourced from the same spring that the water originally came from.
When you’re given a choice of sparkling waters, there are a few key terms to keep in mind. “Seltzer” generally refers to water that has been carbonated, and which has had no other ingredients added. “Club soda” is sparkling water to which alkaline substances, such as sodium and potassium, have been added. “Tonic water,” on the other hand, is not really pure water at all, but a sweetened soft drink containing water, quinine, and sugars.
And now, Matt Peebles and the Enrollment Specialists would like to know: How do you take your water? Whether you like it straight from the tap, run through a SodaStream, or warmed up with lemon and honey, we’d love to hear from you! Sound off in the comments and over on Facebook!