What Are the Best Types of Water to Drink? See the Faceoff

Best Types of Water

Water. Everybody needs it. Our bodies are made up of up to 60% water, with the brain and heart being 73% water and the lungs 83% water. Blood is 90% water. 1 Suffice it to say, water is essential to life. It covers over 70% of the planet’s surface. And it plays countless roles in optimal health, and thus, drinking enough water is associated with a long list of health benefits. Yet, most people simply don’t drink enough. You may know you need to drink up, but you may not know that there are different types of water to drink. Are some more beneficial than others? Or is water simply water, so whatever type you choose is as good as the next?

Let’s dive deep into the wonders of water, including which types of water are best to drink. Go ahead and fill up your water bottle, and let’s get started…

In this article, we will discuss the following:

Water… What Is it Good for?

Absolutely everything! Humans need a certain amount of water to survive. The amount varies per person and depends on age, weight, gender, activity levels, climate, and more. In general, adult males need around 3 liters (3.2 quarts), while adult females need around 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts). 1

The Institute of Medicine recommends men take in around 15.6 cups per day, while women need around 11.4 cups per day (and up to 16 cups per day if pregnant or breastfeeding). 2

You don’t need to drink all of that as water, though. You also receive hydration from other beverages as well as vegetables and fruits. Generally, around 80% of water should come from drinks with the remaining 20% coming from food sources. If you do the math, that means:

  • For men, around 100 ounces, or 12.5 cups, of liquid water
  • For women, around 73 ounces, or a bit more than 9 cups, per day 2

There are times when you may require even more, such as when you have a fever, it’s really hot out, if you’ve been sick, or you’re sweating a lot (due to exercise, for example).

Even though most of us understand the importance of getting enough water, over 40% of American adults consume less than 4 cups per day, and 7% don’t drink any water at all! And a mere 22% of adults drink 8 or more cups per day. 3

Yet, water is vital to our health and well-being, as it:

  • Prevents dehydration, which can lead to headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation
  • Helps you think clearly
  • Is involved in producing necessary hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Supports mood
  • Helps regulate internal body temperature
  • Can prevent constipation
  • Helps prevent kidney stones
  • Stops skin from drying out
  • Helps skin look youthful, clear, and beautiful
  • Helps cells function properly
  • Assists with oxygen delivery throughout the body
  • Helps maintain blood pressure
  • Is involved in the body’s detoxification pathways (e.g., by flushing away waste)
  • Acts as a shock absorber for the brain, spinal cord, and other tissues
  • Lubricates joints
  • Is necessary for digestion
  • Aids in the formation of saliva and mucus to help digest food and keep the mouth, nose, and eyes hydrated
  • Can reduce symptoms of asthma and allergies
  • Keeps the mouth clean to help reduce tooth decay
  • Can aid in weight management (especially when it’s used to replace sugary drinks and sodas)
  • Makes minerals and nutrients more accessible to cells
  • Promotes exercise performance
  • And can even decrease hangover symptoms

So, to keep enough water onboard for overall health, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends making water the main drink of choice, drinking water when thirsty, and drinking water with meals.

If you don’t want to count cups, some experts suggest you simply watch your urine. If it’s yellow, you need to drink more. It should be light-colored or clear, which indicates the cells are getting all the water they need, and you are staying hydrated.

Best Types of Water: A Faceoff

Cool. Now we understand all of the reasons why we need to drink water. The next question is, what types of water are best (or, does it even matter)? Let’s dip into the pros and cons of some of the most common types of water.

Tap Water

Pros:

  • Regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), tap water is required to be within the legal bounds set by the EPA. It’s relevant to point out, however, that legal does not necessarily equal safe. What is meant by that is that legal limits for contaminants have not been updated by the EPA for almost 20 years, and as such, they may not meet the latest health guidelines. That being said, in most cities, it’s disinfected, pathogen-free, and tested for dangerous contaminants, bacteria, and viruses.
  • It’s cheap and convenient at home or on the go. Just turn on the tap or visit a public drinking fountain to fill up your water bottle.
  • No plastic bottles are needed to package and store it.
  • It’s generally safe for just about every use—drinking, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

Cons:

  • Tap water varies greatly by location, and some tap water is clearly better than others. And the U.S. water system is far from perfect—with many areas contending with aging pipes, infrastructure issues, and other problems. Many areas have found their water to be extremely contaminated (such as Flint, Newark, Pittsburgh, and Detroit). Some water comes out orange, brown, or even green, and even more, some tap water has been found to be high in lead and other serious toxins. 4

    Fortunately, you can find out what’s in your tap water with a search at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website, which looks at both legal limits and the EWG’s recommendations. You can also contact your local water district to review the water safety in your location.

    Even with its well-publicized (thank goodness!) problems, the introduction of filtration, chlorination, and sanitation methods for public drinking water has decreased the risk of water-borne illnesses (e.g., cholera and typhoid fever) to nearly nothing. This is a tremendous achievement that most of us take for granted.

  • If you are concerned, you can get the water from your tap tested, and you can also invest in a filter to remove additional contaminants and toxins, such as chlorine, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, VOCs, PFCs, lead, mercury, and pathogens. How much and what is removed can vary depending on the filter.

Cost:

It’s nearly free at around three cents per gallon (cost of an optional filter not included). Despite the variation in public water systems, tap water still typically provides the best cost to benefit ratio. 5

Bottled Water

Pros:

  • When you’re away from home, one of the easiest ways to get water is to just buy it by the bottle. Just like tap water, bottled water is supposed to be regulated to be clean and safe.
  • If the tap water in your location isn’t the best—due to potential contamination or just because you don’t like the taste—then purchasing large bottles of water (e.g., spring or purified water) can help you drink enough water.
  • You have options—bottled water can come from municipal sources, but it can also come from spring or glacial waters, which are purported to be more pure, clean, and free from toxins (at least in theory).

Cons:

  • It’s expensive! You spend up to 10,000 times more per gallon of bottled water than it costs for tap water. 6 That’s not exactly a bargain, especially for water that may be no better or safer than tap water. In fact, about 25 to 50% of the time, bottled water can just be tap water (sometimes purified). Check the label or cap to see if your water says it’s “from a municipal source” or “from a community water system.” Both indicate that the water you paid good money for is just tap water.
  • Plastic! It’s so wasteful and millions of tons of used bottles clog our landfills, lakes, oceans, and more. And while there are recycling programs, plastic is difficult to recycle, with only about 10% of water bottles actually being recycled. That means 90% end up in our oceans and landfills, taking up to 1,000 years to breakdown.
  • It also wastes water. An estimated three liters of water are needed to produce every liter of bottled water.
  • Speaking of plastics, chemicals like phthalates, found in the bottles, can leach into your water over time. These chemicals have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, which means, in lay terms, that they can mess with hormones (including testosterone levels). 7
  • One in five states don’t even bother to regulate the bottled water that’s packaged in their state, so it might not actually be all that well regulated. 6

Cost:

You can pay up to $1.50 for a 16-ounce bottle, though you can pay much less if you buy larger, gallon-size containers. There’s also the costs of the environmental impact to consider, as the bottles used to store the water require the extraction, refinement, and processing of petroleum to make the plastic, as well as the cost of transporting, cleaning, filling, and refrigerating the bottles. All of this entails energy, water, waste, and pollution. And often, all you’re really getting is tap water.

Raw Water

Pros:

  • Ideally, raw water comes from natural springs and requires no processing agents, unnatural ingredients or chemicals, or human-made pollution. It may also provide additional minerals and electrolytes, like calcium, copper, lithium, magnesium, potassium, silica, and sodium, which may enhance hydration and improve taste.
  • Some sellers claim raw water also provides natural probiotics, which may support improved digestion and health.
  • Raw water is also claimed to be more “alkaline.” (See section below for more information on the pros and cons of alkaline water.)
  • Some people simply prefer the taste of raw water and claim it helps them feel better.

Cons:

  • No studies currently support the claimed benefits of improved health.
  • Concerns have been raised that bottled raw water may not meet even minimum regulations or safety standards.
  • Worse, because raw water is from streams, rivers, and springs that have been untreated, even though it may look crystal clear, it can still be teeming with viruses, bacteria, parasites (e.g., Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, Giardia, Shigella, and Norovirus), which can all make you really sick—e.g., stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea—if not filtered out or boiled (to a rolling boil for at least one minute). It can also be contaminated with agricultural runoff or naturally occurring chemicals. 8 Most tap water has as many as 91 contaminants removed. Raw water, unfortunately, provides little reassurance for what’s in it.
  • The water can also be filled with elements and minerals, many of which can be healthful, but some can be harmful, especially when consumed in larger quantities. Some to watch for include arsenic.

Cost:

If you collect your own raw water (e.g., from a natural spring), it may only cost you time and energy. (Just remember to at least boil it before drinking—just to be safe. Sure, this would remove the benefit if any probiotics are in the water, but it also removes the risk of pathogens.) But if you’re going to buy some, expect to spend at least as much as you would for bottled water and often significantly more. Some 2.5-gallon jugs sell for over $50.00.

Distilled Water

Pros:

  • Also known as demineralized or deionized water, distilled water has had everything—good and bad—removed, so it’s the purest water available. In other words, because distilled water is water that has been boiled, so the steam can be collected and cooled to return back to liquid, it has no contaminants, minerals, or nutrients, which is why it’s used in laboratories, factories, industries, and for technical purposes. 9
  • It’s so clean it’s almost sterile.

Cons:

  • Because everything has been removed, it may not be the best water to drink. It simply lacks the healthy nutrients and minerals found in most other water and is sometimes referred to as “dead water.” And it may even pull minerals from your body, such as your teeth.

Cost:

Typically sold by the gallon, distilled waters will cost anywhere from $2 to $9 per gallon. You can also purchase a water distiller, but that can cost several hundred dollars.

Sparkling Water

Pros:

  • Some people simply don’t like the flavor of plain old still water. Add some bubbles and maybe some zero-calorie flavors, though, and hydration becomes easier due to the improved taste and enjoyment.
  • Because the water is infused with carbon dioxide, it has a different mouthfeel, and sometimes you just want to enjoy something that’s fizzy like a soda but without the sweeteners and additives.
  • Many sparking waters are also mineral waters (e.g., Perrier or San Pellegrino), so you can have the added health support that minerals provide as well as carbonation.

Cons:

  • For folks who have sensitive tummies, carbonated water—when bought by the can or made at home with something like a SodaStream—can lead to bloating, belching, and gas.
  • There have been some concerns that fizzy waters can lead to increased tooth decay due to the very mild carbonic acid. However, research has shown this doesn’t present a big risk, and if it helps you drink more water, the benefits outweigh the costs. 10
  • If you’re looking to increase your consumption of minerals, you’re still better off by getting them through food as the amount of minerals supplied is likely not enough to really boost levels.

Costs:

The costs do vary widely by brand, from well under $1.00 to over $2.50 per can. And purchasing a home carbonation system can cost much more initially but result in significantly lower costs per cup than store-bought options, and you can wash and reuse your own bottles.

Alkaline Water

Pros:

  • The theory behind alkaline water is that it’s less acidic because it’s been ionized or electrolyzed (with minerals), and therefore, has a higher/alkaline pH. 12 It typically has a pH level between 8 and 9.5. (Regular drinking water has a neutral pH of 7.)
  • While research is limited, some research (funded by an alkaline water company, coincidentally) indicates it may help improve hydration and reduce viscosity over just regular tap or bottled water. 13

Cons:

  • The body is highly effective at adjusting pH, so if you drink alkaline water, the acid in the stomach will work to rapidly neutralize it.
  • There is very little evidence that it actually performs as claimed, and many experts consider it a scam. Others believe the jury is still out as there’s no research to disprove claims either. 14
  • If there is a change in acid levels, then it may cause stomach discomfort.

Costs:

A single bottle will cost around $1.50 to $2.00. If you want to alkalize your own water with a water ionizer, it can cost around $2,000 or even more to purchase a device.

Electrolyte Water

Pros:

  • Enhanced with electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, electrolyte or “smart” waters are promoted for improving hydration during exercise and throughout the day to boost energy and workout quality. And in fact, maintaining normal fluid levels is vital for improved health and performance.
  • Electrolytes may be particularly beneficial if you’re exercising vigorously in the heat or if you’re recovering from a recent bout of the flu or a stomach bug. 15

Cons:

  • Many people simply don’t exercise hard enough to deplete electrolytes, and plain tap water may be just as effective for them (if not more so) than a “smart water” at a fraction of the cost.

Costs:

Around $1 to $1.50 per bottle. Much like bottled water, the environmental cost should also be taken into consideration.

Oxygen Water

Pros:

  • Want to increase your oxygen levels? According to the theory, oxygenated, “hyper-oxygenated,” or “super-oxygenated” water can help boost your oxygen levels just by adding oxygen to your water.
  • Manufacturers claim the boost in oxygen may help improve athletic performance, recovery, stamina, mental clarity, and even help fight off a hangover.
  • Because oxygen water doesn’t contain any other additives (e.g., sugars or artificial sweeteners), it avoids the drawbacks of sports drinks.

Cons:

  • Unfortunately, studies are scant, so there’s little to no support that oxygen water does anything it’s claimed to do. On the other hand, there are studies that indicate it really doesn’t help improve exercise performance, though it may help clear lactate faster. 16

Costs:

Despite the lack of real evidence of positive effects, you will still pay for oxygenated water at a cost of up to $3.00 a bottle.

Hydrogen Water

Pros:

  • Taking pure water and adding hydrogen to it may provide antioxidant benefits. 17 However, more studies are needed to confirm this effect.
  • It may also decrease inflammatory markers and improve health markers in people with metabolic syndrome. 18
  • In one small pilot study, hydrogen water was also shown to help lower levels of blood lactate, and thus, muscle fatigue. 19
  • Hydrogen water is generally recognized as safe for human consumption.

Cons:

  • The studies thus far on hydrogen water have been small.
  • There are no industry standards on how much hydrogen is found in hydrogen water, so concentration can vary widely.
  • There are still a lot of questions regarding how effective hydrogen water actually is.

Cost:

You’ll pay about $3 per 11-ounce container. Or, you can add a tablet containing molecular hydrogen to your own glass of water for about $1 per tablet. You can also buy a machine to add hydrogen to your water for around $500.

The Key is to Drink More Water

Drinking enough water is vital to your health, and many of the types of water above will help you hydrate. While there are exceptions (due to contamination or just hype), often, it comes down to your personal taste preference and how much you want to spend. (Tap water in your own reusable water bottle being the most affordable.)

To help you drink more water, carry your water bottle with you wherever you go. And if plain old water doesn’t provide the taste you enjoy, feel free to infuse your water with flavor by simply adding herbs, fruits, or vegetables like citrus, ginger, cucumber, mint, etc. You can add them directly to your water bottle or keep a pitcher in the fridge to refill your water bottle with your cold, refreshing brew throughout the day. If you’re saving the money on bottled water (of any variety), you can even choose an insulated bottle (e.g., Hydroflask, Klean Kanteen, Rtic, etc.) to keep your water cold and refreshing for hours.

While ice-cold water is easy and delightful to reach for on warmer days, once the temps start to drop (or, if you just don’t love cold water), feel free to drink it at room temperature or even warm it up. Again, you can add lemon, ginger, herbal tea, etc., to warm and hydrate your body. You can also get some of your hydration taken care of with broths and soups.

Whichever beverages you choose to drink, avoid those that are loaded with sugar, such as soda, sports drinks, and even fruit juices. You also want to avoid artificially sweetened drinks, which have their own scary side effects.

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