Thank you to the listener who sent in this question on the differences with bottled water options. I’m so glad you appreciated my discussion of bottled vs. tap water.
The rules and regulations can be tricky to navigate, so given your expertise, I was thrilled to hear that my discussion of the various water sources was accurate.
Speaking of tricky to navigate, it's something to keep in mind when we start talking about the various bottled water varieties out there. The evidence isn’t as clear as that glass of water treated via reverse osmosis. Instead, the evidence starts to look like a glass of mud.
Alright, I think I overdid that metaphor. Let’s move on…
I’ll get straight to the heart of the question. There are a number of sources that bottling companies can draw their water from. Each of these water sources will have a different composition of minerals. And, yes, these minerals can affect the water’s taste.
The Food and Drug Administration (or, FDA) does have authority to regulate bottled waters, but up to a certain point. I’ll explain. But, first let’s talk about the variety of bottled waters available for purchase:
According to the FDA, water is often classified based on where it was sourced. They use the following main classifications:
- First, well water, which also includes the most fancy-sounding water source – artesian well water. This water comes from an aquifer, which is water found underground. A well is used to draw water out of the aquifer.
- Then, there’s mineral water. This water is also sourced underground source but it’s different from artesian well water because it contains some minerals. The FDA says that in order for something to be called, “mineral water,” it has to have at least 250 parts per million of total dissolved solids, like minerals. Now, these minerals had to have been found in the water naturally. If minerals were added later, say during the bottling process, then it’s not considered mineral water and can’t be labeled as such.
- Next, spring water. Here again, this water comes from underground sources. But, because it’s “spring water,” the water must have come from a place where water flows naturally to the surface. So, spring water must be collected only at the spring or by tapping into the underground spring directly underground. If the spring water is being collected underground directly, then the bottled water company has to show evidence that the quality of the water being brought to the surface is the same as the water that naturally flows to the surface.
- Finally, tap water. Yes, good ol’ fashioned tap water. Some bottled water companies will simply bottle up tap water and sell it back to you at an inflated price.
Bottled Water: Who Regulates What?
Now, where it gets interesting is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not the FDA, are the ones that dictate the safety of tap water.
The FDA looks to the EPA to determine which standards should then be applied to bottled waters. But sometimes, based on the FDA’s own assessment, they may differ from the EPA’s water quality standards. It gets even more interesting when we start talking about the other water varieties like seltzer water, sparkling water, soda water, and tonic water.
These aren’t considered bottled waters. Instead, they are classified as… you ready for this? Soft drinks.
It’s because many of these waters have had carbon dioxide added to them to make them fizzy… just like soft drinks. But by being classified as soft drinks, this opens the door for other sweeteners and additives to make their way into these water varieties.
Now, I’m not saying that seltzers and sparkling waters, for example, all contain sweeteners and additives. Instead, we just may need to be more careful about reading the label before buying these products.
What are the health effects of these specialty waters?
What about their health effects? Well, again, it depends.
If we’re consuming products with extra sweeteners and additives, even if it has “water” in its name, that can lead to some unintended health effects. When we look at the health effects of regular soda consumption, like your Cokes and Pepsis, the issue is the sugar content. The carbon dioxide isn’t so much a problem – it’s the sugar. The sugar is what increases risk for tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes. Not the carbonation.
If we start to consume other products labeled as “water” and they still contain some extra additives and sweeteners, they be an improvement over regular soda, but still probably not the healthiest option.
So again, reading the nutrition facts label is probably a good idea. If, on the other hand, the nutrition facts label has zeros across the board – the drink contains 0 calories, 0 g of carbs, 0 g of total sugars, 0 g of added sugars and looking at the ingredients list, it says something like “carbonated water” and that’s it, then you’re good. It might also list some minerals like calcium and magnesium. That’s fine, too. Consuming these types of carbonated waters seem to be perfectly fine for most people.
But, if you start to see ingredients like “inverted cane sugar”, “natural flavors”, “red dye 40” and so on, it may be time to look for another water source.