Last year was a milestone. In an unexpected nod to health, sales of bottled water overtook those of soda in 2017.
Decades ago, that would’ve been unthinkable. Surely no one would pay for something packaged when they could get it from the tap for fractions of a penny.
But since Perrier arrived on the scene in the 1970s, sales have surged more than 2,700 percent – spurred on by concerns about the health effects of sugary drinks and the doubtful safety of public water supplies.
Yet the question remains… Are bottled waters worth the price?
Even more so… Are high-priced premium brands worth their even steeper price tags?
That’s what we set out to explore. Here’s what we found – along with a few unexpected surprises…
The bottled water industry is a sweet place to be these days, growing by nine percent a year. The global market is expected to be worth $280 billion by 2020.1
Plain and simple brands compete on price, and the profit margins are razor thin. At the other end of the spectrum, premium brands are all the rage, despite their lack of a distinctive taste and competition from the cheap brands and the free stuff out of the tap.
Premium water is not a new idea. The French, those master purveyors of luxury goods, have long touted Perrier and Evian, using their natural sources as a selling point.
But the “latest and greatest” offerings use lifestyle as their key marketing strategy.
Playing the success card
Coca-Cola’s premium water is branded as an “inspirational” product for successful people. The ads feature Jennifer Aniston as a spokesperson.
Similar in image is PepsiCo’s LIFEWTR, which was launched during the 2017 Super Bowl.
Besides playing the image card, companies dress up their water with added flavorings. Or infuse it with plant waters like coconut, maple or birch. Exercise junkies fall for water that claims to be fortified with vitamins and minerals.
The numbers reveal the popularity of these premium waters. Flavored waters account for four percent of water sales, but bring in 15 percent of the revenue.
In the luxury market, water is the new wine, according to Michael Mascha, author of a guide on fine water. Some high-end restaurants now offer diners a water list along with the wine list. (Although I’m a foodie, I haven’t encountered this myself.)
How much would you pay for premium water?
Now there’s a new kid on the block – it’s called “raw water,” or Live Water. It’s not purified, and the makers claim it comes straight from the spring.
Live Water peddles the benefits of raw water, which is supposedly free of synthetic toxins from car washes, industrial waste, and herbicides in the conventional water supply.
Raw water comes directly from the spring, unfiltered. It’s full of minerals but looks as clear as can be. But critics argue that it could be laced with nasty bacteria invisible to the naked eye. The company claims that its sterile bottling environment minimizes those risks.
Like other premium waters, raw water doesn’t come cheap.
It costs $12 to $16 per 2½ gallon jug, compared to $1 to $2 per jug of regular water… or $5.38 for Arrowhead treated spring water, which is not raw water, but is filtered with a ten-step ultraviolet light and ozone disinfection process.
Live Water is far from the only brand in the luxury water market… and prices in this market vary widely.
Take Voss water, for example. It comes from an artesian well in Norway. If you patronize expensive hotels, you may find it in your room. Voss ties with Mountain Spring for the most expensive water on one online list. Voss also claims to be carbon neutral, despite its plastic bottles.
But here’s one that takes the cake. Svalbardi water fetches £80 ($99 USD) at Harrods, an upscale department store in London. It’s reportedly harvested from Norwegian icebergs that are 4,000 years old. Svalbardi is one of hundreds of brands sourced from exotic locales and sold at a premium.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say these waters are not worth the price. Ditto for another “special water” that dear to the hearts of alternative health fans. . .
Is alkaline water all it’s cracked up to be?
Most of the high-end water brands boast about their high pH levels. Some people think alkaline water helps us metabolize nutrients and expel toxins.
But this remains controversial, with little firm science to back those claims. Alkaline water certainly is not the miracle cure some sources claim.
Tap water’s dissolved substances affect its pH. Pure water has a neutral pH of 7, alkaline water’s pH is above 7. However, your body is amazingly complex, so claiming that everyone should “alkalize” is an over-simplification.
First of all, every organ in your body has a unique pH range, and your body does a remarkable job of maintaining proper equilibrium for each.
Secondly, if your body is highly acidic, you should ask yourself why. Most likely it’s the result of an unhealthy diet. Focusing on water’s pH level might be beside the point. And taking mineral supplements – calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, molybdenum – should give your body all the tools it needs to maintain a proper pH.
Finally, ramping up your alkalinity might not be a good thing – especially if you have a kidney condition or use medications that affect kidney function. In these cases, alkalinity can cause negative side effects.
That said, one group might reap benefits from drinking alkaline water – elite athletes. During intense exercise, your muscles produce more hydrogen ions than you can easily remove. Alkaline water can help temper the acidity and improve performance.
It may act similarly to mineral supplements such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which lower cardio-respiratory stress and blood lactate response in endurance athletes.
If you decide to give alkaline water a try, here’s a quick overview of bottled brands’ pH levels:
- Essentia guarantees a pH of 9.5 (highly alkaline)
- Evian has a pH of 7.2 (alkaline)
- SmartWater has a pH of 7.0 (neutral)
- Aquafina ranges from 5.5-7.0 (acidic to neutral)
- Dasani ranges from 5.0-7.0 (acidic to neutral)
Bottom line, mineral waters tend to be alkaline. Non-mineral waters don’t.
Till we learn more about alkaline water, I suggest you save your money.
Healthy drinks that aren’t
In an effort to compensate for lagging soda sales, the food industry has dreamed up some scammy, dubious health drinks.
One of the worst offenders is Vitamin Water. Ditto for Gatorade (which I don’t classify as a bottled water).
Warning: Most Vitamin Water contains high fructose corn syrup and food dyes that wreak havoc on your organs.
Corn syrup is linked to numerous conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and immune and metabolic disorders. These conditions in turn cause an increase in your cancer risk. Most corn is also genetically modified, and in 2015, the World Health Organization named genetically modified foods a “probable human carcinogen.”
Food dyes cause cancer, behavioral and mental dysfunction, and metabolic problems. At least with soda, you know it’s dangerous and can limit your intake (preferably to zero).
Healthy DIY sports drink
A cost-effective and far healthier way to replenish lost electrolytes is to make your own sports drink. It’s easier than you think.
1. Fill a 32-oz. bottle half full with water.
2. Add a dash of Himalayan salt to the water. (Or baking soda.)
3. Add fresh citrus juice, filling it to the brim. Citrus contains calcium and potassium and balances your pH. Lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, and orange juice all work. If you want to avoid sugar – even the natural kind — choose lemon or lime over the other three.
4. Add ½ teaspoon of honey for mineral absorption and a touch of sweetness.
5. Shake well and consume during intense exercise, after an illness, or during extreme heat.
Other troubling substances found in bottled water
Obviously, many of us drink bottled water because we don’t trust the tap water.
That’s not without merit, since fluoride, chlorine, and disinfection by-products – among other things – have become pervasive in tap water.
Bottled water isn’t as innocent and pure as they want you to believe.
For one thing, 45 percent of bottled water brands are sourced from municipal water supplies. Yep, the same stuff that comes out of your tap.
Of course, industry says they put the water through extra filtering processes. They should, considering they pay almost nothing for the raw material.
Yet a 2008 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group detected 38 chemicals in ten brands of bottled water – with an average of eight contaminants per brand. This included coliform bacteria, caffeine, acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals, and radioactive strontium.2
In the study, high levels (over 35 parts per billion, ppb) of chlorine byproducts called trihalomethanes were found in two brands, Wal-Mart and Giant Food (Acadia). This is a concern because of its strong link to cancer. California requires levels to stay under 10 ppb.
Also disturbing, April 2018 tests showed that bottled water contains nearly twice as many microplastic particles per liter as tap water – likely due to the manufacturing process of the bottles and caps.3
In this study, researchers tested 259 bottles of 11 brands of water. On average, they contained 325 pieces of microplastic per liter. The worst offender of the bunch was Nestle Pure Life – with a shocking 10,390 particles per liter.
If plastics are dangerous when they leach into your food or drink, what happens when you actually swallow these pieces of microplastics whole?
The least contaminated brands were San Pellegrino, Evian, Dasani, Wahaha, and Minalba. Those happen to be the ones I drink most often (generally when I’m traveling) – so I guess I lucked out.
Other hidden hazards in those bottles
Setting aside these concerns and the environmental effects of using so many plastic bottles – 60 million water bottles are pitched in the trash every day in the U.S. alone – the carcinogens in the plastic should scare you.
Of major concern:
1. Bisphenol A (BPA)
This is industry’s go-to stabilizer to make plastics harder and more sturdy. Soft plastics tend to crack.
BPA is known to leach into the water, especially in heat. Do NOT leave your plastic water bottles in the heat or sun, as in a hot car, for example. BPA creates xenoestrogens – chemicals that mimic estrogens. These may boost your risk of prostate, breast, ovarian, and brain cancer.
BPA is also implicated in ADHD, aggressive behavior, and asthma. It’s probably the scariest single factor involved in bottled waters.
These are flexibility agents in PVC (polyvinyl chloride) that leaches into bottled water and water serviced by PVC pipes.
Phthalates trigger liver cancer, testicular atrophy, and male sterility.
Of note: The industry’s favorite comeback to these issues is the claim that only low levels of chemicals leach into the water.
That may be true, but these chemicals accumulate in your system and can eventually pose a risk. You can’t routinely consume more chemicals than you can detox without negative consequences.
That’s why you want to avoid these issues by using glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic.
That would also help end the floating plastic islands in our oceans and the plastic overflow in our landfills — all of which leach toxic chemicals into our air and water supply…and kill fish and wildlife.
But we’re still left with a conundrum regarding the water itself. And what to do when you travel.
Where the rubber hits the road
Given the dangers of plastic bottles and the dubious quality of tap water (with its harmful additives), your best bet is to filter your own water and use glass or stainless steel bottles.
The money you spend on a filter will be recouped quickly versus the cost of bottled water, even besides the potential savings on future medical bills.
What to do when traveling is a bit more complicated. While you can get travel filters, our research turned up no lightweight options that remove fluoride and chlorine. LifeStraw removes a lot of pathogens.
If you do opt for bottled water while traveling, be aware that many brands contain fluoride.
As you may recall, fluoride is linked to dementia, bone cancer, bone fractures, increased tumor and cancer rates, the inactivation of 62 enzymes and inhibition of more than 100 others… just for starters.
Remember, if fluoride were safe, fluoride toothpaste tubes would not carry warnings telling you not to swallow the stuff.
Still, I don’t believe the amount of fluoride contained in bottled water, for the brief periods you probably spend traveling, poses a big health risk. Of greater worry is heavy metals from old city water systems in those scenic towns that tourists tend to favor. Not to mention other large-particle contaminants. So I drink bottled water when I travel. From the research we’ve done for this article, it looks like Evian is a reasonable choice.
The following water brands contain fluoride (as of 2016) – which you may wish to avoid if you’re worried about this issue:
- Belmont Springs
- Crystal Rock
- Crystal Springs
- Deer Park
- Diamond Springs
- Ice Mountain
- Kentwood Springs
- Mayer Bros.
- Mount Olympus
- Nursery Water
- Poland Spring
- Pure Flo
- Puritan Springs
- Sierra Springs
If you order sparkling water, seltzer water, soda water, tonic water, or club soda on your next flight or meal out, know that these fall under the FDA’s soft drink rules, so all bets are off about their fluoride content.
Lastly, bottled water is often an ingredient in other beverages, like diluted juice and flavored water, so beware of hidden fluoride in these.
It seems clear that one of the best and simplest things you can do for your health is to take control of your water quality by filtering and carrying your own when possible, as on a weekend trip by car or train. Take steps today to make sure you and your family are drinking water that’s as pure and clean as it should be.
When it comes to food and drink, our last issue contained a much better idea for good health than $99 water from icebergs. If you missed it, you can read it now just below. . .