There is no question that staying hydrated by drinking lots of water is a healthy choice. Like us, you probably know that the wisest choice for your health and the environment is to drink from a reusable water bottle filled with filtered water, but there are times when you just need to buy a bottle of water. This might seem simple, but choosing the best bottled water to drink is actually a bit complicated! As it turns out, there are a lot of different kinds of water (from mineral water to triple-distilled to reverse osmosis and many more!), and countless bottled water brands. Read on to learn the different kinds of water and how to spot the best bottled water brands so that you can feel confident that you’re drinking the healthiest bottled water available.
The Three Different Kinds of Water: Tap, Filtered, and Bottled
Before we get into the best bottled water brands, let’s break down the three basic choices you have when it comes to drinking water: straight from the tap, filtered from the tap, or in a purchased bottle. While bottled water may offer you more glamorous-sounding choices (see the following section) and make you feel more in control of the quality of the water you’re drinking, it has some serious drawbacks.
First off, it contributes to the major environmental problem of plastic waste. Plus, you’re likely ingesting microplastics if it’s in a soft plastic bottle, and there is very little regulation about what goes into bottled water, so you don’t really know what you’re drinking. A 2018 study of 259 plastic bottled water brands showed 90% had microplastics in the water; the lowest (best) levels were in San Pellegrino (74 per liter in the most contaminated bottle tested), followed by Evian (256). Another 2018 study that tested 19 bottled water brands for microplastics found that Boxed Water, Fiji, Ozarka, and Evian had the highest levels of contamination. How could Evian be on the better end in one study and the worse end in another? The level of microplastics differed from bottle to bottle, not just brand to brand.
Tap water, on the other hand, allows you to avoid plastic and help out the planet by using a glass or a reusable water bottle. The drawback, of course, is that tap water will always have certain contaminants, which vary depending on where you live.
Our favorite happy medium is to fill our reusable bottles with tap water that we’ve filtered using the best water filter for the contaminants in our particular water supply. You can get the full lowdown on water contaminants in your area, as well as your best bet for a water filter to get rid of them, in The WellBe Water Filter Guide.
How to Choose the Best Bottled Water Brands
If you’re buying bottled water (and we get it — sometimes you’re dying of thirst and forgot your water bottle at home, or you’re at the airport boarding a plane), you have a lot of different options to choose from. Just look at all the bottled water in the cold cases at your local grocery store or pharmacy, and you’ll see an abundance of different varieties, from alkaline water to triple-distilled to reverse osmosis and beyond. But what do all these terms mean, and do they matter for your health? What’s the healthiest bottled water? How can you spot the best bottled water brands from the crowd?
A lot of the terminology on those bottles sounds pretty fancy and high-tech, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot to most of us (kind of like when you go to buy eggs). And the truth is, while some of those terms really do have significance when it comes to your health, many of them are pretty much just marketing — which makes it all even more complicated.
We’re not loyalists to any one bottled water company, but by understanding the words on the labels, we can easily select the best bottled water brands for our health. Here’s a breakdown of common terms you’ll see for different kinds of water and what each means so that you can choose the healthiest bottled water next time you’re in a pinch:
Distilled Water: Distilled water is water that has been boiled into a vapor and then condensed back down into liquid to remove impurities. Distilled water can be a good choice in areas where the tap water contains impurities; however, the distillation process removes any potentially beneficial minerals from the water (which is a big reason why you’re drinking it!), and there’s concern that distilled water could leach trace amounts of minerals from your body. Therefore distilled water wouldn’t be our first choice for everyday drinking water.
Mineral Water: Mineral water refers to any water sourced from a mineral spring. According to the FDA, which regulates bottled water, mineral water must contain at least 250 parts per million of “total dissolved solids” that originate from a “geologically and physically protected underground water source.” Mineral water can contain minerals including magnesium, calcium, sodium, and zinc, among others, and has been shown to have significant health benefits. A drawback of mineral water is that it can have a high sodium content, which is a concern for those with high blood pressure.
Alkaline Water: Alkaline water is water that has had nutrients added to it to achieve a higher pH, making it less acidic than other water. A lot of claims have been made about the potential benefits of alkaline water, including that it can neutralize acid in your bloodstream, slow bone loss, and expel toxins more efficiently; some even argue that it can protect against heart disease or cancer. There have been studies showing that alkaline water can improve bone strength, reduce acid reflux, and lower blood pressure, but all of these were small studies that can’t necessarily lead to firm conclusions, so more research is needed. On the negative side, tipping your body’s balance too far to the alkaline side can mess with the natural acidity of your stomach — stomach acid helps break down food, which you want! (You can learn more about how both pH and hydration impact your gut in our free guide to improving gut health naturally!)
Electrolyte Water: Electrolyte water is basically a subcategory of mineral water, since electrolytes are minerals that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. Electrolytes are usually associated with sports drinks like Gatorade, because they help with a number of functions associated with athletic recovery: they rebalance your fluids and help your muscles contract. To tap into the benefits of electrolytes, some bottled water brands will add in electrolytes, like potassium, and magnesium. While these can certainly be beneficial, the fact is that, unless you’re drinking distilled water (which has no minerals), your water already contains electrolytes. This term is definitely more marketing than anything else.
Reverse Osmosis Water: Reverse osmosis, like distillation, refers to a filtration process used to remove impurities from tap water. In this process, untreated water flows through a semipermeable membrane, which traps things like salt, chemicals, minerals, and impurities. Just like distilled water, reverse osmosis water offers a healthier alternative to people who live in areas with contaminated tap water, but it also strips out healthy minerals that could be beneficial to our health. In fact, the World Health Organization released a statement over their concerns about people drinking demineralized water. The best kinds of reverse osmosis systems put the minerals back in the water after they remove everything, but these systems are usually quite pricey.
Spring Water: As defined by the FDA, spring water is “derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth at an identified location, may be collected at the spring or through a bore hole, tapping the underground formation that feeds the spring.” Spring water, like mineral water, goes through very little distillation to retain naturally occuring minerals. In fact, spring water is very similar to mineral water, except that mineral water, as the name suggests, contains more minerals. Spring water doesn’t need to contain a minimum amount of minerals. Despite the FDA definition, be warned that the term “spring water” doesn’t necessarily mean the water is pure and clean. Because so many springs are now contaminated, many items marketed as spring water contain contaminants you’d probably rather not be drinking. In fact, Poland Springs’ parent company, Nestlé Waters, is facing a class action lawsuit against it claiming that they falsely marketed groundwater as spring water. As of summer 2020, a judge has deemed that the case will go forward after rejecting Nestlé Waters’ request to dismiss the claims.
Sparkling Water: Sparkling water is simply water that’s been carbonated, making it bubbly. It’s become quite trendy in the past five or so years, becoming the #1 purchased beverage in the country. The quality and health risks of any specific sparkling water will depend on the source of the water itself, but there’s one potential risk that everyone who enjoys bubbly water should keep in mind: PFAS chemicals. A 2020 study from Consumer Reports found that most of the top sparkling water brands contained detectable levels of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which have been linked to various health problems, including low birth weight, hormone disruption, and cancer. Topo Chico, one of the trendiest bottled water brands, had the highest levels of PFAS, with Polar, Bubly, and Poland Springs close behind. Meanwhile, only two still water brands had detectable levels of PFAS.
The WellBe Takeaway: What to Remember About the Healthiest Bottled Water
It can be easy to get bogged down in all the flashy terms and different kinds of water outlined above, but, ultimately, water doesn’t need to be that complicated. Just keep a few key points in mind to keep your body properly hydrated with the right kind of water:
- Drink enough water. Staying hydrated is the #1 priority here. Being dehydrated can have a negative impact on your mood and energy and even brain function! Everyone’s water needs will vary, but the general guideline is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
- If you’re drinking tap water, always use a water filter to extract bacterial contaminants, chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins. There is almost no water system in the U.S. that is not contaminated with some of the above mentioned pollutants, and some areas are much worse than others. Check out our water filter guide to find your best filtration option.
- Don’t reuse soft plastic water bottles. We’re all about reusable bottles here, but simply reusing a soft plastic water bottle does not cut it. You may be slightly reducing waste, but you’re also subjecting yourself to health risks, as reusing soft plastic bottles can leach chemicals into the water you drink and promote the growth of dangerous bacteria. Plastic (as opposed to glass or metal) is a porous material, making it easier for bacteria to accumulate in it and for chemicals to leach out of it into the water.
- If you need to purchase bottled water, you can spot the best bottled water brands by knowing the terminology used to describe different types of water and adjusting accordingly. For instance, if you’re drinking distilled or reverse osmosis water, make sure you’re getting minerals another way, like from your diet and/or supplements. Here’s a quick rundown on the benefits and risks of the most common marketing terms:
- Distilled water: filters out contaminants, but removes any beneficial minerals.
- Mineral water: usually the healthiest bottled water choice. Contains beneficial minerals.
- Alkaline water: has a high pH, which has been associated with certain health benefits. However, it can upset the natural acidity of your stomach, leading to digestion issues for some.
- Electrolyte water: contains electrolytes, which help your muscles recover. However, most water (except distilled or reverse osmosis) already have electrolytes.
- Reverse osmosis water: very similar to distilled water, with the same benefits and risks (unless minerals have been added back in, but this is rare).
- Spring water: comes from an underground spring. Very similar to mineral water, but with fewer minerals, and it may contain contaminants.
Hopefully this guide has helped you wrap your head around all the different kinds of water out there, and will allow you to confidently purchase the healthiest bottled water next time you find yourself out and about and in need or a drink.
What do you nominate as the best bottled water brand? We’ve shared ours below, and want you to share yours in the comments!
San Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water
Mountain Valley Spring Water
Evian Natural Spring Water Bottles
BKR Glass Water Bottle
Volvic Spring Water
S'well Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle
If you like getting our WellBe-approved recommendations for bottled water, check out our Non-Toxic Product Lists Database for 1,200+ researched and vetted products in 20 categories!