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Does the type of water we drink matter?

by Doris Penner

Canada has the safest drinking water in the world, with provincial and municipal governments working to keep it that way. In large cities, water is tested several times a day for more than a hundred substances that could potentially harm the health of citizens. Most of the time we take for granted the convenience of simply opening a tap to obtain clean water for use in a myriad of different ways. Then along comes bottled water which is exactly what the term says—plain water from aquifers in the ground poured into plastic bottles (today, many are made from biodegradable materials) and sold. While on the one hand, this seems ludicrous, are there valid reasons why Canadians might purchase bottles of water? If so, are there differences among the various types and brands that are on the market?

One of the subtle marketing ploys that has been used to sell bottled water is to undermine the public’s confidence in tap water—to say it is somehow inferior and perhaps even dangerous to drink. It should be stated that for the most part, tap water in Manitoba is safe and reliable; however, there are areas where the quality may not be optimum—often due to an over-abundance of minerals (total dissolved solids or TDS) which leave stains in tubs and toilets, corrode plumbing and affect taste. People with these issues may well choose to purchase water in litres or gallon containers for drinking and cooking.

Removes contaminants

Many cities use reverse osmosis or distillation processes to “purify” water for its residents. This removes contaminants (particularly microscopic organisms such as disease-bearing bacteria, protozoa and viruses) and undesirable metals such as lead. Although the taste is improved (perhaps somewhat “flat” at times) and dangerous contaminants have been removed, what consumers often don’t realize is that the water has been stripped of 98 percent (or more) of all naturally occurring minerals. Many cities also add substances such as chlorine as a disinfectant which is effective, but often comes through in an offensive flavour.

These are a few reasons why Manitoba residents may choose to drink bottled water consistently. Others may do so occasionally when travelling to places when they feel unsure of the water supply. However, not all bottled water is created equally—there are important choices to be made.

“Bottled water” is a generic term referring to any water bottled for human consumption; the only stipulations are it may not contain added ingredients and must be in sealed units. In broad strokes the two main ones on the market are purified (or distilled) water and spring water (a type of mineral water).

Many are beneficial

Bottled purified water has undergone one of a number of different purification processes (distillation, deionization or reverse osmosis) which removes harmful microorganisms, but also all minerals, many of them beneficial. Athletes, for example, are discouraged from drinking distilled water because it quickly robs them of valuable electrolytes (minerals).

Spring water is derived from an underground formation that sends water naturally to the surface of the earth—there are several natural springs in Manitoba that have been harnessed for bottled water. Spring water often has a naturally excellent mineral profile which means minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium—performing vital roles in the body—are left intact while disease-bearing organisms are removed by a chemical-free process.

Also significant is the pH level of water which can range from acidic (low pH) to alkaline. Health experts agree that drinking acidic water over time will leach minerals out of tissues in the body, as well as cause heartburn and indigestion Generally a pH of 7 to 8 (alkaline)—the case for many spring waters—is considered a premium level.

If you are buying bottled water for any reason, make sure you are getting the best for your buck. Buying a Manitoba-produced item makes sense because it is at the top of the line in taste and quality, and it gives the opportunity to support a local product.