Healthy water?

We need to drink water

No question, we need to drink water every day to stay healthy. But how much and what kind of water. Surely you have heard that you should drink at least eight glasses of water, equal to about 2 litres, each day to get the right balance. There is also a chance that you’ve been told that drinking caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee cause you to lose more fluid than you take in.

To be brutally honest there is actually very little truth behind those claims and the ritual of carrying a water bottle everywhere might be misguided. What is true is that an average person needs about 2 litres of water a day to replace what is lost through breathing, sweating and urinating. But that doesn’t mean that you need to drink two liters of water, you can easily get almost 1.5 litres just from the food you eat, particularly from fruits and vegetables that contain up to 97% water.

And what about coffee and tea? Well, if you’re a regular coffee and tea drinker you can count all of the water on the benefit side. Even an occasional coffee drinker can count more than half the water as a benefit, despite some diuretic effect and a potential toilet visit.

This doesn’t mean that it is bad to drink water, although to put all facts on the table it is possible to die of too much. In 2007, the person that won an on-air radio challenge of drinking the most water in a given time died shortly after. There are also examples of marathon runners drinking too much water and loosing a lot of electrolytes that died during the competition.

The problem in a large part of the world is to get enough clean water. Ironically, it is people with perfectly healthy water supply that consumes most bottled water.

Can some water be healthier than others?

For most people, plain water is perfectly fine. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has looked at the effects of water in general in relation to health claims. In a 2011 opinion they agreed that water is beneficial for our normal well-being and decision-making (although they call it maintaining normal physical and cognitive functions). EFSA also supported the claim that water is an important part of keeping our normal body temperature. But they said that the water needed can be easily consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Modified water claims (Credit: shrff14 – Flickr)

Modified water is now available in many different forms. Let’s forget soft drinks, they are clearly not providing any extra benefit.

Vitamin water is a bit of a hybrid, not that we would normally need the extra vitamins and the sugar added as a further bonus. The Food and Drug Administration rejected claims made for the extra benefits of this “enhanced” water. The company had claimed that the vitamin water promotes a healthy state of physical and mental being and provides antioxidants and other nutrients that reduce age-related eye disease. Anyway, it is probably not a great idea to rely on a soft drink company to satisfy your vitamin and nutrient needs.

Next on the list is alkaline water. Because alkaline water has much less acidity than plain tap water, proponents say that it can neutralise acid in your bloodstream, boost your metabolism and help your body absorb nutrients more effectively. Some even say that alkaline water can help prevent disease and slow the ageing process. However, researchers haven’t verified any of these claims. As a matter of fact, regardless of whether water is alkaline or acidic to begin with, the digestive processes of the body are able to transform the balance of all liquids into what the body requires. So clearly a waste of money.

And electrolyte enhanced water? If you are a regular marathon runner this is for you. Or if you have a bout of food poisoning it is important to provide both fluids and electrolytes. But if you’re not, forget it.

It might also be a good idea to consider the type of plastic used for your bottled water. Polycarbonate bottles can easily leak bisphenol A into the water. Bisphenol A is currently a controversial chemical with some claimed negative health effects.