Are You Drinking the Wrong Water?

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Alkaline, vitamin-enhanced, with or without electrolytes? Here’s the best water for our health.

In today’s capitalist societies, many of us live in a world where we’re spoiled for choice. A trip to the grocery store reveals many different varieties of apples, bread, milk, yogurt and even water. We can choose between spring water, filtered or purified water, water with vitamins, water with added minerals, water with electrolytes, and even alkaline water with a buffered pH.

Many water brands claim health benefits, promising to do everything from boost our metabolism to fight long-term diseases (and, of course, hydrate).  Choosing which water to drink can feel overwhelming.

Is one type of water better to drink? Can we make ourselves healthier by drinking the right water – and could we hurt ourselves by drinking the wrong water, or water with the wrong added ingredients?

Let’s learn a bit more about the different types of water for sale – and see what science says about the best water to drink.

Water – It’s Good For You in So Many Ways

women with glass of water in hand
Photo by freepik.diller

No matter the specific type, water is one of the best things we can drink.

Water has no calories, which makes it an invaluable replacement for calorie-rich, sugary drinks that contribute heavily to obesity. The average person consumes nearly 39 gallons of soda per year. Switching from soda to water can reduce your annual sugar intake by 16 kilograms – which saves an extra 62,000 calories!

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Water consumption also boosts metabolism. When we drink water, our body must expend energy to heat that water to our body temperature, burning calories. This raises our energy production and helps promote wakefulness.

Whether after a bout of exercise or as a mid-afternoon boost, a glass of water is always a good idea – but are specific types of water better for us?

The Differences in the Water Aisle

water aisle
Photo by Carlos Moura

Let’s talk about three types of water that make health claims: alkaline water, electrolyte-enhanced water, and vitamin enhanced water.

Alkaline water has a buffered, raised pH. Purified water has a pH of 7, which is considered “neutral.” By adding minerals, the pH of alkaline water increases, to between 8 and 9. 

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There are many wild claims about alkaline water, including that it can help prevent aging, cleanse our colons, support our immune system, contribute to weight loss, or better hydrate us than pH neutral water. Most of these claims are false, with little to no support. 

A small study showed that, in a lab setting, alkaline water can help neutralize stomach acid, which may provide temporary relief to people with acid reflux. However, no studies have shown that this water offers any benefit for more serious diseases, such as cancer. Our body maintains its own pH, and drinking alkaline water won’t shift the overall pH of our blood or tissues. The alkaline effect won’t reach our intestine or colon.

Additionally, because alkaline water neutralizes our stomach acid, it can make us more vulnerable to bacterial infections or ulcers. The Mayo Clinic, and most medical experts, recommend sticking with plain, neutral water.

Electrolyte-enhanced water is water with added mineral salts, called electrolytes, that are used by the body to balance water levels.

We sometimes hear about electrolyte imbalances in athletes, especially those that push themselves in extreme sports. Electrolyte imbalances can also occur when the body loses too much water from diarrhea, vomiting, sweating from a high fever, or taking diuretics that stimulate urination. When we lose water, we also lose salt – and in extreme cases, we lose too much salt for our body to replace it.

Electrolyte-enhanced water or sports drinks can help replenish these salts – but our bodies also get the salts that we need from food. Additionally, many electrolyte-enhanced waters don’t contain high enough electrolyte levels to make a difference. 

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The best guideline? If you aren’t sweating, or if your workouts aren’t longer than two hours, you don’t need electrolytes – just water. 

Vitamin enhanced water is another appealing option that probably isn’t necessary for most people. These waters have added vitamins, such as vitamin C and some B vitamins, but they often also include added sugar, which adds empty calories and will actually dehydrate us (as our body uses up water to dilute high blood sugar).

Similar to electrolyte-enhanced waters, vitamin enhanced water is trying to solve a problem that usually doesn’t exist. Most of us get the nutrients and vitamins that we need from food. Instead of trying to ‘neutralize’ a bad diet by adding vitamin enhanced water, it’s better to simply improve the food we consume – and stick with plain water.

Is there special water we should all be drinking?

For most of us, the answer is no. Many of the health claims about enhanced waters are overblown, unproven, and sometimes simply wrong.  We do need electrolytes and vitamins, but we get them naturally from food. We simply do not need to add them to our water.

Some water options can be useful in specific situations. Athletes who push themselves to the limit will benefit from water with added electrolytes, and acid reflux sufferers may find temporary relief by sipping some alkaline water. For most of us, however, we don’t need these minimal benefits, and it’s both easier and cheaper for us to stick with plain, pure water.

Pure, plain water offers a host of health benefits – after all, our ancestors have been drinking the stuff for millions of years and have evolved to maximize its payoff. It can help us stay at a healthy weight by boosting our metabolism and by replacing sugary soda.

For an easy drink that is guaranteed to be healthy, water is the best and simplest choice.


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