By Jennifer Still
You hear it all the time: You should be drinking more water. How much depends on the person, but generally speaking, staying well hydrated offers a host of health benefits. That includes higher energy levels and better brain function, just to name a few.
But not all water is created equal, with some being cheaper or providing more nutrients than others.
Here are the different types of water and what you should know about them…
A piped water supply, tap water is found everywhere from the water that flushes a public toilet to the water that comes out of your kitchen sink or cleans your glassware in your dishwasher.
Though many people turn their noses up at the idea of drinking tap water over taste or safety concerns, the truth is that tap water is safe to drink across much of the U.S.
What’s more, tap water isn’t only good for you, it’s cheaper than buying various types of bottled water.
While there are industry regulations in place that are meant to keep lead and other harmful substances from contaminating the water supply, sometimes this doesn’t work. A prime example of this is the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Moreover, the Guardian reported on research showing plastic particles in tap water supplies around the world.
Public water supplies can also contain pesticide residue, aluminum, and other undesirable substances. If, however, you’re worried that the treatments performed on your water supply aren’t up to par, you can always purchase a home filtration system for further cleansing.
Pulled from a mineral spring, mineral water is, as the name states, full of minerals including sulfur, magnesium and calcium—all things that are good for you.
Mineral water does indeed have some health benefits, since it provides minerals your body can’t create on its own. It can also help aid in digestion, and many people even like the taste of it over tap water, though that’s down to personal preference.
One of the main downsides to mineral water is cost, especially when compared to tap water. Many of the minerals from this type of water can also be obtained from a healthy, varied diet.
Spring or Glacier Water
Spring or glacier waters are types of bottled waters that are claimed to be bottled at the source from where the water flows—either from the spring or glacier.
In theory, spring or glacier waters should be relatively clean and free of toxins. They also contain many of the same helpful minerals found in mineral water.
It also tends to be pretty readily available in stores, think well-known brands like Evian and Arrowhead, in both large and small bottles, which makes it easily accessible.
Depending on how much you drink, spring water could get pricey, especially in comparison to tap water. Also, some spring water is raw, unfiltered, and untested water, which could pose potential health risks depending on what it contains.
Sometimes referred to as carbonated water or soda water, sparkling water is infused with carbon dioxide gas while under pressure.
Sparkling water offers a different mouth feel to flat water, which could be a welcome change if you want something fizzy without sugar or artificial sweeteners.
That said, there are flavored sparkling waters available that do contain one or both types of sweeteners. Plus, because sparkling water tends to be mineralized—think Perrier and San Pellegrino—you’re getting the added bonus of health-promoting minerals with your carbonation.
While there are some minerals present in sparkling water, there aren’t enough to be truly beneficial to your health in a meaningful way. In addition, it can be expensive compared to both tap and certain types of bottled water.
This type of water is boiled and the steam is collected and condensed back into a liquid.
Distilled water is a great option if you live somewhere—or are visiting somewhere—where the tap water supply is contaminated or possibly could be.
As there are no vitamins and minerals in distilled water, there are no health benefits. In fact, it has the potential to be detrimental as non-mineralized water tends to pull minerals from where it can—in this case, your body, or specifically your teeth.
Purified water is usually tap or groundwater which has been treated to remove harmful substances like bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
This means that drinking it is pretty much guaranteed to be safe.
Like distilled water, purified water is a great option if your immediate water source is contaminated. That said, many countries purify tap water, so you’re basically drinking purified water every time you fill a cup from your kitchen sink.
Because all potentially harmful substances are removed from purified water, you also miss out on some of the potentially beneficial ones that are added to tap water supplies like fluoride, which helps to reduce tooth decay.
In addition, purchasing purified water or even installing a filtration system at home can be pretty costly.
Flavored or Infused Water
Flavored water is water that’s sweetened with either sugar or artificial sweeteners, and contains natural or artificial flavorings.
Flavored water, like Hint and Propel, can offer a tasty alternative to plain water, which makes it easier to drink in larger amounts.
It can also add variation to your water intake since there are so many flavors available. Flavor can be added naturally by infusing fruit and vegetables into tap or bottled water, or you could purchase artificially flavored waters in most stores.
Often, flavored waters contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Varieties with sugar can lead to weight gain and have a negative effect on those with diabetes. What’s more, some people may react negatively to artificial sweeteners.
Alkaline water has a higher pH level than normal tap water and contains alkaline minerals and negative oxidation reduction potential (ORP).
The fact that this type of water has a higher pH level has led some people to believe that it may help neutralize acid in the body, help slow the aging process, or even prevent cancer.
There’s very little scientific proof, however, of this being true.
It’s generally safe to drink alkaline water, but it could reduce stomach acidity, thereby lowering its ability to kill off harmful bacteria.
In excess, it could also lead to metabolic alkalosis, which could produce symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
Well water comes straight from the ground, though it’s untreated and carries with it a number of risks.
If you happen to live in an area where wells are plentiful, or you even have one in your own backyard, the convenient access to what seems like fresh water could be attractive.
While there are many proponents of raw, untreated water, the benefits may not outweigh the potential risks.
That said, there are steps you can take to ensure your well water is suitable for drinking. For example, testing your well water annually for bacteria, nitrates, and pH levels. It’s also possible to install a filtration system.
Because the water hasn’t been treated, there’s a big chance of contamination—particularly from bacterial and parasitic infections like giardia.
While well water used to be the norm, there’s a reason that city water supplies and the regulations surrounding them were put into place—you simply don’t know what you’re getting unless you test or treat the well water yourself.
The Bottom Line
While you may have a preference for which type of water is best, generally, there’s no one type that promises greater health benefits than the others.
So long as the water you’re drinking is clean and safe, the main focus is to make sure that you stay hydrated and to ensure you’re drinking enough water on a regular basis.
Jennifer Still is an editor and writer with bylines in Vanity Fair, Glamour, Bon Appetit, Business Insider, and more. She writes about food and culture. Follow her on Twitter.
Medically reviewed by Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN.