4 Surprising Secrets About Bottled Water

I have a product I want to sell you, and I call it AirFlow 3000. It's a ventilation system that pumps air into your house. AirFlow 3000 air comes in an elegantly packaged delivery system that will lend you and your family style and sophistication. And it’s available for just $5 per day, per person! Interested?

Well, just to be clear: AirFlow 3000 is 100 percent identical to the air outside. It contains all the same pollutants and funky odors, and it doesn't do anything special for your health. You’re really just paying for the packaging, because you’re already breathing the exact same air for free. Still interested?

Of course you aren't. But the AirFlow 3000 pitch is essentially the same pitch water bottlers are making right now. The difference is they're not so straightforward about their wares. They're not selling water, they're selling "mineral" and "spring" water. And we're buying. The average American chugs nearly 30 gallons of bottled water a year, making it the second-most consumed commercial beverage in the United States. (Sadly, soda is the first.) But, as it turns out, bottled water is no more pure than the federally regulated—and virtually free—H2O that comes out of the tap.

Below, I shed some light on what’s really going on behind the fancy names and pristine labels of your favorite bottled water brands. It's time to rethink your relationship with water.

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Bottled-Water Secret #1: It doesn’t taste any better

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies, researchers asked people to rate the taste of six bottled mineral waters and six types of tap water. They found that, overall, bottled water didn’t perform any better than the stuff from the tap. The reason: It’s mineral concentration, not "water purity," that influences flavor. The study’s participants preferred water with medium mineralization, which they described as “tasteless” and “cooler,” but whether it came from a bottle or the tap made little difference. What is clear: By filling your belly, drinking water before meals can help you lose a ton of weight. In fact, it's one of the 20 Habits Skinny People Live By.

Bottled-Water Secret #2: It’s not necessarily pure

 The Natural Resources Defense Council recently tested 1,000 bottles of water and discovered that about 22 percent of the brands in the study contained chemical contaminants at levels above state health limits. And in 2011, California State University researchers tested six brands of bottled water and found that while none contained more than the legal level of contaminates, all six exceeded California public health goals for arsenic. There’s also substantial research showing that when certain plastic bottles are heated at high temperatures, chemicals from the plastic can leach into a container’s contents (a good reason not to store cases of water in the garage this summer). The takeaway: Don’t let label jargon like “pure” and “natural” fool you. Unlike bottled water, tap water is subject to strict federal, state, and local guidelines, making it a safer beverage choice.

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Bottled-Water Secret #3: It may be glorified tap water

Exotic names and labels conjure up images of tropical waterfalls and mountaintop springs, but in reality, roughly 25 percent of all bottled water comes from municipal water sources. Coca-Cola’s Dasani, for example, is nothing but purified tap water with added minerals. And Pepsi’s Aquafina? Another bottle of city water. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to be drinking tap water anyway, I’d rather save some cash and drink the free version. For more beverage secrets, including detailed list of the worst drinks in America, pick up a copy of Drink This, Not That!

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Bottled-Water Secret #4: It’s hurting our planet

Most water bottles are made of a plastic called polyethylene terepthalate, or PET. There are two problems with PET bottles. Problem 1: They take a boatload of crude oil to produce. University of Louisville researchers estimate that around 17 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce PET water bottles—a major reason why bottled water costs roughly four times as much as gasoline. Problem 2: We’re chucking our water bottles in the trash, instead of the recycling bin. According to the Container Recycling Institute, nearly 90 percent of the 30 billion PET water bottles we buy annually end up in landfills—a huge problem when you consider that PET bottles take from 400 to 1,000 years to decompose. The bottom line: We should all take a cue from environmentally conscious activists like the folks at the University of Vermont—which recently banned bottled-water sales on campus—and opt for the tap whenever possible.

DRINK DISASTERS: Bottled water isn’t the only dubious drink you have to watch out for. Many bottled beverages pack enough sugar and calories to foil your get-fit plans in one fell sip. Protect yourself by avoiding the 11 Worst Beverages in the Supermarket!

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