Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 May

Water Scam Alert!

I’ve received many questions about various H2O health issues: reverse osmosis, filtration, distillation and bottled water. I plan to discuss the various concerns throughout the month of May. For the record, I am not in favor of distilled water and I think many of the water fears we have are unfounded. But I’m especially critical of the bottled water scams I see.

In general, I understand the reasons people prefer bottled water – hey, we want to be drinking pure water, not chemicals. I’m right there with you. But there are some major considerations if you are concerned about the environment, about water pollution, about resources and sustainability, and, as a matter of fact, about your health.

For now, I’m going to direct you to Wise Bread’s three-part series on bottled water hype. It’s one of the best investigations of bottled water I’ve ever read. I urge you to read each segment. If you care about your health, your bank account, and your planet, you will.

Wise Bread – Part 1

Wise Bread – Part 2

Wise Bread – Part 3

Truth time: I like having bottled water on hand, especially that Fiji…am I falling for great marketing or what? But now that I’ve read Wise Bread’s series, I’m done with Fiji. It’s possibly the very last thing we should be drinking if we care about our health or want a future that includes clean water.

I’m not saying no to bottled water entirely. It’s a must for health and fitness. I keep a bottle in the car and I always grab one when I head out for a run, and it would be unreasonable and unhealthy to stop these habits. But I think it’s a good idea to buy a low-cost filter for the kitchen faucet as well as to refill those water bottles instead of contributing to the Pacific Ocean’s Texas-sized carpet of trash Sara discussed last week.

Here’s something serious to think about: how healthy is it to drink something stored in plastic?

Especially considering the enormous amount of pollution that’s dumped into our waterways and pumped into our skies just to make that plastic bottle? This isn’t about being an environmentalist; this is about fighting for our health. Our air and our water are nearing toxic soup status thanks to plastic that has to be refined and produced and then shipped on fuel-hungry boats and trucks just to get to us. I don’t think this makes me some nutty tree-hugger (although I really don’t get why, like vegetarians, nice people in general are deemed so threatening). I think this is a critical health issue, and I believe we’re being snookered by the bottled water industry. Someone’s sure enjoying the private jet.

I’m not fooling myself into believing the water that comes to us via the city pipes is ideal, but taking that same city water, sloshing it into a toxic, inefficient plastic package and dragging it thousands of expensive miles away to a different city to be chugged exotically strikes me as a pretty profitable scam.

This brings me to my favorite quote from Wise Bread’s debunkery:

“I’d argue that they’re [people who buy bottled water] probably health-conscious people who have bought into an idea sold by the water bottling companies – that their clean, pure water cleanses your body and flushes out toxins. The irony of this is that people who are concerned about environmental toxins in their systems are only helping to perpetuate the pollution and enviromental degradation by buying bottled water, the production of which just makes everything worse off in the long run.”

Bottled water – we drink it with the best of intentions for health and wellness. Water does nourish and cleanse our bodies. I’m certainly in favor of that. But bottled water comes with many problems, and the more I research, the more the quackery red flags begin to fly. I want this blog to exist in service of the truth, even when it goes against our assumptions and what we’re comfortable with telling ourselves. As I’ve said many times before, I think we owe it to ourselves – and our children – to critically examine all our health beliefs. Change can be mighty annoying – I thought I was doing myself a favor, and maybe you did, too. When it comes to bottled water, I am increasingly inclined to believe much of the issue boils down to some very successful marketing:

1) “Safety“: Turns out, it’s rarely any “better” than tap water. (Which is quite drinkable – at least in this country – contrary to popular opinion.) Drinkable doesn’t mean perfect, but bottled water purity standards are often identical to tap standards, and much of the bottled water we buy comes from the tap, anyway. Moreover, buying bottled water only makes the entire water problem worse. It’s a short-term fix that isn’t even a fix in most, er, cases (pardon the pun). And I have serious reservations about consuming any substance housed in plastic for any length of time.

2) “Purity“: As Wise Bread points out, no water is completely pure, anywhere, anymore. You’re better off filtering the water at home and saving yourself a lot of money, sparing the rest of the world some much-needed resources, and keeping the planet clean. I’ll still keep a few bottles around for guests and my Santa Monica mountain hikes, but that’s it.

3) “Marketing“: Just check out the Starbucks Ethos scam. Think you’re helping kids get pure water? Think again. I’m livid. What’s really sad is that, while our water isn’t perfect, it’s a lot healthier and safer than the water the rest of the world has access to, and our bottled water addiction only worsens their plight.

4) “Environment“: Think about the massive resources required to get a few ounces of questionably “pure” water into your hands from thousands of miles away. That’s a lot of fuel, shipping cost, electricity, water, plastic packaging, and pollution. Again with that irony: our waterways have become so polluted by fuel and chemical runoff, we pay to drink water that is supposedly free of these pollutants. Yet why do these pollutants increasingly seep into our waters? Bottled water is one big reason. We’re treating a very real problem with a solution that only worsens the problem – dramatically so.

The truth is often inconvenient and discomforting. Fortunately, this is offset considerably by one other characteristic: it’s inexpensive.

What do you think?

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  1. Hi Mark,

    What is your take on the increasing amount of pharmaceuticals, especially female hormones entering our water supply? Does this effect male lean muscle mass and create a feminization effect.

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  3. The big problem with water filters is that when they filter out water the filtrate starts building up in the device. As more and more water passes through this filtrate, the water starts becoming polluted. The only way to pure water is distilled water. Oramedia has some good distillers that give you about 4 litres of water per day.

    Srinivas Kari wrote on June 25th, 2012
  4. Hello Mark,
    I see where you are coming from on your Water Scam Alert post, and it is easy to understand how contaminated our water can get, but to jump to these chemicals, fluoride in particular. They say theirs an average level of fluoride from 0.5 to 1.0 mg/L in our drinking water. From what I was told, “fluoride is poison”, it even say’s it on my toothpaste. Can you elaborate on this subject?

    Adam ben wrote on July 1st, 2013
  5. Glad to see some of this in mainstream media without the primal connection to it – just shows how sensible the whole drink when you’re thirsty mantra is.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24464774

    My favourite part in the article: “Saying that you should drink more water than your body asks for is like saying that you should consciously breathe more often than you feel like because if a little oxygen is good for you then more must be better.”

    Andreea wrote on October 11th, 2013

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