Evian = Naive: Are You a Sucker for Bottled Water?

How much do you pay for drinking water? Do you buy “pure” mountain spring water? Natural mineral water? Imported from the underground aquifers of ________? If you drink Perrier, Evian, Aquafina, Dasani, etc., because it’s supposed to be healthier or better tasting than tap water, chances are, you’re getting “soaked”.

evian bottled waterBottled water is BIIIIIG business, these days. You can easily pay a buck or two for a 16-20oz, name-brand bottle from a vending machine. Cheaper by the 6-pack or the case at the store, of course. In a swanky restaurant, expect to pay the equivalent of a few bucks per bottle for the imported stuff — especially if it’s “designer”. (Well, so I hear.) But, is it really that much better than tap water, which ranges from free to cheap, even at restaurants?

There are two primary reasons people choose to drink bottled water. The first is that it “tastes better.” But, you might be surprised at the results of a blind taste test conducted by ABC News a few years ago. Here were the results:

#1  American Fare (Kmart’s discount brand)
#2  Aquafina (America’s best seller (at least at the time))
#3  New York City tap water from a public water fountain
#3  Iceland Spring (bottled in Iceland)
#5  Poland Spring (bottled in America, not Poland)
#6  Evian (most expensive; the only one to get a “bad” rating)

Surprised? So were they. The winner, from Kmart, costs 1/3 that of the oh-so-special Evian. And tied for 3rd was FREE tap water from NYC. As John Stossel put it in his book Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity,

“In other words, reservoir water — squeezed through the antique pipes of New York City before emerging from a water fountain in Harlem — tastes as good as [or better than] expensive imports.”

Stossel also relates a story from Penn & Teller about how they got a trendy California restaurant to help fool their customers with a “water steward”. Of course, the diners loved choosing from a selection of pricey, fancy-bottled water, which was, “Oh, yeah, definitely better than tap water!” The gag was, of course, that all the bottles were filled from the hose on the restaurant’s back patio. Suckers!

OK, you say, isn’t bottled water much more “pure”? Purity is the second reason people prefer the bottled variety over straight-from-the-tap. Well, all water has trace amounts of certain chemicals — e.g., copper, iron, chromium — and, sure, some tap water has a bit higher concentrations than the bottled stuff. And, sometimes and in some places, this results in an odd, perhaps metallic, taste. So, in those cases, “better taste” might be a good reason to pay a bit more. (I’d go with the Kmart/Costco/Sam’s Club brand, though.) But, generally speaking, these trace chemicals aren’t a health issue. (Checked your multi-vitamin or mineral supplement lately?)

What about bacteria, like E. coli? That can be dangerous. Well, ABC News also sent samples of both bottled and tap water to a university microbiologist to test for the stuff. Verdict: “No difference.” (Stossel doesn’t say, but I’m assuming that meant there was nothing dangerous in any of the samples — not that all samples were equally contaminated.)

Other scientific tests confirm ABC’s conclusions that cheap ol’ tap water is as good for you as expensive bottled water. The Bottled Water Association sent Stossel to interview Dr. Stephen Edberg, of Yale University’s School of Medicine. When asked, “Is bottled water healthier than tap?”, he admitted,

“I wouldn’t say, uh, it’s healthier than tap water. I mean, uh, it’s both… they both provide, uh, water.”

Uh, well said, doctor. That they do.


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