How Clean is Your Drinking Water? by Cari Culp, RD

Maybe you’ve made some positive health changes recently. Drinking eight glasses of water a day is one that I discuss frequently with my clients. But, how often do you think about whether the water you’re drinking is clean?  I think it’s a pretty important thing to think about. The body is over 60% water and uses it for everything from detoxification to nutrient absorption. If your drinking polluted water, your body becomes the filter, impairing normal daily functions. So, you ask… what could be lurking in my drinking water?

If you’re drinking tap or well water, the answer is dozens to hundreds of contaminants. When counseling clients that many tell me they don’t drink enough water because they don’t like the way tap water tastes. What they are likely tasting is the chlorine that is added to drinking water. Chlorine however, is just one of the many toxic contaminants in our water but one of the few that is noticeable. Many clients also tell me, “I have well water so it’s clean and it tastes great.” Did you know that E coli, arsenic and fertilizers are commonly found in well water. And, 99% of the contaminants in our water are silent meaning you can’t see, taste or smell them. You see, water is a universal solvent so it takes a piece of everything it comes in contact with.

According to the Environmental Working Group who compiled 28 million water records from about 50 water utilities across the U.S., 81% of water systems have been linked to cancer, 71% of Americans are drinking hexavalent chromium (think Erin Brochovich), 7 million Americans drink unsafe amounts of fertilizer and 19,000 Americans are drinking unsafe levels of lead. The EWG found hundreds of pollutants in U.S. drinking water including agricultural and industrial wastes, bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, asbestsos, arsenic, radioactive substances such as uranium and endocrine disrupting chemicals, many of which there are no regulations on. Additionally the amount of prescription medications found in drinking water is steadily increasing.

So, what about plastic water bottles? In my opinion this is not a good everyday option for a number of reasons. Most plastic bottles, even if they are BPA free, leach estrogenic compounds into the water. This is amplified if the bottle sat in the heat which could happen during shipping or storage. Additionally much of the water in bottles is nothing more than tap water and may contain a number of harmful contaminants but bottling companies are able to hide this information due to very loose regulations for bottled water. Even spring water is only required to come from an “underground source” which has often been exposed to harmful pollutants. If that’s not enough, about 35 billion water bottles are purchased in the U.S. each year, many of which end up in the landfill not to mention the cost to you which is about 2000 times what tap water costs.

There are many options for home water filters. Some are more effective at removing contaminants than others but few remove the majority of pollutants. Many people opt for the refrigerator, pitcher or spigot attachment filters. These use granulated activated charcoal to remove some contaminants including chlorine, which improves taste giving the illusion that the water is clean, but many contaminants pass through the filter because the carbon is not solid. Reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation systems are effective at removing the majority of pollutants but also remove beneficial minerals which are important for health.

After extensive research to choose the best filter for my family,  I chose the Berkey water filter. Why is Berkey my favorite? Berkey purifiers are rated #1 in terms of contaminant removal by removing hundreds of contaminants to higher than 99.99%. They exceed EPA NSF standards. They are actually used by UNICEF, the Red Cross and the Peace Corps to provide drinking water in third world countries. It will even remove food coloring from water… I tested it! It’s a gravity filter that uses solid carbon micro-filtration so it requires no energy with excellent filtering ability. It’s also very portable. We have even taken it camping to turn river water into safe drinking water.  Better yet, it leaves beneficial minerals in the water which improves health benefits and taste, helping you achieve those 8 glasses a day! The Berkey costs about $250 upfront which is much less than RO or distillation systems. I know that seems costly compared to many of the other filter options, but think about this… Berkey filters will delightfully purify about 6,000 gallons of water before needing replacement. A family of 4 averages about 10 gallons of water a week. In this case, Berkey filters would last 11 years before needing to be replaced, resulting in water cost of about 2 cents per gallon! You can read more about the Berkey water filter here

Not ready to invest in a Berkey yet but want to drink cleaner water? You can use the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Safe Drinking Water to find out what specific contaminants are in your water based on location and get recommendations on some of the best filter options for you. 

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