I get a lot of emails and facebook questions about the healthiest options for drinking water and water filters. To be honest, this is something I’ve been researching in depth for years, and am only now writing about it since I’ve finally been able to try all of the options.
Finding the healthiest and most nutrient dense food options is extremely important, but to some degree, finding the best water options can be even more important! Some sources of water can contain hundreds of chemicals and many of these chemicals can be more easily absorbed from water than from food.
What’s In Your Water?
If you are drinking tap water, the answer to that question is 300+ chemicals and pollutants, according to research from the Environmental Working Group. Among these contaminants are:
- Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) such as pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. These chemicals are found in most municipal water sources and even in well and other sources due to agricultural run-off and contamination. Research links certain VOCs to damage in the reproductive system, liver, kidneys and more.
- Heavy Metals like lead and mercury are found in some water sources and have been linked to any health problems.
- Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals are chemicals that may mimic or interfere with the normal hormones in the body and these chemicals are being found in increasing amounts in the water supply. From this testimony before a congressional committee on the issue: “Over the past fifty years, researchers observed increases in endocrine-sensitive health outcomes. Breast and prostatic cancer incidence increased between 1969 and 1986 ; there was a four-fold increase in ectopic pregnancies (development of the fertilized egg outside of the uterus) in the U.S. between 1970 and 1987 ; the incidence of cryptorchidism (undescended testicles) doubled in the U.K. between 1960 and the mid 1980s ; and there was an approximately 42% decrease in sperm count worldwide between 1940 and 1990 .” These chemicals are known to affect animals when they enter the water supply as well.
- Fluoride: This is perhaps the most controversial of the contaminants in water (if something like water contaminants can be controversial!) because it is purposefully added to the water and there is much heated debate about the benefits/harm of this. Anyone who listened to the Heal Thy Mouth Summit is well aware of the potential dangers of Fluoride thanks to Dr. Kennedy, but the short is: If fluoride has any benefit, it would be directly to the teeth, as drinking the fluoride has not been statistically shown to increase oral health at all. Additionally, fluoride has been linked to thyroid problems and other disorders when consumed internally.
So what are the options for those of us not interested in drinking a chemical cocktail every time we are thirsty?
Bottled water has started falling out of favor lately and with good reason. Mark’s Daily Apple did an in-depth analysis of why, but bottled water is not a good option for several reasons:
- Chemicals from the plastic bottle itself can leech into the water
- In most cases, the water itself is no different than tap water
- Bottled water costs more in many cases that drinking tap water
- Water bottles are a major source of consumer waste each year!
Verdict: Not the best option on price, taste, or health so I skip it. That being said, having a bottle of water is very convenient, and there are some great sustainable options. Glass and steel water bottles are my personal favorites!
Pitcher Water Filters
Pitcher water filters like Brita use Granulated Activated Charcoal to remove some contaminants. They are less expensive than other filter options upfront, but require frequent filling (especially for large families) and cartridge replacement (making them more expensive in the long run). Since the carbon is not solid, it does not remove all toxins though these filters will improve taste.
Pitcher filters will reduce chlorine, but are not effective at removing VOCs, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors or fluoride. This category also includes faucet mount external filters, which use the same technology.
Verdict: Better than nothing, but doesn’t remove the worst offenders and is somewhat costly to use compared to other options.
Reverse Osmosis (RO)
Reverse Osmosis filtration uses a membrane which removes many contaminants from water. It is usually paired with a Granulated Activated Charcoal filter to remove chlorine and many mount under the sink and have a holding tank. The semipermeable membrane separates many contaminates (which usually have a larger particle size that water) from the water and rejects a large amount of water in the process.
The result is a waste of several gallons of water for every gallon filtered and many naturally occurring minerals (including calcium and magnesium) are also removed from the water. We used this type of filter for a long time but added trace minerals back in to the water to replace the ones that are filtered out. It does remove a large amount of contaminants but is not the best option, in my opinion.
Pros: Removes a large amount of contaminants. Many unites are stored under the sink and have a simple spigot over the counter for getting the water. Does reduce arsenic, asbestos and heavy metals. Does remove fluoride.
Cons: Wastes more water than it produces. Does not reduce VOCs or endocrine disruptors. Requires adequate water pressure to work so it is not usable if home water supply is cut off. Takes up to an hour to filter one gallon of water and filters need to be replaced regularly. Removes necessary minerals from the water.
Verdict: Certainly better than a lot of options out there and does remove fluoride, but not the best due to its waste of water and costly filters.
The distillation process uses heat to cause the water to become steam. The steam rises and moves to a cooling chamber where it turns back into liquid, leaving behind many contaminants. This type of filtration reduces large particles like minerals and heavy metals but does not remove endocrine disruptors or VOCs since they vaporize at equal or lower temps that water and rise with the steam. It does effectively kill bacteria.
Pros: Removes a large amount of contaminants. Does reduce arsenic, asbestos and heavy metals. Does remove fluoride.
Cons: Does not reduce VOCs or endocrine disruptors. Home distillation systems are often large and expensive. Use a large amount of electricity and will not work in power outages. Removes necessary minerals from the water. Long term use can cause mineral deficiencies.
Verdict: Better than bottled water, but definitely not the best option out there, especially for home situations.
Solid Block Carbon Filters
Recognized by the EPA as the best option for removing chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and VOCs. Quality carbon block filters will remove chemicals, pesticides, bacteria, fluoride (with filter attachment), heavy metals, nitrate, nitrites and parasites. Most are gravity based and can safely transform any type of water into safe drinking water including rain water, pond water and even sea water (though these types of water will clog the filters much more quickly and are not ideal!) It will even filter water with food coloring to create clear water (yes, I tested it…)
This is the option that we use now and my only complaint is that it does take up counter space. The advantages are that it is gravity based and will work even without electricity or running water. While these types of units can be more pricey that pitcher filters or other filters up front, they seem to be the least expensive in the long run and require the fewest filter replacements (a big plus for me!). These types of filters also don’t remove naturally occurring minerals from the water, making it the best tasting filtered water option, in my opinion.
Using the filter calculator from this site, I’ve determined that the specific system we use won’t need to be replaced for over 20 years with our current usage (though I’m guessing our usage will increase as the kids get older).
The most common type of this filter is the Berkey and it comes in many sizes for different uses. It can even be used camping to filter river water for drinking! (Tested this too and it saved one of my brother in-laws from Giardia when other members of his group got it while camping)
Pros: Filters VOCs, heavy metals, chlorine, fluoride, nitrates/ites, bacteria, parasites and other chemicals. Very inexpensive per gallon cost and infrequent filter replacement. Great tasting water. Doesn’t require electricity or water pressure to work. Portable options can even be used while traveling.
Cons: Does require counter space and does have to be manually filled (not a big deal for us, we just fill at night and we have plenty of water the next day). More expensive up front.
Verdict: This is what we personally use now and we have several different sizes in home and office and for travel. With our family size, the biggest unit with the most filters is a great option, but there are size options for any group size. From my research, this is the best option for removing contaminants without removing necessary minerals.
Other water treatment and filtering options that I didn’t evaluate in-depth are:
- UV Filters which does kill bacteria and parasites but does not reduce other types of contaminants and is not feasible for home use.
- Water softeners which add sodium to the water to reduce calcium and magnesium (thus “softening”) but does not filter or remove contaminants.
- Ceramic filters which do remove some contaminants but which are in many cases comparable on price to block carbon filters and which do not remove as many contaminants
- Water ionizers/alkalizers which I’ll be addressing in more detail soon, but which Dr. Weil does a good job of explaining here and which this article elaborates on.
What type of water system do you use? Do you drink tap water? Is water filtration a priority for you? Share below!