Ranking the best bottled water of 2020

Water is essential for life, but what if you can’t trust the source of your tap water?

Bottled water is a great alternative when the purity of your tap water is in question, whether because of bacterial contamination, heavy metals, or organic toxins that slip by the waste water treatment process.

If you want a reliable source of safe, pure, and healthy drinking water, read on—our research team has ranked the ten best brands of bottled water on the market right now.

Rankings

1. Penta Ultra Purified

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If your number one concern is purity, Penta is the way to go. It is extremely pure water, without electrolytes or trace elements added for taste.

It is tested and certified free of pesticides, heavy metals, pharmaceutical traces, and BPA, all of which can contaminate tap water.

The total dissolved solid content—meaning anything but water—is less than one part per million. For the health conscious consumer, it’s our number one choice.

2. Fiji Natural Artesian Water

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Fiji has been a long-time favorite of choosy water drinkers thanks to its well-balanced and crisp taste. Harvested from natural water springs in Fiji, this bottled water is highly pure and very refreshing.

3. Propel Electrolyte Water

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Propel solves a problem for the diet-conscious athlete: how do you get electrolytes during and after a workout without the high sugar content of a traditional sports drink?

Propel provides a small amount of electrolytes along with a range of B-complex vitamins for energy and sports performance. Athletes and gym buffs should opt for Propel if they want to fuel up their workouts without the drawbacks of a sugar-laden sports beverage.

4. Boxed Water is Better

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If you want the benefits of bottled water but less of an environmental impact, Boxed Water is the way to go. It uses BPA-free paper to make the cartons, which are in turn 100% recyclable.

The actual water is purified through reverse osmosis and disinfected with ultraviolet light treatment, making it well-suited both for daily drinking and emergency preparedness.

5. Evian Natural Spring Water

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If you want bottled water with the natural minerals present in spring water, Evian is one of the best choices. It is sourced from glacial runoff in the French Alps and includes trace minerals like potassium and magnesium that balance out its taste.

6. Essentia Ionized Water

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Essentia makes bottled water that is subjected to ionization to increase its pH, making it more alkaline.

It has electrolytes added to support this higher pH, which gives it a sharper and more distinct taste than most other bottled waters. If you want some of the reputed health benefits of alkaline water, such as decreased heartburn, it’s a good option.

7. Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water

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Acqua Panna derives its spring water from Italy, and it’s a favorite among people who care about the taste of bottled water.

The naturally-included minerals give it a light and airy taste, and its taste is a lot cleaner than many other bottled waters on the market.

8. Glaceau smartwater

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Smartwater starts out as a highly purified and distilled water, then Glaceau adds a small amount of electrolytes for taste.

This way, you know that it is free from any possible contaminants, but still has the benefits of trace minerals in the water. If you are conscious about water purity but want trace elements too, smartwater is the way to go.

9. Voss

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Voss is a high-end artisanal water that you’ll often find at fine restaurants. It’s drawn from deep wells in Norway and packaged in a thick, BPA-free PET plastic bottle. If taste is your top priority, definitely consider Voss.

10. JUST Water

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JUST Water takes the environmental impact of bottles seriously, and uses recycled and recyclable paper to make its bottles.

It pays attention to taste, too—this naturally-sourced spring water has trace minerals for taste and electrolytes, and is packaged at a pH of 8.0, making it a good choice for those seeking a more alkaline water.

Category winners

Best bottled water overall: Penta Ultra Purified

Penta is super-pure and tastes great. What more can you ask for from bottled water? As long as you don’t want any special additives, Penta should be your go-to choice.

Best alkaline bottled water: Essentia Ionized Water

Essentia uses an ionization process to raise its pH (a measure of alkalinity) to over 9.5. If you are specifically looking for alkaline water, for dietary or health considerations, Essentia is the perfect option.

Best natural spring bottled water: Evian Natural Spring Water

Evian, sourced from the French Alps, has a fresh, cool taste that’s attributable to the trace minerals that are left in the glacial runoff where this water is sourced. If you want bottled water with minimal processing, Evian is the way to go.

Best filtered bottled water: Penta Ultra Purified

Penta’s purity is measured in parts per billion—that should tell you something about its purity level. Penta’s 13-step purification process is the best in the industry, making it an easy winner if you are looking for filtered bottled water.

Best-tasting bottled water: Fiji Natural Artisanal Water

Fiji has long made a name for itself for its excellent-tasting bottled water, and there’s a good reason for it. Fiji tops all its competitors with its clear, crisp taste.

Best bottled water with electrolytes: Propel Electrolyte Water

Designed with athletes in mind, Propel is great if you need electrolytes for exercise but don’t want the sugars that come with traditional sports drinks.

Who should buy bottled water?

Bottled water is well-suited for people who live locations with untrustworthy local water supplies, or who want to be prepared in case of a disaster. A well-stocked emergency shelter should include both bottled water and long-term food storage.

Traditionally, people associate low quality with developing countries, and while it’s true that contaminants like bacteria and protozoa, which cause disease, are typically found in contaminated water in the developing world, recent events in cities like Flint, Michigan have demonstrated that living in a wealthy country is no guarantee of safe water.

In case you don’t recall, for years, residents of Flint were exposed to water contaminated with high levels of lead, a toxic heavy metal that can cause cognitive impairments, especially in children.

Bottled water is great if you have concerns about the quality of your standard tap water. Certain kind of bottled water that are fortified with electrolytes can also help athletic performance to a greater extent than standard water, and many people seek out certain types of natural spring water for their purported health benefits, though these effects are less clear than the advantages in terms of purity and quality offered by a high quality bottled water.

How we ranked

When formulating our bottled water rankings, purity and quality were of the utmost importance.

We sought out products that had been tested by third party or independent laboratories for purity and quality, focusing on two metrics: the presence of trace metal contaminants like lead, cadmium, or mercury, and the presence of organic contaminants like bisphenol A (also known as BPA) and traces of pharmaceutical drugs.

Broadly, we considered three categories of bottled water: first among these was bottled water products focused exclusively on purity.

Here, we put top priority on independent lab testing for trace contaminants. We also carefully examined the type of purification used to filter the water, with reverse osmosis being the preferred method. Highly pure natural sources, such as the glacial runoff in the French Alps used to make Evian bottled water, were also good candidates for bottled water sources in this category.

Next, we selected the best bottled water that contain extra electrolytes, like Propel Electrolyte Water. If you aren’t quite ready for a sports drink or an energy drink, a bottled water with a little bit of electrolytes can help you perform better when you exercise, without the added sugar of the alternatives.

Finally, we also considered high-quality bottled water products that were conscious of their environmental consequences. Here, Boxed Water was the clear winner, with post-consumer recycled paper used to make their cartons (which are also recyclable).

The clear winner in this category, Boxed Water also had the benefit of being BPA-free and disinfected with UV light, so it’s a favorite among survivalists and others who maintain emergency water rations.

Benefits

Bottled water can make up for the often-disappointing lack of purity in tap water. While water is essential for life, too often it’s difficult to avoid contaminants in drinking water.

Whether it is heavy metal contaminants in water piping, pesticides from farm runoff, or trace pharmaceutical compounds that slip by the water purification process, tap water has a number of health hazards that can be avoided by choosing a high-quality bottled water.

On top of this, many people prefer the taste of naturally-sourced spring water to the taste of the water that’s found in their local tap system. We’ll take a look at some of the science behind why you may want to opt for bottled water for optimal health and wellness.

Bottled water is free of heavy metal contaminants like lead. While most people think of municipal water sources in the United States being safe and healthy, contaminants are more of a problem in tap water than many people realized.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which started in 2014, is perhaps the best example of this—in response to mounting financial difficulties, the city of Flint switched its water source to a less expensive and more polluted river, which was compounded by a failure to properly treat the water.

Aging lead pipes leached toxic lead into the city’s water supply, which led to up to five percent of children in Flint having dangerous levels of lead in their blood (1).

The worst part about the water crisis was the fact that the public was completely in the dark until a scientific study by a team of doctors at Hurley Medical Center reported on the rise in blood levels of lead in an article in the American Journal of Pediatric Health in 2015 (2).

Even after the publication of this data, city and state officials falsely claimed that local water was within federal guidelines for safety until the data become overwhelmingly incontrovertible.

Unfortunately, contamination in drinking water is not confined to just Flint, Michigan. According to one study, up to 45 million Americans are drinking water that comes from a municipal water system that does not comply with federal drinking water safety standards (3).

These violations include toxic metals like lead and arsenic, as well as bacterial contamination.

Many pharmaceutical drugs can’t be removed by standard tap water purification procedures. With millions of Americans taking prescription drugs, it’s no surprise that these compounds end up in the drinking water supply.

Aside from the obvious source—unused drugs being flushed down the toilet—metabolized and unmetabolized forms of prescription medication make their way into the drinking water supply in the form of urine.

Many of these compounds are so pernicious that traditional wastewater treatment plants can’t remove them from the water supply. This was the conclusion of a scientific study published in 2004 by a team of researchers from the United States Geological Survey (4).

Given the massive amounts of water that must be processed, aggressive purification methods like distillation aren’t feasible for most tap water sources.

While the technology exists to remove pharmaceutical drugs and their metabolites from drinking water supplies, many municipal water treatment plants have not implemented these, and the health implications of chronic long-term exposure to low doses of drugs—which, of course, are known to be biologically active—are unknown.

As recently as 2016, research by a United Nations working group highlighted the fact that pharmaceutical compounds in drinking water are still a significant threat to water quality (5).

Bottled water is free from unregulated endocrine disruptors found in tap water. Endocrine disruptors are an emerging category of chemicals that are particularly harmful to human health, even at low doses, because they are molecularly similar in structure to human hormones.

They are particularly harmful to infants and children, because these same hormones control growth, development, and puberty. Endocrine disruptors are hypothesized to be linked to higher levels of birth defects, sexual dysfunctions, and other health problems.

The best-known endocrine disruptor is bisphenol A, or BPA, but is is far from the only one. According to research published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, conventional water treatment methods are ineffective against many potential endocrine disrupting compounds (6).

By spiking waste water samples with a known quantity of endocrine disruptors, then using advanced chemical analysis to measure the levels after different treatment methods, the researchers were able to demonstrate the insufficiency of many of the standard treatment methods when it comes to removing endocrine disruptors from the water supply.

A high-quality bottled water, in contrast, is derived either from pure natural sources of water or is purified using advanced treatment methods to remove any possible contaminants.

Bacterial contamination is common in tap water. Contamination in drinking water is not limited just to organic and inorganic chemicals.

Living bacteria can grow and multiply in poorly-processed tap water, and this issue is of particular concern in small towns and rural areas where local funding does not keep up with the demand for increasingly complex water purification techniques.

According to a federal report released in 2016, almost three quarters of small municipal water supplies do not meet safety standards for bacterial contamination (7).

Again, high quality bottled water offers distinct advantages: because it is subjected to more stringent testing and safety standards, and is then sealed in a sterile bottle, the probability of contamination by bacteria like coliform is far lower.

Chronically low water intake is associated with impairments in cognitive function, kidney function, glucose regulation, and increases in oxidative stress. A recent review of research on hydration status published in 2019 in the text Analysis in Nutrition Research evaluated the range of studies published recently on what some researchers deem ‘hypohydration’—chronically low water intake that, though it may not create acute dehydration, puts additional stress on the body (8).

The authors of this review cite a range of experiments and observational studies that paint a fairly consistent picture: people who do not drink very much water on a regular basis put an additional stress on many of the core functional structures of the body.

While much of this work only shows association, these relationships remain even after adjusting for common confounding variables like cigarette smoking.

Chronically low intake of water and other healthy fluids has been associated with obesity, poor cognitive function, and impairments in kidney function and glucose regulation, to name just a few of the chronic health concerns mentioned in this text chapter.

In some cases, the connection is obvious: chronically low water intake means that the kidneys are filtering out toxins at much greater concentrations, assuming the same absolute amount of a molecule would be dissolved in less liquid. In other cases, such as obesity, it might be that low water intake is correlating with a poor overall diet.

And finally, in cases like glucose regulation, it’s clear that more research needs to be done to uncover the causal mechanisms behind these associations. In any case, it’s far safer to be on the well-hydrated end of the spectrum even if all the science isn’t in yet.

Much of the initial work on hydration might have not have measured it correctly. Traditionally, the gold standard for hydration has been the osmolarity, or the concentration of ions in the blood. In acute cases of dehydration, the concentration of ions in the blood is higher, due to a deficit of water.

However, a recent narrative review study published in 2019 in the European Journal of Nutrition by Stavros Kavouras, a professor at Arizona State University, argues that there is a distinction between acute dehydration, which can be observed by changes in blood osmolarity, and differences in chronic water intake (sometimes called ‘hypohydration’) (9).

Kavouras points to research on American Adults that found huge differences in water intake between the lowest and highest ten percent of adults (1.7 liters per day versus 7.9 liters per day), yet no difference in their blood osmolarity levels.

Kavouras suggests that osmolarity is not measuring the effects of low (or high) regular consumption of water, and thus the substantial body of research that’s been based on the effects of low or high blood osmolarity might be missing some very important health effects.

He points to a number of studies which looked at water consumption that have connected chronically low water intake with chronic kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and impaired cognitive and physical performance.

Given how recent these findings are, there may well be a bevy of new research on hydration in the coming years that finds new and important links between hydration and health.

Side effects

As long as you follow your thirst instinct, bottled water is free from pretty much any side effects. The only way you can get yourself in trouble is by forcing yourself to drink more water when your body is telling you it’s had enough.

In this situation, you can get hyponatremia, a dangerous condition where your blood sodium gets too diluted. Hyponatremia usually only affects marathon runners and other endurance athletes, and even then, only affects those who take hydration advice too far, and force themselves to drink enormous quantities of water even when they feel too full.

Still, it’s worth noting that mindlessly forcing yourself to drink large volumes of water can put your body in an unhealthy and potentially dangerous state. Ironically, in athletic events, hyperhydration (which causes hyponatremia) ends up leading to far more hospitalizations than dehydration.

Recommended intake

The short-term effects of insufficient water intake are well-known: a lack of adequate water causes impaired sports performance, increases stress on the kidneys, and can harm cognitive function as well (10).

Guidelines on water intake during exercise and vigorous activity are based primarily on thirst or loss of body weight due to sweating: the relative rarity of severe dehydration itself indicates that thirst is a fairly strong indicator of hydration status.

Despite its vital importance for life, the chronic effects of low water intake are surprisingly murky. This was reported on by a scientific review by researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Department of Nutrition (11).

While there is an obvious logical connection between, for example, low water intake and increased stress on the kidneys, no data exists exploring a connection between water intake and kidney disease.

However, some preliminary data indicates that good hydration (defined, rather arbitrarily, as above average intake of water) as protective against some chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and hypertension.

The authors of this scientific review concede that much work remains to be done to determine the optimal intake levels for water, but given the evidence thus far, many people ought to drink more than they do.

FAQ

Q: Which bottled water is the safest to drink?

A: When it comes to safety, you want to opt for a brand that uses high-quality filtering methods such as reverse osmosis filtering.

Our current favorite is Penta Ultra Purified, thanks to its extremely rigorous filtering and purification procedures that you can count on to remove all kinds of contaminants, from bacteria and protozoa that cause disease to heavy metals and traces of organic compounds from pharmaceutical drugs that may contaminate tap water.

If you are looking for a bottled water for emergency preparedness, we like Boxed Water Is Better thanks to its innovative BPA-free packaging and ultraviolet light disinfection procedure.

In terms of safety, you really need to consider three possible angles: first, bacterial, viral, or protozoa contamination that can cause disease; second, heavy metal contamination with compounds like mercury and lead; and third, organic contamination with endocrine disruptors like BPA or traces of pharmaceutical drugs. Our top-rated bottled waters are free from all three

Q: Is drinking bottled water bad for you?

A: As long as you are getting a high-quality source for your bottled water, you don’t need to worry about bottled water being bad for you.

Concerns about contamination with compounds like BPA are actually more of a worry with hard plastics used in reusable plastic water bottles, as opposed to single-serving bottled water, and as long as you choose a good brand with a high-quality filtering method, such as reverse osmosis, you’ll be getting extremely pure water.

Q: Is bottled water worth it?

A: The cost to benefit analysis of whether bottled water is worth it is going to depend a lot on the quality of tap water that’s at your disposal.

If you live in a location with great tap water that’s regularly tested and proven to be high quality, then bottled water might not be worth it. However, if you’re in a city that is having problems with its water supply quality, then bottled water might make sense if you’d rather not compromise on your health.

Bottled water is almost always worth it in two cases: when travelling to locations with poor water quality, and in your emergency preparedness supplies. Travelling to less-developed locations is a great way to get away, but it’s also a great way to pick up an acute infection thanks to the bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that can contaminate local water supplies. Americans traveling to Mexico are infamously vulnerable to infections from E. coli, shigella, and other waterborne infectious agents, for example.

Along with long term food storage, bottled water is always a good idea to keep on hand in case an emergency or natural disaster strikes and tap water becomes unreliable.

Q: Is there a health benefit from consuming bottled water compared to tap water?

A: Bottled water only has health benefits compared to tap water if the tap water you are drinking can’t be relied on for safety.

If you’re in a location where bacteria like E. coli or heavy metals like lead are found in the local drinking water, there’s a huge and obvious health benefit to not exposing your body to these agents. On the contrary, high quality and properly treated tap water can be just as healthy as bottled water.

Q: What is in bottled water?

A: While this might seem like a silly question (“water” would be the obvious answer), it’s worth a closer look, because where that water comes from, and whether it contains anything else, varies from brand to brand.

Purified bottled water, like our top pick of Penta Ultra Purified, goes through a rigorous process of chemical purification that removes any potential contaminants. Mineral or spring water, like Evian, is all natural, and may contain dissolved traces of elements like sodium, potassium, and calcium.

Finally, enhanced water like Propel or Smart Water contains electrolytes and sometimes vitamins as well that are added to water after it’s purified, with the aim of enhancing your health beyond what you’d get with just plain water (though whether this is even necessary is up for debate: there are plenty of other ways to get electrolyte sin your diet).

Q: How long does bottled water last?

A: In terms of safety, bottled water will last more or less indefinitely. The United States Food and Drug Administration does not require a shelf life to be on a bottle of water like it does for foods and other beverages, like milk (12).

However, many manufacturers will put a shelf life on their bottled water because they believe that the taste may be negatively affected after a certain amount of time due to changes in the packaging.

Nestle, for example, recommends bottled water remain on the shelf for no more than two years (13). If you are drinking bottled water for the taste, it’s worth paying attention to these guidelines, but if all you care about is water for emergency preparedness, your water supply should stay good indefinitely if it’s properly sealed.

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Recap

Maintaining good hydration is important both for performance and for overall health, but unfortunately, tap water doesn’t always meet safety and purity standards.

Heavy metal contaminants, like lead, can make their way into drinking water supplies thanks to inadequate water treatment and bureaucratic mismanagement, as happened in Flint, Michigan. Up to 45 million Americans could be exposed to harmful drinking water, according to some research, so for many people, bottled water is a good alternative to potentially contaminated tap water if they are trying to stay hydrated.

Rural water supplies are particularly vulnerable to bacterial contamination due to outdated treatment equipment, and even some of the best wastewater treatment systems can’t remove pharmaceutical compounds and endocrine disruptors. The long-term effects of these biologically active chemicals are unknown, but the odds are they are not good for your health.

If you are concerned about water purity affecting your health or a lack of pure water in your local supply, getting a high quality bottled water is the best way to avoid organic, inorganic, and bacterial contamination in the water you drink.

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 bottled water recommendation, click here.

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