In the UK, we're lucky to have one of the safest drinking water systems in the world. It is carefully monitored by the Drinking Water Inspectorate to ensure the water coming out of our taps supplies us with safe drinking water of acceptable quality. However, you may notice that drinking water at your house tastes different to water in other parts of the country. This is caused by variation in the mineral composition of water, which is down to the geographical location and source.
Some parts of the UK, particularly Eastern and Southern regions of England, have water with a higher concentration of calcium and magnesium – this is known as 'hard water'. The South West of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland predominantly have 'soft water'.
Hard water is not harmful and may actually be better for many of us, as it provides a slightly higher dose of minerals than soft water and may help contribute towards a healthy calcium intake. It's also the reason you'll find your kettle scales up quickly – scaling is caused by calcium and magnesium deposits from the water.
While some people prefer the taste of hard water, others disagree. It's the reason why many people choose to invest in a water filter. This could be in the form of a filter jug, or a full filtration system plumbed into the house. Water UK advise that there is no safety benefit to filtering your water, thanks to the rigorous standards in place for tap water in the UK. The only benefit you may experience is a more palatable drinking water, and less limescale in your kettle.
Around 5.8 million of us in the UK receive fluoridated water. This is the process of adding fluorine to municipal water supplies to reduce cases of tooth decay, particularly in children. Fluoridation doesn't affect the appearance, smell, or taste of water. While some concern has been raised around the potential increased risk of fluorosis (excess fluorine in the bones and teeth), there isn't any strong evidence to suggest that water fluoridation at the levels currently used causes this.
Many people choose bottled water as their beverage of choice over tap water, claiming improved taste, convenience, and quality. While some bottled waters are sourced from natural mineral springs, others are just bottled tap waters! Brands will often cite their unique mineral composition as the reason for better-tasting water. While it’s true that the minerals are responsible for flavour, several studies involving blind taste tests found that the public showed no preference for either bottled or tap.
Bottled water may present a more convenient option to grab some water when you're on the go, but we cannot ignore the environmental impact. A huge amount of energy is required to pack and transport bottled water, plus the plastic bottles often end up in landfill or littering green spaces or polluting the oceans, leaching toxins as they slowly degrade.
If that's not enough, the cost of bottled water may make you think twice. Two litres of tap water costs around a third of a penny, whereas the equivalent in bottled water (comprised of single serve bottles) costs £2.36 – that’s 708 times pricier!
Nowadays it isn't just plain bottled water that you'll find on the supermarket shelves. There's a whole category of water products to choose from. But are they worth the hefty price tag?
With so many water options available, it may seem like a minefield choosing the right way to hydrate. While flavoured waters may be a fun choice to switch things up from time to time, my overall vote goes to the humble tap water. It's essentially free, it creates less environmental impact than bottled water, plus you can flavour it to suit your personal taste in a wide variety of ways – from fresh fruit and herb infusions to cordials and sugar-free squash.
For inspiration on how to jazz up your tap water, check out this blog post: Flavour your water – 9 natural infusions
Nutritionist Amy Wood (ANutr), MSci BSc Nutrition has a keen interest in the relationship between diet and health. Having been published in the European Journal of Nutrition, Amy is passionate about making evidence-based nutrition accessible to everyone and helping others to adopt a food-focussed approach to taking control of their health.