You’ve heard it a million times before: drink eight glasses of water a day for clear skin, better sleep quality, improved health… the list goes on.
But even two and a half years after blogging about water once (hint: eight glasses is probably excessive), it’s still on my mind.
A few Tuesdays ago I sat down to breakfast to read The Age. Tuesdays are Good Food days in The Age, so a side of restaurant reviews, recipes and ‘Kitchen Spy’ inevitably accompanies my breakfast. ‘Kitchen Spy’ is a fun little insight into “the kitchens of famous chefs, authors, commentators and restaurateurs”; 2015’s weekly profiles included the likes of Guy Grossi, Michelle Bridges, and dietitian Karen Inge.
This particular Tuesday showcased a sportsperson, who had reformed his previously tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol to live a healthy ‘whole foods’ lifestyle. It all sounded good, until his views on drinking water surfaced. Said sportsperson proudly talked up his water filter, which he explained removes the many impurities found in tap water. He went on to declare that it actually saves him money, as it negates the need to buy bottled water.
This whole idea seems trivial to me, given that Australia, particularly Melbourne, has some of the highest quality drinking water in the world.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has developed Guidelines for Australian drinking water standards, which were most recently updated in March 2015. These cover the definition of safe drinking water, how it can be achieved, and how it can be maintained.
Water quality is regularly tested on a state-by-state basis, with assessments of clarity, mineral content, pH, colour, bacteria, and chemical levels. The Melbourne Water website openly publishes these results regularly, and even provides insight into water quality in specific areas – right down to your home address!
Just like many of the foods we eat, tap water may contain traces of various substances, including aluminium, copper, iron, and chlorine. While this might sound alarming, consider that water originates from areas surrounded by rock and soil, from which it naturally leaches small amounts of minerals. As for the chlorine? Chlorine is added to water to kill potentially dangerous viruses or bacteria like E. coli – which can be life threatening to at-risk members of the population. The important thing to remember is that strict parameters are outlined for all of these substances, and only minute amounts can be found in the water we drink.
And then there’s fluoride. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in the earth and water supply. Back in the 1930s, it was discovered that those living in areas with higher levels of fluoride in the water experienced lower levels of tooth decay than those in areas of lower fluoridated water. From the 1960s, Australia began introducing added fluoride into tap water to reduce the burden of poor dental health. This move is considered safe, and has the full supported of the World Health Organisation, The National Health and Medical Research Council, the Centre for Disease Control and the Australian Dental Association.
The immense benefits of added fluoride are nowhere better illustrated than in the New South Wales beachside town of Byron Bay, one of the few places to oppose fluoridated water. Dental expert Professor Wendell Evans says without water fluoridation, children in areas like Byron Bay have 2½ times the holes of other kids, and twice the rate of hospitalisation for rotten teeth. Evans has spent close to 40 years studying fluoride’s effects on oral health and firmly believes it to be a simple and effective public health strategy.
But if that’s not enough to convince you to stick to tap water, consider the booming bottled water industry, which rakes in up to $500 million a year. According to Choice, drinking the recommended two litres of water a day from the tap will set you back around $1.50 over a year. From bottled water, this would equate to more than $2,800 annually. But the industry affects more than just your hip pocket, also inflicting a significant environmental strain. 90% of the cost of bottled water can be traced back to the packaging, which takes up to 1000 years to break down. No surprise, these are contributing to environmental damage and landfill, and Clean Up Australia reports one in ten items picked up on Clean Up Australia Day is a plastic water bottle.
So, is it worth filtering your water? If you find the taste of tap water unpleasant, a water filter won’t do you much harm. But before you spend your hard-earned cash on such an unnecessary extravagance, bear in mind that the health benefits are slim to none, and tap water remains a cost-effective, safe and healthy choice.