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No sugar, many nutrients

8 April 2016
close up of glass of water in hand

In last week's post, we discussed water as a building block of a healthy diet. The main focus was on what water doesn't contain: sugar, calories, or acids. This means that water is a powerful means of tackling obesity.

This post, however, will discuss more about what water does contain and why it's good for your health.

The stats

A YouGov survey carried out for the Consumer Council for Water revealed some interesting data about people's attitudes to tap water. Eight out of ten respondents said they usually drink tap water at home and here's why:

YouGov tap water poll

What's surprising is that only 39% drink tap water because of its quality. Price (63%) and convenience (45%) were the main reported reasons for drinking water from the tap. That doesn't mean the public don't care about their water quality - but that, as an industry, we perhaps haven't been informing about water quality enough.

The main hurdle lies in the lack of customer contact. Since tap water comes has no packaging to list its contents, the only way to find out about it is online.

What's in my tap water?

This is a common question. The important thing to find out is who supplies your water. If you are unsure, you can use our map to locate your provider. Once you know, you can either:

  • Go directly to your water company's website and use their search tool for "quality"
  • Or, use our list of links that lead directly to the respective quality pages

Usually, from here you will be able to find out about things like the hardness and fluoridation levels of your water. Most companies also have an option to view a full quality report. These can seem quite complicated, so Water UK has created a brief set of guidelines on how to approach the report, below.

Understanding a tap water quality report

First of all, do not be concerned by the number of parameters considered. These are not all 'ingredients' in your tap water, they are simply the substances that are regularly analysed. There are so many of them because your water could contain many things if untreated. It can look overwhelming at first, but it does make sense.

If you are just looking briefly, you will probably want to skip down to the final paragraph. It shows the percentage of samples contravening prescribed concentration or value (PCV). In other words, it shows the percentage of samples that failed to meet the required standards.

Note: plumbing arrangements or poor tap hygiene can be a major cause of quality failures. Take a look at the industry's document 'Looking After Water in Your Home', for more information on how to prevent issues with your water supply.

Minerals in tap water

In everyday life, you are unlikely to encounter water in its pure form. Even though you can't spot them with a naked eye, many minerals can be present in water. The concentration of such minerals depends on a variety of factors including the source of the water, type of treatment and the material of your pipes. For water to qualify as suitable for everyday use, it's got to meet a defined limit for the total mineral content. This is expressed in the quality report as conductivity. Generally speaking, water with a conductivity of up to 800 μS/cm, or about 500mg/l are best for human consumption. The maximum is set at 2500 μS/cm.

Out of the whole mix, there is a selection of minerals in water that are of particular interest and have the potential to be present in more notable amounts. Here's a list from WHO:

  • Calcium - important in bone health and possibly cardiovascular health
  • Magnesium - important in bone and cardiovascular health
  • Sodium - an important extracellular electrolyte, lost under conditions of excess sweat
  • Selenium - important in general antioxidant function and in the immune system
  • Potassium is important for a variety of biochemical effects but it is usually not found in natural drinking waters at significant levels.