Sodium clouds the merits of mineral waters

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 March, 1993, 12:00am

THEY are expensive, fashionable and maybe even taste better, but is mineral water healthier than the tap or distilled variety? Probably not, say nutritionists and doctors, adding that if a person has a healthy diet and lifestyle, the benefits of minerals in the popular bottled waters are negligible.

If anything, the high sodium content in some mineral waters may be detrimental to those with hypertension or kidney-related problems.

''The major concern we have is from a nutritional standpoint, and we would advise some people not to drink mineral water with a high sodium content,'' said a nutritionist.

She said consumption of mineral water was ''not a necessity''.

''Nowadays, people are willing to pay a little more because they are afraid of pollution and they want clean water to start with. But if you can achieve the same cleanliness through boiled water, it is better to have that as it is the least expensive,'' she said.

The minerals found in big-selling ''spring waters'' like Evian - which contains about 78 milligrams of calcium - are also present in dairy products, lentils and vegetables, like pak choi and choi sum.

Magnesium and potassium can be found in these beverages, but the quantities are not significant enough to compensate for any shortfall.

According to the Consumer Council, which tested 19 brands of imported and locally produced mineral waters, tap water may be richer in minerals than some bottled brands, particularly in chloride, fluoride and sulphate.

Almost all the brands were shown to have a lower mineral content than the labels claimed, and more than half were found to be contaminated with bacteria, although this was unlikely to cause any health hazards.

Some Hongkong-produced brands were found to be little more than tap water processed with minerals.

The council also found long-term over-consumption of distilled water may not be suitable for people suffering from kidney malfunction or a severe renal disease.

But the market is a competitive one, with an increasing number of brands being stocked on supermarket shelves: Evian, Perrier, Vittel, Pierval, San Benedetto and a generic brand all sell well at Park'N Shop, with Perrier regaining its position as market leader, according to the shop.

And according to a spokeswoman for Watson's Water - the biggest selling distilled water in Hongkong - studies to ascertain the health-related differences between mineral and distilled water proved a balanced diet was the most important contributor to good health, with at least eight glasses of water a day - of any variety.

''Some mineral waters can provide the body with excess minerals that it may not need, while distilled water is the purest form of water you can get,'' said the spokeswoman.

A 500 millilitre bottle of Watson's distilled water is $5.20, going up to $9.60 for a 1.5 litre bottle. This is more expensive than local mineral waters, but cheaper than the imported varieties.