Does mineral water offer more health perks than other waters?

Sparkling water is definitely having its moment (Spindrift, LaCroix, Bubly—the list goes on). But what about mineral water? What even is mineral water? Turns out, there's a legit definition behind mineral water and even some potential health perks. We dug in to answer all of your questions (even the ones you didn't know you had) about mineral water to find out what it is, if it's healthy and where to find it.

mineral water being poured into clear glass
Credit: getty images / Jose A. Bernat Bacete

So, what is mineral water exactly?

According to the FDA, mineral water must come from a natural, protected, underground source. In order to qualify, it has to deliver minerals and trace elements—naturally. Mineral water may be still or sparkling; its key differentiator from other waters, is that the minerals found inside can't be added.

What's the difference between mineral and spring water?

They sound similar—but they're not the same. As per the FDA definitions, spring water must come from an underground source that flows naturally to the surface. Spring water can be collected from where it rises to the surface, or can be tapped below the ground—so long as the water's natural flow isn't disrupted in the process of tapping it.

Mineral water also comes from an underground source, but it differs from spring water in that it has to consistently deliver a minimum proportion of naturally occurring minerals and other trace elements. Some mineral waters may be labeled as having "low" or "high" mineral content, but so long as they fall within the mineral-content threshold defined by the FDA, both qualify as mineral water.

Just like other bottled waters, mineral waters cannot contain contaminants or certain organic or synthetic chemicals. So, just because it comes from a natural source, that doesn't mean mineral waters get to bypass the safety rules that other bottled water manufacturers are required to follow.

Are there health benefits to drinking mineral water?

There are! But here's the catch: the types and amounts of minerals—and thus, the health benefits—will vary based on where the water comes from. A mineral-rich source will boost the benefits you're getting, and will also impact the water's taste. Still, while the quantity of each may vary, all mineral waters typically offer calcium, which helps build and maintain strong bones; magnesium, which helps keep your heart rhythm normal and aids in muscle contraction; and sodium, which helps with nerve and muscle function. Here are some other potential benefits.

The minerals are easier to absorb

The form that minerals take in water (called "ionic") makes them easier for your GI tract to absorb—so drinking your minerals has the potential to be a helpful way to get a significant percentage of your daily quota for calcium and magnesium in a single liter bottle. A caveat: While sodium—in moderation—is important to help maintain some basic body functions, you probably don't need to purposefully seek it out to get enough. So if you're watching your salt intake, you may want to take it easy on mineral water.

It may strengthen bones

Not a big milk drinker? One study found that participants absorbed calcium from mineral water just as well as they did from milk—and several studies have linked drinking calcium-rich mineral water with improved bone-mineral density. That's good news for people who don't like—or can't drink—milk.

Carbonated mineral water could improve cholesterol

In a small study in Spain, postmenopausal women drank still water with a low mineral content for 2 months and then carbonated mineral water for 2 months. Each woman drank 1 liter a day. After two months of drinking carbonated mineral water, the women had significantly lowered their levels of total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol, while raising their "good" HDL cholesterol, compared to when they were drinking still water. They also lowered their risk for cardiovascular disease—despite drinking mineral water that was considered sodium-rich, with just over 1,000 milligrams of sodium per liter. (Too much sodium has been linked to higher blood pressure.) However, the mineral water was also rich in bicarbonate and chloride, and contained healthy doses of sulfate, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. (Try eating more of these 8 high-potassium foods.)

Mineral water brands to try

This isn' an an all-encompassing list of all of the mineral waters on the market, but most of these brands are widely available.

  • Calistoga Sparkling Mineral Water
  • Crystal Geyser Natural Sparkling Mineral Water
  • FIJI Water
  • Gerolsteiner
  • Perrier
  • S. Pellegrino
  • Topo Chico
  • Whole Foods Italian Sparkling Mineral Water
  • Whole Foods Italian Still Mineral Water

Bottom line

Mineral water may have a variety of health benefits. But you don't have to drink your minerals if you'd prefer not to. All of the minerals found in mineral waters are also in the foods we eat (these hydrating foods can help you meet your water goals). So keep it simple, and reach for whatever type of water you're most likely to drink enough of. It's important to stay hydrated for a variety of reasons , but research also shows that people who drink enough water tend to be healthier eaters overall. So drink up!