Many consumers prefer organic products, and recently there have been more organic bottled water brands launching.
But is "organic water" even possible? What does the organic certification mean? And are bottled water products labeled organic healthier than tap water or non-organic bottled water brands?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review what the USDA organic certification means, explain whether or not water is organic and what it means when a bottled water brand has an organic certification, and share our thoughts on whether water labeled organic is healthier.
What Does the Organic Certification Mean?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies food products as organic with the familiar green-and-white seal if they meet a set of quality standards.
Specifically, organic foods and food byproducts cannot be grown using genetically modified organisms (GMOs), cannot contain artificial preservatives or flavors and must follow certain guidelines for pesticide use and animal health.
There is some medical research suggesting that eating a diet composed of organic foods is healthier than a diet of conventional foods. The above-linked study suggests that slightly reduced pesticide exposure along with increased nutrition from plants are two ways that an organic diet may lead to superior health outcomes, but the research is still early-stage.
But what does this mean for water? How can a bottled water product have a USDA organic seal? We explain in the following section.
Can Water Be Organic?
Many consumers are confused when they encounter bottled water products with an organic seal. There is no proof that the actual water quality in organic-labeled bottled water is superior to the water quality in bottled water without the organic label.
This confusion is understandable, since water isn’t “grown” or "farmed" like produce, and since the majority of bottled water brands do not have an organic seal.
The reason that some bottled water brands can be certified organic and some can't is actually due to the additive ingredients. If a water brand adds other certified organic ingredients to their formulation, the brand can use the organic seal on their product label.
One popular brand that uses this strategy is Lemon Water. The brand's bottled water contains a small amount (5% by concentration) of organic lemon juice, so the bottle bears the USDA organic seal.
The important takeaway here is that it's impossible for water itself to be organic or conventional -- water is just two hydrogen (H) atoms and one oxygen (O) atom. Only the added ingredients can cause that certification.
Are Organic Bottled Water Brands Healthier?
We do not consider organic bottled water brands like Lemon Water to be any healthier than tap water or bottled water brands without the organic seal. The most important factor when considering the healthiness of water is its purity or lack of contaminants like heavy metals and microplastics.
There is some preliminary research suggesting that alkaline water may be healthier than tap water, but the research is too early-stage to say conclusively.
Bottled water packaged in single-use plastic also exposes consumers to the risk of estrogenic plasticizing chemicals, even if the brand claims to be BPA free (which is an essentially meaningless designation as we explain in the linked article).
We consider filtered tap water to be the most environmentally-friendly and healthy water option, because only by filtering water can you ensure a reduction in contaminants. The best water filter, which we determined through research to be the Brita Soho (Amazon link here for those interested), is proven in independent research to significantly reduce heavy metal levels and entirely eliminate microplastics from drinking water.
Why is Water Filtration So Important?
For consumers who are curious about why water filtration is so important for those living in the U.S., and why we consider filtered water to be much healthier than "organic" water, check out the video below documenting the lead pipe crisis in America.
Keep in mind that when purchasing water with an organic certification, it's impossible to have any idea how much lead is in that product: