The topic of whether or not distilled water is safe to consume has recently attracted both positive and negative press. Many laud the practice of drinking distilled water for its exceptional purity, while others point out the possible health risks. While distilled water is essential for many purposes (including use in hospitals, aquariums, and chemistry labs), there are a number of conflicting opinions on drinking it. So, what’s the verdict?
Read on to learn more about the possible risks and benefits of consuming distilled water, courtesy of two of New York's leading dietitians.
What Is Distilled Water?
First things first, it’s important to understand what exactly distilled water consists of. Distilled water is water that has been boiled to remove impurities—then condensed from a steam back into liquid form. In a nutshell, this process removes nearly all toxins, chemicals, and minerals from the water. Because this method doesn’t necessarily require any complex devices or added substances, it's considered an extremely natural purification method.
Is It Safe to Drink Distilled Water?
When it comes to whether or not you can drink distilled water, the most notable issue is its mineral content. While the distillation process removes a range of harmful chemicals and substances, registered dietitian and nutritionist Amy Shapiro points out that it also strips water of its minerals. "A decrease in mineral intake from calcium and magnesium can lead to an electrolyte imbalance and possible metabolic imbalance," she explains. Additionally, given the loss of minerals, if you rely on distilled water to rehydrate while exercising, Shapiro notes that it can lead to more of an electrolyte imbalance than a replenishment.
Meet the Expert
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition, a NYC-based private practice dedicated to guiding clients toward their healthiest selves.
According to NYC-based nutritionist, Jennifer Maeng, distilled water is also far more likely to pick up and absorb contaminants from the environment—"It can leach undesirable compounds from plastic bottles, metals, pipes, and containers it comes in contact with," she explains—so how it’s stored is important. That said, if you’re drinking distilled water, make sure it’s packaged in a BPA-free plastic container.
Meet the Expert
Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, is a dietitian living in New York City. As a former chef and restaurateur, she's able to help her clients obtain optimal wellness with healthy recipes that actually get people excited.
Benefits of Drinking Distilled Water
Depending on the source, distilled water may actually be purer than spring and mineral water. In many cases, it’s far purer than standard tap water. When drinking distilled water, Shapiro says that there's less of a chance for waterborne illness from bacteria. "It's very clean [for drinking] and perfect for cleansing," she says.
As long as you’re getting your minerals from another source, distilled water should be perfectly safe to drink. After all, most healthy diets already include sufficient amounts of minerals, like calcium and magnesium. Ultimately, the possible benefits of drinking distilled water are a matter of comparison. If the bottled or tap water you’re considering has trace amounts of chemicals or sediment, distilled water may be a healthier alternative.
Research Before Consuming
1. Check out your local tap water situation.
Information about water safety and content is typically available through your local department of water and power. Make sure that the purification method you’re using is equipped to handle the specific challenges of your water supply.
2. Take a look at your diet.
The lack of mineral content in distilled water shouldn’t be a concern to anyone who maintains a healthy, well-rounded diet. However, because distilled water is slightly more acidic than regular water, it may be worth offsetting it with pH-balanced water rather than drinking distilled water exclusively, according to Maeng. Otherwise, Maeng points out that it can lead to acidosis, which is too much built-up acid in the body.
3. Confirm the source.
As is the case for tap and bottled water, not all sources are considered equal. Confirm that the original source of the water is potable (read: drinkable), since some water is distilled solely for industrial use. As a general rule, distilled water from grocery stores is suitable for both cooking and drinking.
The Final Takeaway
At the end of the day, after weighing the pros and cons of distilled water, Shapiro points out that the most important thing for your health is to just drink plenty of water in general. "I recommend drinking filtered water to remove any toxins depending on where you are located," she says. "We really need to focus on meeting our hydration goals instead of being picky with the types of water we consume." As a general rule of thumb, she says that women should aim for 90 ounces (and men should aim for 125 ounces) from food and water combined. "Once we do that regularly we can talk about ideal water sources," she concludes.
Verma KC, Kushwaha AS. Demineralization of drinking water: Is it prudent? Med J Armed Forces India. 2014;70(4):377-379.