A person holds a red water bottle.
Nothing is quite as good for you as the simplicity of water. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to hydration.

The modern consumer can choose from distilled water, spring water, sparkling water, infused water, flavored water. There’s even electrolyte-enhanced water.

And it doesn’t stop there. Think for a moment about the veritable ocean of beverages offered at grocery and convenience stores—the energy drinks, juice drinks, teas and sodas.

The best thing to do? Stop thinking about all that stuff.

“The best selection, definitely, is just plain old water, whether it comes out of a tap or it’s filtered,” said Caren Dobreff, a Spectrum Health registered dietitian and nutritionist. “The main requirement is to know that the water you’re drinking is clean, safe and free of contaminants.”

Women need about eight to 10 cups of hydration per day and men need about 10 to 12 cups.

And it doesn’t pay to skimp.

Beyond maintaining a proper balance of body fluids, water supports a host of body functions—maintenance of temperature, providing a delivery system for oxygen throughout the body, a cushion to protect vital organs. It also protects skin from dryness and cracking, which avoids other problems.

You need to do everything possible to ensure you’re drinking an adequate amount of water each day, Dobreff said.

Keep a bottle at your desk. Carry a water bottle in your backpack or briefcase.

A simple axiom to remember: “Water helps healthy happen,” Dobreff said. “Keep it natural. Keep it simple. Our bodies are designed to perform at their best when we’re adequately hydrated.”

Pricey alternative

Certainly not all non-water drinks are off limits.

Many drinks contain water, which can provide some hydration.

“If someone has a glass of tea or juice, obviously there’s going to be water in those beverages,” Dobreff said. “Also, the average American gets 20% of needed hydration from non-beverage sources, such as watery fruits, soups, broths and foods boiled in water.”

In terms of bottled water, however, it matters little if you drink distilled or spring, Dobreff said.

Spring water is classified by its origin. It’s derived from an aquifer, an underground rock formation where water rises to the surface.

Spring water undergoes treatment to remove possible bacteria and contaminants and it typically contains an FDA-regulated amount of total dissolved solids.

Distilled water is purified through a distillation process, Dobreff said. It often comes from municipal sources. It is turned into a vapor, leaving minerals and contaminants behind. The vapors are then condensed into water again.

Distilled water may be a better choice for individuals who prefer a water that tastes plain, or for those who have a medical condition that may require them to limit intake of a particular mineral.

To most people, however, the differences between spring water and distilled water may be inconsequential.

But when it comes to pricing, it’s quite a leap from tap water to virtually any other type.

“When comparing the cost of bottled versus tap water, tap water is far less expensive and puts less toll on the production of glass and plastic bottles,” Dobreff said. “Statistics from the International Bottled Water Association show that Americans consumed 11.7 billion gallons of bottled water annually—36.5 gallons per person.”

According to the International Bottled Water Association, the average per-gallon cost of bottled water—excluding imported or sparkling water—stands at $1.21.

That may not sound expensive—until you compare it to tap water, which averages $2 per every 1,000 gallons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bottom line: Bottled water is more than 600 times as expensive as tap water. (Some have even estimated it’s 2,000 times the cost.)

Also, plastic bottles can be an environmental hazard.

“At Spectrum Health, we’re working to lower the impact of environmental harm by reducing the amount of bottled water and encouraging an environment that supports sustainable and available drinking water,” Dobreff said.

Know what you’re drinking

Most carbonated or enhanced water beverages come with added ingredients and some risk.

Enhanced carbonated water may be OK on occasion, but some brands include a citrus flavor that can increase acid level and wear away the enamel on your teeth.

Generally, Dobreff said, any beverage with added sugars should be avoided.

These beverages might contribute some water to your diet, but it comes at a cost. It increases the risk of cavities, especially in children, and it can contribute to weight gain in children and adults. This, of course, can lead to ailments such as diabetes.

Drinks with artificial ingredients and colors should also be avoided because they may contain harmful properties.

“Because coffee and alcohol contribute to water loss and cause various other problems when consumed in excess, they should be consumed in moderation and with food,” Dobreff said. “Having an extra glass of plain water also isn’t a bad idea to replenish the possible loss.”