Representing around 75 to 80% of the total mass of human bodies, water is essential to life.
In addition to the structural role it plays, water is active in numerous metabolic pathways, such as digestion and renal clearance. It also favours cellular development and ensures proper ionic balance in the body. Every day, the human body needs to renew its reserves of water, with about 2 litres being required to compensate for day to day losses.
From earliest times, humans realised the importance of water, and therefore settled in the areas where this element was most abundant. The Romans were the first to realise the potential of mineral waters. But it would take many years before water was used for medicinal purposes and bottled water sold.
It was only in the nineteenth century that the first mineral water bottling industries appeared.
At a time of proliferating problems related to environmental pollution, more countries are becoming aware that water is a source of natural wealth that must be preserved at all costs.
Mineralisation of natural mineral and spring water occurs thanks to the time it spends underground, and depends on how long it remains in aquifers in contact with rock. Its route to this stage is explained by the so-called Cycle of Water, which begins in the oceans.
Ocean water is evaporated by the action of temperature, precipitating later in the form of rain or snow. As it touches the surface again, part of rain or snow joins the rivers and lakes and the rest evaporates immediately. The component that filters into rock layers underground forms the aquifers, which are geological formations that are porous where underground water circulates.
All the water we consume always contains minerals. Natural mineral waters and spring waters are waters rich in minerals, which are beneficial to health and trigger natural reactions essential to the body’s functioning. These minerals are composed of associations of various chemical elements that make up part of the earth's crust. When they come into contact with water, the minerals begin to dissolve and their quantity in the water depends a lot on time and the geological formations with which they have been in contact.
Types of water
Fresh water represents only 2.5% of the total amount of water available, with about 2/3 frozen at the poles. The rest is distributed across the rivers, lakes, underground and rain, and not all of it provides the conditions necessary for the preservation of life. The percentage of water that has the characteristics essential for meeting the daily needs of humans is therefore very small.
Of the small percentage of existing freshwater, about 30% is in our planet’s subsoil, and this water has all the quality characteristics to preserve life. As the water can remain in aquifers for thousands of years, the water that reaches the surface may have very different mineral characteristics. Its original purity, its components and characteristics and circulation in the subsoil are the key aspects for quality water. Only groundwater has the characteristics that define it as natural mineral water and spring water.
These waters are regularly subjected to tests to prove that their quality characteristics are maintained.
Portuguese legislation, aligned with EU Directives, sets different requirements for the three types of water intended for consumption.
Water available for human consumption is not all the same, and can be grouped into three different types: Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and other types of consumable waters.
Natural mineral waters
Natural mineral waters are found very deep underground. They are water systems free of pollution and their chemical composition is completely natural, caused by water/rock interaction, having trace elements beneficial to human life.
Therefore, they have a specific chemical composition, while maintaining their characteristics over time. But not all natural mineral waters are the same. In addition to possessing distinct chemical characteristics and flavours, some natural mineral waters have natural gas. These are the so-called carbonated waters. To preserve all its qualities and purity, natural mineral water may only be bottled at the site of collection.
The difference between spring waters in relation to natural mineral waters is basically the circulation time in the subsoil, which is quicker. Due to the short period of circulation underground, the presence of minerals in spring water is not constant throughout the year. This water is bacteriologically safe, with unique features. In order to preserve all its qualities and purity, it may only be bottled at the site of collection.
Natural mineral water and spring water are the only wholly natural waters that cannot undergo any treatment and that are sold without the addition of chemicals or additives. They must also undergo two years of rigorous testing before they can be sold with that name, since it is necessary to prove that the aquifers from which they come are free from pollution and are found in locations protected from any threat of pollution.
other types of consumable waters
Total dissolved salts, quantified by total mineralisation, constitute the most evident parameter for grouping natural waters into 4 major types:
Water that is hyposaline or with low mineralisation
when total dissolved salts do not exceed 50mg/L;
Weakly mineralised water
when they present total mineralisation values of between 50 and 100 mg/L;
when the total mineralisation is between 500 and 1,500mg/L;
The presence of certain anions and ions at amounts clearly above those of other dissolved constituents, is also a criterion for classifying types of natural waters:
Bicarbonate Water: the amount of bicarbonate is greater than 600 mg/L;
Sulphated Water: the amount of sulphate is greater than 200 mg/L;
Chlorinated Water: the amount of chloride is greater than 200 mg/L;
Fluoridated Water: the amount of fluoride is greater than 1 mg / L;
Sodic Water: the amount of sodium is greater than 200 mg/L;
Calcic Water: the amount of calcium is greater than 150 mg/L;
Magnesium Water: the amount of magnesium is greater than 50 mg/L;
Carbonated Water: The amount of free carbon dioxide is greater than 250 mg/L;
Water suitable for a low-sodium diet: the amount of sodium is less than 20 mg/L.
Do not accept any packaging of natural mineral water that has not been opened in your presence;
Do not use empty water containers for other products; this is the only way to avoid accidents;
Check whether packs of natural mineral water are stored in the proper place, away from contact with products or materials that may contaminate them, such as detergents and fuels;
Natural mineral water must be protected from excessive exposure to sunlight, heat and humidity;
After opening a bottle of natural mineral water, keep it in good condition and consume it within a reasonable time.
When buying a bottle of water, always read the label. It provides the necessary information about the water’s characteristics, and aside from its trade name, there should be an indication of what type of water it is: a natural mineral water or spring water. It is also mandatory to provide information on the location and operating name of the spring, or the catchment from where it is being extracted. Natural mineral water labels should also bear the chemical composition of the water contained in the bottles.
Natural mineral waters and spring waters may be marketed as still or sparkling. On the label, you can see if the water is sparkling, which means that the water has had carbon dioxide added from sources other than the aquifer. However, there are some natural mineral waters that have natural gas. In this case, they are called carbonated natural mineral waters.
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