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Visions in Bottles: No Designer Water at Any Price

Austria is planning to become as famous for its water as Italy for its pizza. Therefore, experts are now analysing Austria's mineral waters with modern technologies. But which of its contents are really healthy and which are appropriate?

Fresh spring water from Austria's Alps
Picture by T. Micke

Bartender Jer˘me serves Tasmanian rain water for 6 Euros in a crystal goblet at the water bar of classy shopping center Colette in Paris; for 3,85 Euro you can get 0,3 litres Brazilian "Petropolis Paulista" and for 4,85 Euros the menu contains "Oxygizer" – a trendy mineral water with added oxygen, in a classic Tyrolean bottle.

"Water with added oxygen? What nonsense!" Prof. Dr. Hans Zojer, water expert of Hydrogeologic Institute in Graz, gets upset. "Every potable water is saturated with oxygen by nature. Except it originates in a deep artesian fountain as in Eastern Styria or Southern Burgenland. Then it only has to flow over a small cascade, like the potable water in such regions does, too. With this process, it absorbs oxygen by itself, directly from the air (up to 10 mg per litre)."

According to experts, the 150 mg oxygen per litre, which the Tyrolean water gets enriched with, are totally useless. It would be better to take a few deep breaths. The body is supplied with oxygen much better this way than via the stomach or the intestinal walls.

But the marketing-gag is exciting, a fact that even Prof. Zojer has to admit. Only the turnover of Austrian mineral waters isn't.

According to the plans of the Austrian hydrogeologist Dr. Robert Spendlingwimmer and graduated engineer Stephan Bruck, both members of the newly founded initiative "Aquaquality Austria", want to make Austria as famous for its waters as Italy is for its pizza and pasta. "Austrian mineral water ought to become an international brand." explains Dr. Spendlingwimmer. "Not only does our mineral water have highest quality. Austria's isotope laboratories that analyse the exact age and contents of the waters are also great. It's very important to communicate this abroad. Just as customers should know which water is the best for them thanks to transparency and educational work."

Not every mineral water is healthy and digestible for everybody in the same way. Generally, athletes should consume highly mineralised water (up to 5500 mg dissolved substances), which is enriched with magnesium and calcium. This is necessary to quickly provide the body with the substances lost with sweating.

Nutrition physiologist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Marktl from Vienna: "Under this aspect, mineral water is to be preferred clearly to energy drinks." For babies up to an age of six months a lower mineral content is healthier, because their kidneys aren't fully functional yet. Also people with low blood pressure and heart disease should avoid mineral water with high sodium content.

Generally spoken, drinking lots of water is healthy for the body. No matter if it's originated from a volcano spring in France (Paris, Colette, 4 Euro), whether it's been bottled at full moon or coming "straight from the tap" (like Vienna's spring water pipes) – from the medical point of view it makes no difference. The role of thumb: at least two litres of water per day (mainly women drink too little), especially in summer at high stress the body needs up to four litres.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (01-09-02) – Contact