News flash: Drinking is good for your health! As long as the drinks don’t leave you buzzed, bloated or inebriated, the fluids you consume are second only to oxygen in keeping you alive and well. And for more good news, water is not the only beverage that can keep you hydrated. Flavor, bubbles and variety actually help us quench our thirst when we need it most.
There is a persistent myth circulating around the water cooler that everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water a day to stay properly hydrated. Where it started no one knows, but it certainly has been a boon to the bottled water industry. Maybe it has to do with the fact that about 60% of our body weight is water, and since we are losing some of that through perspiration, urination and respiration each day, folks just figure we should replace like with like. But the body doesn’t work that way.
Life Before Plumbing
Most of human history has been lived without the benefit of good plumbing. In fact, in many parts of the world today, access to safe drinking water is still a dream. So it hardly seems possible that our species has required water to survive.
What we do need is an ample source of fluids. Fluids can come from a wide range of sources, such as foods with high moisture content. Have you wondered what happens to all the water in the pot when you cook oatmeal, rice, or pasta? In addition to these rehydrated grains, which are 65-85% water, fruits and vegetables contain 80-90% water, fish and seafood are 60-85% and other meats and poultry contain 50-60% moisture. About 20% of our fluid requirement can actually be met by these food sources.
People without fresh water wells and springs have also relied on other liquid sources, such as milk, juices and nectars, when they’ve needed a drink. As some of these products became fermented in their storage containers, our ancestors soon learned to enjoy yogurt, cider, and wine with their meals.
And even when drinkable water was available, some folks decided over 5,000 years ago that they preferred it brewed with some leaves, making tea the second most widely consumed beverage in the world today after plain water.
Is your Cup Half Empty or Half Full?
Another myth soaking up a lot of attention is that beverages containing caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you. This myth has not only been dispelled scientifically, there are millions of people who are living proof to the contrary!
As for the evidence, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (IOM/NAS) state in their scientific recommendations for hydration, updated in February 2004, that when it comes to meeting hydration needs, caffeinated beverages can contribute as much as non-caffeinated ones. They further state that any diuretic effect of moderate alcohol consumption is transient and does not result in a net loss of fluids over time.
This means you can count every ounce of your Café Grande, Diet Coke and Coors Light towards meeting your daily fluid requirements and not have to fear you’ll need to drink twice as much water to make up for their dehydrating effects.
When to Wet Your Whistle
After all the scientific studies on drinking and hydration are laid out to dry, what the research suggests is that we should let thirst be our guide. And while there is no magic number of glasses of anything we must drink each day, the IOM/NAS report does recommend that women between the ages of 19-50 years consume between 11-12 cups of total beverages per day, of which about 9 cups, or 72 ounces, can be as drinks and 3 cups can be derived from the moisture found in foods.
Thirst may not always be a strong signal, and sadly, one third of us regularly mistaken thirst for hunger. Since mild dehydration can result in impaired mental function, dizziness and headaches, staying properly hydrated can help prevent a lot of bizarre behavior. One way to double check your needs is to examine the color of your urine. If it’s the color of lemonade, you’re probably okay. If it’s closer to apple juice, you may need to drink more.
Excessive fluid losses must also be readily replaced. This can occur when working or playing in warmer temperatures, which may increase perspiration, or during an illness with uncontrollable diarrhea or vomiting. Another overlooked way to become dehydrated is when swimming. That is because when wet we are not as aware of how much we may be perspiring, so it is advisable to simply make a point of drinking more if spending more time in the pool.
Drink What You Like
Knowing that just about anything that flows can help keep you hydrated, the only problem you may have is deciding what you’d like to drink. There is an endless assortment of flavorful, sensual, adventurous and exotic new beverages on the market, and that’s a good thing because evidence shows that palatable beverages increase fluid intake.
Besides their use in hydration, these beverages can also be a source of important nutrients, too. We now have vitamin-fortified water, juices with added phytonutrients, energy-enhanced sports drinks and botanically-correct teas to name but a few. And all of the choices come with or without calories, so there’s no threat to your weight control efforts.
A Toast to Summer!
As the temperature rise and the layers of clothing come peeling off, make sure you’ve got your cooler packed for refreshment. Drinking is not like it used to be, it has actually gotten better!
-Robyn Flipse, MS, RD Author, Fighting the Freshman Fifteen Available at www.FreshmanFifteenBook.com
Editor’s Note: Robyn would like to know: What do you do to increase your fruit and vegetable consumption?
Email us at email@example.com with the subject line “Healthy Eating.” The responses received will inform next month’s Health and Nutrition column.
And if you have your own health-related question for Robyn, send her your query at our Ask the Experts form.