Water is the most abundant liquid on our planet. It makes up more than 70% of the earth’s surface. Your body is approximately 60% water. Yet, you may not be drinking enough water each day.
The fluids in your body have many functions. These include digesting food (prevents constipation), flushing out toxins, moistening tissues such as eyes, throat, and nose, lubricating joints, circulating blood, creating saliva, transporting nutrients, and maintaining body temperature.
How do I know If I'm dehydrated?
Your urine should be pale yellow in color if your are healthy and drinking enough water. When you are dehydrated, your urine has a strong odor, and is yellow or darker in color. This means that it is concentrated and your body is getting rid of waste, but doesn’t have enough water to flush it out.
If you feel thirsty, your body is telling you that you are already dehydrated. Some symptoms of severe or chronic dehydration are muscle pain, low back pain, headaches, constipation, dry itchy skin, nose bleeds, sinus pressure, fatigue, craving sweets or hunger after eating, sticky roof of mouth, low blood pressure, dizziness with standing, muscle cramping, rapid heart beat, and repeated urinary tract infections.
How Much Water?
My normal recommendation is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. So, if a person weighs 150 lbs, that means they need at least 75 ounces each day. This is about 10 cups. If you are exercising and sweating significantly, you should have even more.
When should you drink the water?
I have been taught that sipping small amounts of water throughout the day is the best way to help our bodies use the water efficiently and effectively. I have also heard that drinking too much water with meals can decrease the absorption of important nutrients from your food. I tried to find research backing this up, and didn't find much. So my first rule is to make sure you have enough water. Spreading it out throughout the day rather than chugging it with meals might also be helpful!
What about Water Quality?
It is important to consider what is in your water. Did you know that a 2013 EPA study found drugs (pharmaceuticals) in our drinking water? Here is the Environmental working group's recommendations to get safe drinking water. Each city does water quality testing and you can search the internet to find reports for your city. Here is the link for Warrenville's Water Quality report which met the standards, and Chicago's drinking water report, which found 14 chemicals and 21 pollutants exceeding health guidelines.
Is Bottled Water Better?
No! First, bottled water is expensive! It costs 1900 times more than tap water! Second, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that the companies that bottle water do not share the source of the water, how it is treated, or whether it contains contaminants. Therefore, the "EWG recommends that you drink filtered tap water. You'll save money, drink water that’s purer than tap water and help solve the global glut of plastic bottles."
Help! I don’t like the taste of water
You can try flavoring your water by squeezing lemon, lime, or adding cucumbers to improve the taste! Mint leaves and berries can also enhance water's taste.
What about other beverages? Do coffee, tea, juice, pop, diet drinks, and sports drinks count?
- Coffee? No. I'm not saying that you can't drink coffee, but don't count it toward your daily water goal. The caffeine (about 200 mg) in coffee is a mild diuretic. This means that it causes you to urinate more and lose water. Be careful of adding inflammatory sugars and creamers that don't contribute to health in any way. If you add artificial sweeteners there could be other side effects (see “diet drinks” below).
- Tea? Maybe. Tea typically has less caffeine than coffee, so it is less of a diuretic than coffee. Tea has some added beneficial ingredients such as flavinoids and poliphenol antioxidants that are found in many plants including tea leaves. These can protect against oxidative cell damage which is linked to heart disease and some cancers. There are many different types of tea, and the following webMD article lists some benefits of common teas. Like coffee, be careful of adding sugars and creamers that don't contribute to your health. If you add artificial sweeteners there could be other side effects (see “diet drinks” below).
- Juice? Maybe (in moderation)– If the juice is purely from fruits and vegetables, it contains healthy vitamins and minerals. These juices can be high in calories/sugar though, and should be consumed in moderation. “Juice drinks”, on the other hand, are usually contain only a small amount of actual juice (10% or less), and should be avoided because they contain many sugars and other additives. Read the ingredients to know if you are getting juice, or getting the sugar and other additives. My solution: if you want fruit juice, then eat a piece of fruit, and you will get the fiber too!
- Pop? NO. In it's caffeinated form, it has the same mild diuretic effect as coffee and tea. In addition, a 12 ounce can of pop contains 10-12 teaspoons of sugar. Drinking just 2 of these in a day is like adding an extra half cup of sugar to your diet, not to mention the other chemicals and additives it contains.
- Diet drinks (crystal light, diet sodas etc)? NO. While diet drinks do not have the same caloric impact as regular sodas, recent research shows that drinking diet soda is linked to obesity. The reason for this is that the sweeteners in these “diet” beverages are actually much sweeter than sugar. The reason that there are no calories in diet drinks is that our body can’t process the sweeteners. When we drink them, our brain gets a signal that sugar is coming, but sugar is not actually delivered. This makes our brain still crave sugar and sets us up to want to eat more later. Also, if it is caffeinated, it has the same diuretic effect as coffee and tea.
- Sports drinks? NO. These tend to be high in sugars and calories. Many brands of these drinks advertise that they help replenish electrolytes, but as long as you eat food regularly you will have plenty of electrolytes. In cases of long intense exercise (i.e. 1.5 hours or more) having extra electrolytes can be helpful, but the ingredients in typical sports drinks are horrible! If this is you, here is a recipe for a better version of a typical sports drink!
The Bottom Line
If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to reach out to me on facebook! I'd love to hear from you!
Dr. Jared Thomure and Dr. Jamie Thomure