It’s easy to argue that water is the most essential nutrient. It’s needed by every cell and is essential for the proper function of the body.
Water makes up way over half of the blood. In addition to helping control body temperature, stabilize blood pressure and regulate heartbeat, the water in blood cushions joints and aids digestion. One more thing: it helps maintain electrolyte (mineral) balance. And those are just a few of its roles. Not bad for a little liquid.
Dehydration, which occurs when the body lacks water, can impair mood and hinder concentration. It can also cause symptoms such as headaches and dizziness. In addition to these negative effects, being dehydrated can reduce physical endurance and increase the risk for kidney stones and constipation. Extreme dehydration can lead to heat stroke. The take home: water is critical for life and good health.
As with everything, the key to good health is moderation. We now know that having too little of this life source can be fatal, but so, too, can having too much. Drinking too much water can, in rare cases, cause levels of salt to drop too low, which can lead to a fatal condition called hyponatremia. You’d have to drink a ridiculous amount (gallons upon gallons) to notice this effect, so don’t worry too much.
As with most things in health and wellness, it’s important to reach a healthy balance. We want to drink enough water to stay healthy and hydrated but not so much that we’ll risk flushing our electrolytes. What’s the magic number of daily glasses and is it the same for everyone? What counts toward water intake?
Let’s dive right in.
How much water do I need?
Once upon a time, there was a magic number called “8×8.” This was the recommendation to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water every day.
Over time, we’ve realized that imposing this external “one size fits all” rule may not be the best approach. A better general rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day. For example, a 180-pound person should aim for about 90 ounces of water a day.
That said, it’s also important to pay attention to your body’s subtle cues for water. The main cue: thirst. Our bodies consist of complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring our levels of hydration. Often, our thirst can be mistaken for hunger when these subtle cues are misread. Next time you feel hungry, have a glass of water first. You may find that you feel full after because your hunger pangs were really thirst in disguise.
Another cue: the color of your urine. Gross, I know, but it provides essential clues to your health. The darker your urine, the more effort your body is making to hold on to the little water it has. When you’re dehydrated, your body is still getting rid of the waste (in the form of urine), but it’s doing so with a smaller volume of water, so it looks darker.
Still not sure if you’re dehydrated? If you fall into any of the following categories, it’s time to drink up!
What counts toward my water intake?
All fluids (including fruit juices) and foods containing water (e.g. watermelon and cucumber) contribute to your daily needs. That said, water is usually the healthiest choice because it doesn’t other ingredients that will have a less than desirable effect on your body (think: sugar in fruit juice).
Drinks containing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. They can have less desirable effects on your body, offsetting the hydrating benefits of water, which in turn can cause dehydration.
Many foods contain significant amounts of water. Good sources include fruits and vegetables like cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, celery, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, carrots, and pineapple. These foods contain over 80% water, making them great sources of hydration.
Is water the only way to get hydrated?
Water is your best source of fluids, but other liquids help, too. Before you take a sip, consider the effects your chosen drink’s ingredients will have on your health. Is it high in sugar, caffeine or sodium? You may want to reach for something healthier. As I mentioned above, many fruits and vegetables are made up of over 80% water, so don’t forget about them.
Everyone is different, which means there’s no magic number for the amount of water you need. Stay hydrated the healthy way – by tuning in to your body’s cues. Pay attention to your thirst, the color of your urine and your activity level (the more physically active you are, the more you need to drink). Other signs you need more water include sweating, constipation, and kidney stones.
Recipe (Hydration): Tasty hydrating teas
Not a fan of the taste (or lack thereof) of plain water? Jazz it up with some sliced or frozen fruit. Click here for tasty recipe ideas including fruit, herb and veggie-infused water. They are so easy to make!
Herbal teas are also good at keeping you hydrated. Here are some of my favorites. They’re great hot or cold.
Hot tea – Place tea bags in a pot (1 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey and slice of lemon, if desired. Serve.
Iced tea – Place tea bags in a pot (2 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey, if desired. Chill. Add ice to a glass and fill with cold tea.
Tip: Freeze berries with water in an ice cube tray to make your iced tea more beautiful, tasty and nutritious.
Serve & enjoy!