Water equals life. More than 10,000 years ago when man decided to leave behind nomadic life, we settled near water. We quickly became dependent on a clean source of water for successful urbanization. In 2010, the United Nations recognized access to clean water and sanitation as a basic human right. Here in the US, we are fortunate to have clean water piped directly into our homes. It is estimated that 500,000 people a year die from contaminated water sources. Water is important.
Water plays a vital role in many bodily functions. Our body weight is roughly 60% water. Body fluid plays a role in the digestive process, muscular activity, transportation of nutrients and the regulation of body temperature. Mild dehydration affects physical performance and brain function. Those mildly dehydrated can experience impaired concentration and memory, headaches increased feelings of anxiety and lack of energy. We lose water through breathing, sweating and going to the bathroom.
Most of us know that drinking more water can help with weight loss. It improves satiety and boosts metabolic rate. Just 2 liters of water a day can increase energy expenditure by up to 96 cals/day. If you are craving sweets, drink more water. Dehydration impairs nutrient transportation and an organ’s ability to function optimally. The liver, for example, needs water to release stored energy (glycogen) for use as fuel. Without water, the release of this stored fuel is not as efficient.
Now to cover a few frequently asked questions surrounding water.
That depends on several different factors. I think we all would agree that we drink more water in the hot summer months than winter so climate plays a role. The amount and type of exercise we do can impact the amount of water we need. Body size, gender, age, medications and illnesses also play a role. A general rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in water. For example a 200-pound man would need to drink 100 ounces/day. This is the minimum amount. Use this as your starting point and make adjustments as needed.
Short answer…. yes if less than 4 cups per day. Caffeine has a diuretic effect on the body causing an increase in the passage of urine. Therefore coffee and tea were thought to be dehydrating offsetting the hydration they offered. That is no longer thought to be true. What’s even more important is what are you adding to your coffee and tea? Sugar, creams or syrups can add up in calories making a cup of coffee a meal replacement. The down side to that is they are all empty calories offering no health benefit. So a couple cups of black coffee or unsweetened tea DO count in your daily intake.
If you are the average person exercising for 45-60 minutes a day then save your money. Drink plain water. Electrolyte waters and sports drinks are for athletes or those losing electrolytes through intense sweating for prolonged periods of time. Water follows electrolytes in the body so by replacing the loss of electrolytes, you can rehydrate faster potentially preventing muscle cramping and poor performance. Alkaline waters are promoted to be anti-aging, help with acid reflux and cancer preventing. Some believe that an acidic environment (pH < 7.4) in the body promotes chronic disease and mineral loss from bones. It’s better to get more bang for your buck by eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables. They help to balance blood pH plus are packed with much-needed vitamins and anti-oxidants.
Adding in more water doesn’t have to be complicated. If you aren’t drinking water now, begin by drinking a glass with each meal. This will help you to eat more slowly, building another great habit! Buy yourself a really cool water bottle, fill it up and carry it with you. Download an app that reminds you to drink water. Don’t forget, we get water from the foods we eat as well. Increase your water intake by eating more fruits and vegetables like cucumbers, broccoli or strawberries. If you dislike the taste of plain water, add in fresh lemons/limes or cucumbers to boost flavor without adding calories. Steer clear of the flavored water enhancers that are full of chemicals and artificial sweeteners that offer no health benefit. Finally, as always, focus on the “adding in” and not the “subtracting” of the other beverages. This will give you a more positive focus that helps you make sustainable change.