Water is essential for life. You can only survive a few days without it. And being hydrated is essential for health. I could argue that water is the most essential nutrient of them all. Water is needed for every cell and function in your body.
Water is a huge part of your blood; it cushions your joints and aids digestion. It helps stabilise your blood pressure and heart beat. It helps to regulate your body temperature and helps maintain electrolyte (mineral) balance. And that’s just a few of its roles.
Dehydration can impair mood and concentration and contribute to headaches and dizziness. It can reduce your physical endurance and increase the risk for kidney stones and constipation. Extreme dehydration can cause heat stroke.
So, water is critical for life and health.
But, just as way too little water is life-threatening, so is way too much. As with most things in health and wellness, there is a healthy balance to be reached.
But, there are conflicting opinions as to how much water to drink. Is there a magic number 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; that’s about 2 litres of water – A LOT!
Over time, we’ve realised that imposing this external “one size fits all” rule may not be the best approach. Now, many health professionals recommend drinking according to thirst. You don’t need to go overboard forcing down glasses of water when you’re not thirsty. Just pay attention to your thirst mechanism. We have complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring how hydrated we are. And for healthy adults, this system is very reliable or is it?
I don’t get thirsty, I forget to drink water, or I don’t like water
I often hear in my consultation that my clients are not thirsty!
It is possible to suppress this natural response over time. Your body can adapt very well, holding on to whatever water you do have inside. If we ignore and then keep ignoring our bodies request for water, then our bodies will think there is a water scarcity and adapt.
This is not a healthy way to be!
Another response I often get from my clients is that they don’t like water.
Now this is a big concern for me because this is a much harder situation to tackle. When a person tells me, they don’t enjoy or like something that is absolutely vital for life this is a worry!
Just like it’s possible to adapt your body to a lack of water it also very possible to adapt your taste buds and palate to dislike water. May be when you were growing up you always had a flavoured drink. Maybe you have an addiction to salt or sugar? Maybe it has been so long since you actually drank water that your body has forgotten that it likes it?
Before you know it, you adapted your taste to the extent that water is tasteless.
EMERGENCY!!!! This is not a good place to be!
I also hear this one quite often – I forget to drink!
I can understand this, our time is so under pressure, we have so many distractions and our schedules are so busy BUT remember that water is VITAL for your survival.
Many people do not even know they are dehydrated!
The best way to start changing the above is to start drinking some water – even if it’s just a little amount.
Tip #1: next time you go to grab a snack. STOP and drink some water instead. It is very common to mistake thirst for hunger.
Tip #2: set a reminder on your phone to drink water regularly.
Pay attention to how dark and concentrated your urine is. The darker your urine, the more effort your body is making to hold on to the water it has. Urine is still getting rid of the waste, but in a smaller volume of water, so it looks darker.
Your energy levels will be lower than they should be.
Your concentration and focus will be less than it should be.
You are very likely to suffer from headaches and general aches and pains.
Your skin will be dry.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
There are a few other things to consider when evaluating your hydration status. If you’re sweating a lot or are in a hot/humid climate drink more. Breastfeeding mums, elderly people, and people at risk of kidney stones need to drink more water too. So, do people who experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, as both can quickly dehydrate our bodies.
So, ditch the “one size fits all” external rule, and pay more attention to your body’s subtle cues for water.
What counts toward my water intake?
All fluids and foods containing water contribute to your daily needs.
Water is usually the best choice. If you’re not drinking pure water, consider the effects that the other ingredients have on your body. Drinks containing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine will have effects besides hydration. Sugar can mess with your blood sugar balance. Alcohol can make you feel “buzzed.” And caffeine can keep you awake. Let’s talk a bit more about caffeine for a second.
Caffeine is the infamous “dehydrator,” right? Well, not so much. If you take high dose caffeine pills, then sure, they cause fluid loss. But the idea that coffee and tea don’t count toward your water intake is an old myth. While caffeine may make you have to go to the bathroom more, that effect isn’t strong enough to negate the hydrating effects of its water. Plus, if you’re tolerant to it (i.e., regularly drink it) then the effect is even smaller. So, you don’t need to counteract your daily cup(s) of coffee and/or tea. To find out if you should be drinking coffee click HERE.
Also, many foods contain significant amounts of water. Especially fruits and vegetables like cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, celery, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, carrots, and pineapple. These foods are over 80% water, so they are good sources of hydration.
So, you don’t need to count your plain water intake as your only source of hydration. All fluids and foods with water count.
What about the kids?
Children generally need encouragement and reminders to drink water. Their need for fluid is very similar to that of an adult. The British Nutrition Foundation states that children should drink 6-8 glasses of fluid per day on top of the water in their foods. Depending on age, gender and activity a serving could be anything from 120ml to 300ml.
The best way to help your children stay hydrated is to give them access to a drink of water at all times. Give water with meals. Remind them to drink. Dilute fruit juices and keep flavoured drinks low in their diet. As detailed above these drinks can contain a great deal of unwanted ingredients alongside the water.
Remember that taste and palate are being formed at a young age so encourage water intake NOW!
You may not love the taste (or lack thereof) of plain water. One thing you can do is add some sliced or frozen fruit to your water. Since we learned that you could hydrate just as well with other water-containing beverages, why try some herbal teas you can drink hot, cold or even iced.
There is no magic number of the amount of water you need. Everyone is different. Children, pregnant women, elderly people may need more. Episodes of vomiting or diarrhea will also increase your short-term need for more water. The most important thing is to pay attention to your thirst. Other signs you need more water are dark urine, sweating, constipation, and kidney stones.
Water is your best source of fluids. But other liquids, including caffeinated ones, help too. Just consider the effects the other ingredients have on your health as well. And many fruits and vegetables are over 80% water so don’t forget about them.