Water is essential for life. You can only survive a few days without it. And being hydrated is essential for health. One 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 stabilize 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, which can lead to that feeling of bloat. It can make you feel like you are hungry. Extreme dehydration can also cause heat stroke.
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.
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 in.
How much water do I need?
Once upon a time, there was a magic number called “8 x 8.” This was the recommendation to drink eight-8 oz glasses of water every day; that’s about 2 liters of water. In recent years, you may have heard the recommendation to drink half your body weight in ounces.
Over time, we’ve realized that imposing an 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 all have complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring how hydrated we are. And for healthy adults, this system is very reliable.
Besides thirst, 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. Your urine is still getting rid of waste, but in a smaller volume of water, so it will look darker.
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 moms, 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 really counts toward my water intake?
All fluids and foods containing water contribute to your daily needs. Yep!
Water, of course, 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. Causing an influx can lead to eating unhealthy choices just to rid yourself of the feeling you get when it dips. Thus, potentially leading to weight gain. 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 (drink it regularly) then the effect is even smaller. So, you don’t need to counteract your daily cup(s) of coffee and/or tea.
Many foods you consume contain significant amounts of water too. 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.
There is no magic number of the amount of water you need. Everyone is different. Children, pregnant women, and elderly people 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.
Let me know in the comments: What’s your favorite way to hydrate?
Tasty hydrating teas
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 you have learned that you can hydrate just as well with other water-containing beverages, here are some herbal teas you can drink hot or cold.
- Lemon Balm
- Rose Hips
- Lemon Verbena
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 in your ice cubes to make your iced tea more beautiful and nutritious.