Dietician Weighs in: How Much Water Should We Really Be Drinking?
We’ve garnered real advice from real dieticians on just how much water is enough.
Contributing dieticians are Sarah O’Callaghan and Lindsey Kelsay – and this article was published on A Beautiful Mess – full credit.
“Water does so, so many important and fascinating things for our bodies. At a cellular level, water is used in temperature regulation for our organs and tissues while also aiding in the transportation of nutrients all throughout your body. Even more, drinking enough water helps promote regular bowel function while also keeping your skin healthy and glowing. Inadequate water intake can cause fatigue, dry skin, headaches, confusion and dizziness, to name just a few. According to the NIH, signs of dehydration can include oliguria (aka, decreased urine output), sunken eyes, rapid heartbeat and shriveled skin.
So how much water do we really need? As an RD I get a little frustrated with this “8 cups for all” rule, because I think it creates room for confusion and misconception. What’s funny, this whole “rule of 8” seemingly is the result of a long, drawn out game of telephone. In 1945, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research council released an article saying the average adult needed about 2.5 liters of water each day. The original publication definitely noted “most of its quantity will come from prepared foods.” Because we seem to enjoy making our lives difficult, somewhere over the years we decided to omit the part about “food” sources of water, which created this snowball effect of us thinking we need to drink all the water in the world to be beautiful, brilliant, healthy, glowing and perfect.
I digress. As dietitians, we are taught to be as precise as possible when determining an individual’s fluid needs. Holliday-Segar is a common equation we rely on but you’ll definitely need a calculator. Please save yourself the time and trouble because this kind of intense number crunching really isn’t necessary for normal, healthy adults. Ever heard of insensible fluid losses? Unlike urine (and other bodily processes we won’t name) insensible fluid losses cannot be measured. Think losses from crazy processes like respiration, digestion and sweating … these losses make it impossible to throw blanket recommendations out there, as hydration is simply a measure of balancing the in’s and the out’s.
Another more obvious barrier to throwing out general water recommendations is that we’re all built and created uniquely. Factors such as your age, build, gender, activity level, medications and any other pre-exisiting health conditions will alter how much fluid you require each day. This is why it is unfair to say both Shaq and Snooki need 64 ounces of water a day. Catch my drift? Elderly, sedentary adults and small children won’t need as much while ultra-marathoners and heavy laborers need more.
Best way to monitor your hydration status? Listen to your body. Thirst is the best indicator it’s time to grab some water. Another good option is to peek at your pee! That’s right, your urine should be the color of “light straw”. Anything resembling dark yellow or amber is no good, while clear urine can be a sign of over-hydration. Good news guys, any and all fluid intake should be included when tallying up your daily intake. However, before you go swapping your water for rose’ all day, it’s important to remember that alcohol (and caffeine) do have certain diuretic properties. Caffeine seems to be less of an offender as our bodies are able to absorb more of the water when compared to alcohol. On the contrary, when it comes to booze, the higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating the beverage will be (light beer > red wine > hard liquor). Water, unsweet tea and fruit infused waters are all preferred.
As aforementioned, the quality of your diet will also affect how much water you should drink. This is because foods like fresh fruits and vegetables have a higher water content than meats, breads and dried fruits. The USDA Nutrient Database is a good resource to use when exploring the water content of various foods. A quick search will reveal produce such as fresh cucumbers, red leaf lettuce, bamboo shoots, green peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe (spanspek for South Africans), strawberries and summer squash are excellent sources of water, providing over 90g (of water) per 100g serving. Dried fruits, breads, butters, cheeses and baked meats will dish out a lot less. Yet another reason dietitians can’t quit preaching about the importance of plant-based diets.
Of course I can’t conclude this piece without mentioning my old bff, sports drinks. Oh sports drinks, where do I begin? Technically yes, we can count these towards fluid intake. But let’s be real, most commercial sports drinks are laden with sugar and really don’t do much to “rehydrate” us. If you’ve been sick or working really hard in the heat, you might consider mixing up your own “rehydration solution” at home. My go to is 6 teaspoons of raw sugar + ½ teaspoon salt + 1 liter of water. You might want to make a little simple syrup as the raw sugar doesn’t dissolve as well as white sugar, but a bonus to using raw sugar is it’s higher content of potassium. This concoction will net you about half the sugar that’s present in most commercial sports drinks, while saving you lots of money! We can discuss artificial sweeteners another day, but again, sugar-free sports drinks are also not recommended. If you can’t pronounce the ingredient folks, chances are it’s not good for you.
So what have we learned today? Drink more water! While I did survive college and the post-baby days, I was likely much more fatigued, fuzzy and lethargic than I am today. Drink up, buttercup. Invest in a large BPA-free bottle, use straws and don’t be ashamed to sip a water between cocktails if that’s what you need to do. Adequate hydration really will have a positive effect your physical, mental and emotional health in the long run.”
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