Why is it so important to stay hydrated? Jeannae Flores, M.S., and Susannah Cohen, M.S., CNS, graduates of MUIH’s M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health, have some tips for staying hydrated in the hottest months of the year.
Water plays key roles in your body, such as supporting optimum brain function, assisting to expel waste and toxins, regulating body temperature, and helping to convert food to energy.
Water is essential to keeping your energy up, weight down, muscles strong, joints supple, digestive system functioning at its best, and your whole system in physical balance.Unfortunately, dehydration is a common (and potentially dangerous) issue. Perhaps this is because signs of dehydration can be hard to recognize. Maybe some people simply aren’t interested enough in water to drink it regularly. Still others may think they only need to drink when they’re thirsty, despite the fact that you could already have lost up to 2 percent of your body’s water content by the time you feel true thirst.
The reality is, up to 60 percent of the human body is made of water. To keep your body running smoothly, you need to be regularly replenishing yourself. It’s a relatively simple step that can make a huge difference in your physical and mental health.
What is Hydration?
In terms of human health, hydration generally refers to having sufficient amounts of water and fluids in the body to support optimal function. While there isn’t necessarily a standard test you can use to determine if you’re hydrated enough, there are several signs and symptoms you might notice when you aren’t adequately hydrated. I should add that anecdotally, I feel incredibly more alert, energized, and vibrant when I’ve been drinking enough water.
Your body’s hydration level can fluctuate due to a variety of factors, including your age, activity level, overall health, and the environment (e.g., whether it’s humid, hot, dry, etc.).
Why is hydration important?
The importance of hydration can’t be overstated. Your body’s cells, tissues, and organs are made of mostly water, so you need to consume enough water regularly in order to replenish these vital structures. Virtually every single physiological system in your body depends on water to help it function smoothly. Your body even needs water to burn fat!
To put it even more simply, water is necessary for your survival, and a lack of it can be fatal.
Hydration with Beverages
Drinking plain water is really the best way to ensure you stay well-hydrated throughout the day. But even if you don’t love water, you can still get water from other beverage sources.
I encourage us all to be mindful of how we quench our thirst and realize that some beverages can have negative health consequences when consumed to excess that end up far outweighing any potential benefit of providing hydration.
Beverages to Consume
- Smoothies and juices that are low in sugars
- Cooling herbal teas such as mint, peppermint, spearmint
- Beverages containing minerals and electrolytes such as coconut water
Hint: Try cucumber water, lemon water, or fruit-infused water, such as chopped strawberries and fresh mint leaves or blueberries and rosemary leaves infused in your water. Kids love them and it’s a simple way to jazz-up your hydration routine.
I strongly encourage you to purchase a few stainless steel, glass, or ceramic water bottles and keep them handy with you throughout the day. Having a reusable bottle close by is an easy way to encourage increased fluid intake, even if you decide to fill it with hydration drinks other than water.
Another tactic that has worked for me is to use a stainless steel straw in my drinking glass at home. I find myself drinking fluids much more consistently this way, and since they’re reusable I don’t have to worry about creating unnecessary waste.
Lastly, I find that avoiding drinks within an hour of bedtime is helpful for my sleep since I’m less likely to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Just something to consider if you’re going to start increasing your fluid intake!
Beverages to Avoid
- Caffeinated Beverages
- Anything high in simple sugars
All of these beverages can be enjoyed in moderation, but they each pose potential health problems when consumed too much or too frequently. For example, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages contain high amounts of non-nutritive “empty” calories and are associated with chronic health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Caffeine, a stimulant, can disrupt sleep quality and duration. Since it can have a diuretic effect on your body (making you urinate), caffeinated beverages like coffee may also promote dehydration. Even alcohol (a depressant) can interrupt sleep and lead to short- and long-term health consequences.
Hydration with Food
According to Mayo Clinic, about a fifth of your recommended daily water intake actually comes from food! This is great news for people who struggle to drink plain water, because it means they can still boost their hydration by reaching for something like a fruit or veggie.
Foods to Consume
Some of the best foods to hydrate that you can consume are fruits and vegetables. Many of these plants in their natural and whole form contain up to 90 to 95 water, in addition to a variety of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that also play pivotal roles in overall health.
- Citrus Fruits (Grapefruit, Lemons, Oranges, Tangerines)
- Soups and Broths
Foods to Avoid
If you’re concerned about maintaining adequate hydration levels, avoid eating large amounts of protein—or be sure to increase your water intake.
Be sure to skip the salt shaker, too. The amount of sodium (salt) in your body already becomes more concentrated when you’re dehydrated, so consuming salt or even processed foods containing salt may make your dehydration worse.
Additional forms of Hydration
- A tiny pinch of sea salt in your water helps to balance your electrolytes
- Track your water intake. Some free water intake apps include: Water Logged, WaterMinder, and Plant Nanny
- Carry a BPA-free water bottle
- Separate your water intake and your caffeinated beverage intake by at least 20 minutes
- Start your morning off by drinking a glass of water upon rising
Frequently Asked Questions about Hydration
How much water should you drink per day?
According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the dietary reference intake of water is 3.7 liters per day for adult men and 2.7 liters per day for adult women. These are guidelines only. Some people need more or less depending on factors unique to them.
What are some signs of dehydration?
Here are a few top signs of dehydration according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
- Extreme thirst
- Dry mouth
- Sweating or urinating less than urine
- Dark-colored urine (it should be a light pale color)
- Dry skin
A person is considered mildly dehydrated when they’ve lost an equivalent of 5 percent of their body weight in fluid.
Are Sports Drinks Better Than Water for Hydration?
Plain water is the best drink for hydration. Some sports drinks contain electrolytes that can help replenish any electrolytes you’ve lost due to sweat, so they may be appropriate to add during or after exercise. But sports drinks also contain added sugars and other artificial ingredients that aren’t ideal for health. Even many brands of store-bought coconut water contain added sugars you should watch out for.
Does Drinking a Lot of Water Help You Lose Weight?
Drinking water can help you lose weight for several reasons. It’s calorie-free, and therefore can help you reduce your calorie intake by consuming it in place of sugary beverages. Drinking water keeps you feeling full and may help you consume fewer calories during mealtime. Studies even suggest drinking water may help you burn more body fat, stimulate your metabolism, and support any exercise you do for weight management.