My confession is this; after four years of nutritional training, copious hours critiquing scientific papers, listening to expert podcasts, webinars and talks I fully understand the importance of water for optimal health. Our blood is about 93% water, muscle 73% and fat 10%. Just a 2% decline in our water mass can lead to a 25% decrease in physical and mental performance. Basically, water is a big deal. The opinion is unanimous across all health experts; we need it, we must drink it and our mere existence on planet Earth depends on it. However, despite knowing all of this, I don’t drink anywhere near 8 glasses of water a day (partially fueled by my aversion to using public loos. Urgh).
Yet, I’m very healthy. My most recent functional tests show that my nutrients are within range, my hormones are balanced and my gut flora is diverse and flourishing. Not to mention, I feel great. I don’t mean to brag, but basically, in the field of eugenics, my body is considered prime stock (wahoo, go me! Bring on my future healthy babies).
Is there more to hydration than simply drinking two litres of water a day? Absolutely.
Needless to say, this got me thinking, is there more to hydration than simply drinking two litres of water a day? Absolutely.
What’s your body size?
We are all biochemically unique. Even identical twins have their differences. Since the beginning of time no two faces have ever been the exact same, nor have our organs. For example, we may all have stomachs that function the same, but an autopsy would show that they’re all shaped slightly differently. As a result of our differences, our nutritional needs vary. It’s an obvious statement to make, but the larger your size, the more water you need (vice versa). And if you live in warmer climates and you’re very active, your demand increases. So it might be that 8 glasses of water a day is not enough for you. Similarly, it could be too much. As a general rule you should drink half your body weight in ounces. According to Dr. Goldfarb and Dr. Negoianu there’s no clear evidence that drinking anything more leads to better health. To use myself as an example, I weigh 110 pounds. That means I should be drinking about 55 ounces of water a day (that’s 1.5 litres). It’s no wonder I’ve been flourishing on less than 8 glasses a day.
What sort of food are you eating?
I’d be lying if I said I always drink that much. Unfortunately, I’m not always that good. If I’m out and about town for most of the day, at best I’ll drink only 1 litre (I know I should be drinking more, but my phobia of public loos has got my bladder in a headlock). Luckily, I eat foods that are naturally high in water, which makes a huge difference. Drinking cups of water is not the only way to hydrate. The food we eat is a contributing factor. Aside from fresh fruits and vegetables quenching our thirst, you might be surprised to learn that even yogurt, salmon and eggs provide us with water. Soups, broths and cups of tea also count. While fruits and veggies are made up of anything between 80 to 95%, 114g of salmon provides us with approximately half a cup of water. So, for ultimate hydration, it’s a good idea to be selective with your food choices this summer (cue al fresco dining with a salmon salad). It sounds like a lot but try and aim for nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day (that’s only three with each meal). Eat them raw or lightly cooked. Over cooking your vegetables will deplete their water content. Cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, watermelon, peaches, plums and blueberries are particularly good choices as they’re very high in water.
Alcohol causes our bodies to release less of an anti-diuretic hormone, which means we absorb less water.
Unfortunately, while some foods help keep us hydrated, there are others that promote dehydration. Alcohol, coffee, sugary drinks and fast foods are common culprits. High amounts of caffeine is a mild diuretic, while the excessive salt in fast foods disturb the critical water to sodium ratio needed for optimal hydration. And poor blood sugar balance impairs our natural ability to store water. As does alcohol consumption. Alcohol causes a reduction of an anti-diuretic hormone, which means we absorb less water. So it’s worth limiting the amount you have of these foods. Does this mean that you shouldn’t enjoy a flute of cold champagne on a lovely summer’s afternoon? No. It’s all about balance. Enjoy the drink, but just be aware to increase the amount of water you have throughout the day. Drinking a glass of water between drinks is a great way to space them out and rehydrate.
Is tap water good enough?
Sadly, not all water is the same. Our hydration depends on adequate amounts of minerals in the body. Sodium, potassium, calcium, chlorine, phosphate and magnesium are essential. These electrolytes are naturally occurring in spring water. However, unfiltered tap water is severely depleted (not to mention contaminated). That’s why if you’re not drinking mineral water, it’s important you’re providing enough of these nutrients from the foods you’re eating. Spinach, coconut water and bone broth are particularly dense in electrolytes. It’s a real shame though. Drinking a cup of bone broth might be on trend, but I can’t imagine you’d want to do that in the heat. A great idea for the summer is to use the broth as a base in cold soups. It’s really delicious.
Staying hydrated all sounds rather complicated. But it’s actually very simple, it’s second nature in fact. We’re all programmed with a special hydration monitor. It’s called thirst. If in doubt, use your thirst as a guide. Researchers in hydration, Dr. Goldfarb and Dr. Negoianu, both conclude that if we paid a little bit more attention to our thirst and respond appropriately, it’s likely we’ll drink enough.