Drink up! Being dehydrated, or loss of more than 2% of your body weight in 24 hours when not drinking or eating water containing foods, is associated with falls and fractures, increased heat stroke mortality, kidney disease, bladder and colon cancer, constipation, decreased salivation, and dental caries. Water is essential for our bodies for everything from joint health to prevention of dry eye. Your body is very intuitive when it comes to hydration status and tries to keep the body within 1% of its normal hydration level. While dehydration can cause serious illness, our bodies react to even mild dehydration in ways that impact our quality of life – lower energy, muscle cramps, headache, foggy thinking, etc.
Hydration should be considered within a well-rounded plan for living a healthy lifestyle. A general recommendation for water intake for women is 4-7 cups per day and 6-11 cups per day for men. The recommendation is vague because it varies widely depending on age, gender, body mass, environmental conditions, and changes in physical activity.
We often don’t think about hydrating with food, but many healthy foods have a hydrating effect. Twenty percent of our water intake typically comes from food. A dietary pattern that is composed of packaged foods will provide less. Fruits and vegetables, higher in water composition, are encouraged for many reasons, including proper hydration. For example, fruit is made up of 90-95% water as compared to savory snacks and confectionary which are only made up of 1-10% water. Eating a plant slant diet will not only hydrate you but will also aid in weight loss and weight management because foods that have a higher water content also tend to have lower energy density or lower calories.
Now that we’ve looked at our food-based hydration sources, let’s consider our fluid sources. Your best option for hydration is water. Water, water, water is your best bet. After that, decaffeinated tea and coffee. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, you’d have to consume more than 500mg of caffeine to see a mild diuretic effect. To put that into perspective, 8oz of coffee has 140mg and tea has 75mg of caffeine. You would have to drink more than 28 ounces of coffee before experiencing a net loss of water. Regular coffee drinkers have no fear about dehydration! But, beware that too much caffeine can cause jitters and trouble sleeping at night.
Beverages that can have a stronger dehydrating effect are alcohol-containing options like wine and spirits. Just one standard serving of wine or spirits has a diuretic effect. Tip – dilute spirits by adding a low-calorie mixer, or add seltzer water to wine for a satisfying wine spritzer. Beer seems to have a net gain because the alcohol is already diluted with water.
While most drinks, no matter sugar content or carbonation, adds to your water intake, water is still the best choice because it hydrates without added calories. In summary, eat your fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, and moderate your intake of non-dilute alcohol beverages.