By Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD
Our bodies are literally bathing in H20. Water makes up about 60-70 percent of every body and plays a role in virtually every fabulous function—from keeping our blood flowing, our “internal thermostat” stable, and our skin vital, right up to blinking our eyes! And while there are still those who debate about how much or what type, it’s great to know that we can drink—and eat—our way to meeting our daily water needs deliciously in our everyday life. It’s our opportunity, a daily toast to our bodies, to hydrate for optimal health. Some of the most joyous activities around the table can count: from our morning latte and soups and salads to a ripe piece of juicy fruit and that thirst-quenching cool glass that makes you go “ahhhh” after a workout! It feels good, and it is good. And water goes with everything.
Bad news, good news
There’s good news and there’s bad news for us human beings when it comes to water. First the bad news—without water, our most important nutrient, we would literally die within days! This has everything to do with the vital role water plays throughout the body, foremost in keeping our internal thermostat regulated, but also everything from circulation to digestion to the beauty of our skin.
The good news—well, if you love water, that’s terrific, but even if you’re a not a swimming-fan of H2O, you can get your water needs met in a variety of ways from the beverages you drink, the fluids you consume, and even in your food (assuming you’re eating those wonderfully nutritious foods that have a high water content).
The eight-cup-a-day rule still generally holds strong, though believe it or not, there isn’t “hard” science to support that we have to get it in beverages only. But if you’re moderately active or live in a warm climate, about a cup for every 20 pounds of your weight is about right (140 pounds=seven cups). Individual needs can vary, too.
And a major report from the National Academy of Sciences a few years ago said that about 80 percent of our water should come through beverages and fluid, but about 20 percent can come from the foods—like water-rich fruits, veggies, salads and soups—that we eat every day! That’s the good news, and it makes it a whole lot more interesting, I think!
What’s so great about water?
You know, even mild dehydration—being only one to two percent dehydrated—has shown to impair cognitive performance like the ability to perform mental tests and skills requiring thinking, as well as impairing physical performance. That’s why you see such an emphasis on keeping our athletes, and also us kids and adults, well-hydrated.
And some research has even pointed to the role of staying hydrated and keeping the metabolism revved up and our body weight in check. Research published from the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute showed that simply staying well-hydrated may alone account for about four to five pounds off the body over the course of a year. Now that’s an easy and worthwhile reason to drink up!
Here are some smart strategies to stay hydrated. Keeping it simple and fun makes for sustainable changes and overall health benefits.
- Water, as itself. Bottled or tap, fizzy or flat. It doesn’t matter. Just aim for at least four to six cups of the “real thing” a day.
- Have a carafe or glass by your bedside and start the day with a cup of water to help replenish losses from the night before.
- Fill a pitcher with water and add some lemon slices or bring a thermos to work.
- Have a glass with your meal—a whole glass.
- Cut other fruits into water like kiwi, strawberries, cucumbers, and oranges.
- Pour a splash of tart cherry juice, concord (purple) grape juice, or blueberry juice into water (note—the water goes in the glass first!) for a refreshing, colorful, and hydrating drink for few calories and good nutrition.
Say yes to these:
- Tea, hot or cold. Morning, lunch, tea time in the afternoon, herbal tea after dinner, etc. Make tea—especially that metabolism-boosting, delicious green tea—part of your daily routine. It’s definitely part of mine!
- Low fat or non-fat milk. In addition to nine essential vitamins and minerals, protein, carbs, and modest calories, milk is 90-percent water. It’s like nature’s wellness drink in providing hydration and nutrition at the same time. Great on our cereals, as an afternoon or before dinner snack to curb our appetite, or even before bed to help promote healthy sleep. I like to heat a teaspoon of honey and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon in one-percent milk at night to enjoy. Such a soothing treat.
Don’t be fooled by these:
- Fortified waters that claim to make you “smarter”—they are water, plain and simple. You do get water “credit,” but it can be an expensive way to stay hydrated. Just be aware that there’s very little “smarts” or “energy” you’ll get from these fortified waters aside from what the “water” gives you itself.
- Sodas and fruit drinks. Caffeine when consumed in excess does tend to dehydrate the body. And let’s face it, calories without nutrition? Hmmm…I think you’re worth something better!
. . .and glorious “water-filled” food!
Many foods count toward your water intake—and they can be a delicious way to ensure good hydration, too! While many foods have water (even bread is about 30 percent), I’m really talking about our fruits and veggies!
- Fruits and veggies are 70- to 97-percent water.
○ Aim for a fruit and/or veggie at every meal, and you get not only the great antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, but refreshing water!
○ Have antioxidant-rich berries in your morning yogurt, cereal, smoothie, or oatmeal.
○ Freeze fruit like blueberries and grapes to munch on straight out of the freezer.
○ Watermelon (97-percent water!), cucumbers, spinach, and apples. All fruits and veggies are like natural wells of water for our bodies.
- Soups. What’s the main ingredient in broth-y, soupy, delicious soup? Water, of course. And research from the Penn State University and Purdue University have shown that when we include soups regularly in our diet, we tend to feel more satisfied and also end up consuming LESS total calories in a meal than when we don’t have soup. Soups—hot or cold like gazpacho—especially those with lots of veggies can really boost your water intake in an easy, delicious way.
- Salads. They are typically veggies in the first place; they can be a great “edible” source of water. Research has also shown the link between eating a salad and managing a healthy waistline.
- I encourage you to have a soup or salad—or maybe both sometimes—everyday!
So in the end, we have a wonderful opportunity to eat AND drink our water for healthy hydration.
Make an effort to keep hydrated for a big payoff. Not only will you feel better and perform better, but it might even help improve your skin and maintain your waistline, too. It’s one of the simplest and smartest strategies for a healthy every day. Cheers!
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Dr. Wendy Bazilian is a writer, researcher, educator, food enthusiast, and award-winning journalist who brings extensive experience in nutrition science and counseling to her work. A registered dietitian and an American College of Sports Medicine-certified health and fitness specialist, Dr. Bazilian has been the nutrition advisor at Golden Door Fitness Resort and Spa, Escondido, California, since 2003. She is also co-owner of Bazilian’s Health Clinic in San Diego, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, and has contributed to a number of books, including the James Beard- and IACP-nominated Golden Door Cooks at Home, and the original New York Times bestseller SuperFoodsRx.
Photos courtesy of Jason Bazilian