Yes, your body needs water, and we should drink it often. But too often, information about hydration (and dehydration) can seem complicated.
The “WHY” of water
Water is essential for good health. It keeps the body's systems functioning properly:
- Transports nutrients and oxygen to your cells
- Aids in digestion
- Moves waste out of the body
- Normalizes blood pressure
- Cushions joints
- Protects organs and tissues
- Regulates body temperature
Dehydration, on the other hand, makes your body work harder and can cause these symptoms:
- Muscle cramps
- Dark urine
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion
H2O is your BFF
While water isn’t your only option for hydration, it is your best option. Water is all you need to maintain a healthy level of hydration. Plus, it is free of calories, sugar and caffeine.
Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda contain water, but have a diuretic effect, which causes water to be flushed out of the system much more rapidly than normal. Experts used to say these drinks were dehydrating, but that myth has been debunked.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is dehydrating. Limit your intake, and, if you are going to enjoy a glass, drink at least as much water as you do alcohol.
Fruit juices and soft drinks, while hydrating, are also high in sugar and calories.
How much water? The answer is complicated, yet simple.
Once upon a time, we were all sold the same “one-size-fits-all” solution: Drink 8 cups of water a day, or 64-ounces. However, this wasn’t backed by any solid evidence.
Experts now say the best test for knowing how much water to drink is by being in tune with your body’s natural thirst mechanism. In other words, if you’re thirsty, drink.
“The vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide,” according to the National Academies of Science External Site. Everyone’s needs vary, based on age, weight, level of activity, and general health.
The National Academies of Science does provide recommendations for total water intake that can be achieved from a variety of beverages and foods:
- 91 ounces per day (11 cups) for women
- 125 ounces per day (16 cups) for men
This includes water, caffeinated beverages, and water derived from foods.
Need an exact number?
If you’re a person who needs a solid goal to shoot for, you can estimate how many ounces of water to drink each day by multiplying your body weight in pounds by .5 or, if you plan to exercise or spend time in extreme heat or cold, use .66. Remember: There are 8 fluid ounces in one cup.
Boost your hydration with food
80 percent of your total water intake comes from drinking water and other fluids. The remaining 20 percent comes from food.
The following foods contain at least 80 percent water:
- Bell peppers
- Cottage cheese
- Skim milk
5 tips for sipping throughout the day
- Invest in a water bottle you will reuse, and keep it filled up, consistently, and nearby.
- Add a slice of lemon, lime, or orange to your glass of water for flavor.
- Try sparkling water (with no added sugar) for an afternoon pick-me-up.
- Use a mobile app, such as Daily Water Free, to track your consumption.
- Link your healthy habits to drinking water. For example, before a meal or snack, make it a rule that you will drink a cup of water first.
Too much of a good thing?
There is such a thing as drinking too much water. Water intoxication, or hyponatremia, happens after consuming far too much water, too quickly. Sodium levels in the blood become abnormally low, causing mild to life-threatening health problems. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache or confusion. (In other words, the symptoms can be misinterpreted as dehydration.) Certain medications can make water intoxication more likely. Also, people who participate in ultra-endurance sports are at risk.
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