Our bodies are made up of 55 – 60% water….so why do we have to drink so much? You may hear constant reminders to drink plenty of water and to keep your body hydrated. And for a healthy individual, that is absolutely correct. By the time you actually feel thirst, your body is already dehydrated. However, it is difficult with busy schedules and many other daily concerns to remind ourselves to keep hydrated throughout the day, especially when we don’t actually have a feeling of thirst. Here’s a closer look at the issue, and some easy ways you can meet those recommendations.
Fluid needs vary for individuals based on physical activity level, heat, and even age. Older adults run a higher risk of becoming dehydrated more quickly due to higher incidence of chronic diseases, multiple medication use, and a lower thirst level. Individuals living in warmer climates such as the southern part of the country may require more water due to the amount of heat in the climate influencing the amount those individuals sweat. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that the Adequate Intake (AI) for total water requirements includes water from fluids and that which is contained in foods.1 However, when consuming other beverages such as fruit juice, there is the factor of extra calories being added into the diet that may not always be taken into account.
The Dietary Reference Intakes, which are comprised of reference values for estimates of nutrient intakes that are used to assess and plan diets of healthy people, provide an AI value for fluid needs based on observed approximations by healthy people. The AI for total water (which includes all water contained in foods, drinking water and beverages) recommended by the Institute of Medicine is 3.7 Liters/day (about 15 cups) for males and 2.7 Liters/day (about 11 cups) for females age 19 – 70.2 Keep in mind that not all beverages are created equal – despite the differing calorie content, some actually promote dehydration such as caffeinated beverages or alcohol. Fruit juices and fruit drinks can cause an upset stomach in addition to contributing calories.3
In a recent study analyzing data from the National Cancer Institute’s 2007 Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, health-related behaviors and attitudes and characteristics of people who have low water intake were examined.4 It was found that 7% of adults did not drink water, and only 22% drink 8 or more cups per day. It was also determined that low water intake (less than 4 cups per day) was associated with age, region of residence and unhealthful behaviors/attitudes such as high intake of sugar sweetened beverages, low fruit and vegetable intake, and no moderate exercise.
Additionally, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from 2005 – 2007 has shown that the average US adult consumes about 4 cups of plain water per day.4 Plain water intake among adolescents has also been studied, and a 2010 survey showed that 54% of high school students nationwide drink water less than 3 times per day.5 Similar behaviors were associated with low water intake in this study in addition to weight status. So other than preventing dehydration, why is water so important?
Keeping proper fluid balance is critical to our body’s functioning. We need to replace the water that we lose daily through sweating, urination and breathing. If water loss becomes too great, it can affect mental functioning, vision, the body’s pH balance, temperature regulation, and electrolyte balance. Water is used in processes throughout the body’s pathways and is a major component of our blood, which transports oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.6 That being said, there are simple ways you can ensure you are keeping well hydrated by using a few tips to help consume enough fluid throughout the day.
- My favorite trick is to make what I like to call “spa water.” I recommend getting a nice clear pitcher or water dispenser, and fill it each day with not only water, but fruit such as berries, lemon/limes or even mint leaves. One of my favorites is adding cucumbers and mint to a pitcher of water for a nice flavor that makes drinking water more desirable.
- Keep a water bottle at your desk at work. You would be surprised how often you pick up that water bottle and take a sip. It will soon become habit to naturally reach for that bottle. You could even add some lemons or limes in for flavor and have your “spa water” right at work.
- Sip on a non-caffeinated hot tea. I find myself sipping on tea often throughout the day just to keep a little warm in the air conditioned office. If you’re not someone who enjoys sipping cold beverages, tea is a great alternative.
- Try adding a flavor such as Crystal Light to your water. Some people just find that more flavor and a little more sweetness is more palatable and makes staying hydrated easier. I like the Crystal Light options because they are few calories, and they have a nice selection of flavors.
You have your facts and you have some new tips to try. Now it’s up to you to conquer the hydration challenge!
©Adrienne Hatch, MS, RD, LD/N
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, total water and macronutrients. Available at: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/RDA%20and%20AIs_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf. Accessed September 10, 2013.
Cleveland Clinic. Avoiding dehydration, proper hydration. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/dehydration/hic_avoiding_dehydration.aspx. Accessed September 10, 2013.
Goodman AB, Blanck HM, Sherry B, Park S, Nebeling L, Yaroch AL. Behaviors and attitudes associated with low drinking water intake among US adults, food attitudes and behaviors survey, 2007. Preventing Chronic Disease 2013;10:120248.
Park S, Blanck HM, Sherry B, Brener N, O’Toole T. Factors associated with low water intake among US high school students – national youth physical activity and nutrition study, 2010. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012;112(9):1421-1427.
Duke University. Importance of water in the diet. Available at: http://www.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/water/watdiet.html. Accessed September 10, 2013.