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  • Writer's pictureSam Finkelstein, RD

The Truth About Water

​Happy August (for a few more days), readers! The sun is shining, even for us here in San Francisco today. As the days get hotter, one of the top goals a lot of my clients have when it comes to their wellness is getting enough water. Although this may be a time of year when we can physically feel our need for that sweet, pure liquid more than ever, it is VITAL (literally!) for us to get enough water year round. Let's talk about why, and how to make sure you're getting enough. But FIRST - some fun facts!

Did You Know...?

  • The adult human body is made up of ~60% water (an infant's body -- 75-90% WATER!!)

  • With enough fat stores, humans could go up to several weeks without food (I don't recommend this, for the record), but we would die in a matter of days without getting enough water.

  • Unlike some other animals, humans have no way of storing water - this is why we must drink consistently every day

  • By the time you feel thirst, you are likely already slightly dehydrated

  • Almost every part of us contains water, even our cells, and our BONES (guess "Bone Dry" isn't really a thing...)

Why Drink Water?

Most already know that water is the best choice for hydrating our bodies (hydro = water, soo....). I'll mention for emphasis that water is the most efficient choice from a purely hydration standpoint over sugar-sweetened beverages, since water is inherently 100% water, while sugar-sweetened beverages contain more than just water, although they do contain some. I recommend reserving consumption of non-water beverages for times when they sound good (like OJ with Sunday brunch, or the occasional soda with that cheesy Friday night pizza), rather than relying on them daily to quench your thirst. Many foods also contain water, which contribute to our hydration status, as well; however, the amount in foods alone is not enough to keep us adequately hydrated. In short: it can be difficult to meet your hydration needs without drinking any actual water. Check this chart out for more on water content of different foods. ​So, what are the reasons it is important that we consume water so regularly? Water plays a major role in many of our bodies' processes -- processes that allow us to extract fuel from the foods we consume -- and also makes sure we are functioning properly, all around.

Roles of water include:

  • Helping sustain life of our bodies' cells, and therefore us

  • Natural detoxification

  • Lubricating joints

  • Regulating body temperature

  • Nourishing the brain and spinal cord

  • Transporting nutrients throughout the body

Without enough water, we can see symptoms like:

  • ​Dizziness

  • Mental confusion/fatigue

  • Decreased energy

  • Muscle cramping

  • Dry skin, eyes, mouth

  • Mood instability

  • Changes in blood pressure ​

As mentioned above, humans could go a fairly long period of time without food, but not very long without water before things started to shut down. This is because, unlike our hump-ed camel friends, humans do not have a mechanism by which to store water. We lose water through a number of mechanisms daily, like urination, bowel movements, sweating, and more. We even lose a tiny amount of fluid every time we breathe! We have to replenish our fluids so our bodies can carry on doing the many incredible things they do on a second to second basis that keep us upright, and kickin' butt in the world. I am often asked what the deal is with coffee and tea. Theories circulate, stating that these drinks contain water, so may count as water. Others state that these drinks are diuretics, meaning they cause us to excrete more water, so they actually count negatively against you water goal for the day. It's true that we do get some water from caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea, but we also do lose some water. I recommend keeping your caffeine intake moderate, like most things, and wouldn't recommend relying on lattes to meet your daily H2O goal. Try to meet your goal using the real stuff to make sure your body is really getting what it needs in this department.

You've likely heard the recommended 64oz per day before - and I'm guessing you've also heard that this recommendation has changed. It's not that 64 oz per day is not a good starting point. But as science has given us new information, it's become possible to give more precise recommendations, which are listed above. You can speak to your own dietitian, who can help you calculate what exactly your needs might be, and help you set goals to get you there, or you can monitor your own body to determine what's right for you. The most sure-fire way to tell if you're properly hydrated is to note the color of your urine. If it's a dark yellow after you've had 64oz of water for the day, you definitely need more than that. As a marker of good hydration status, you should look for urine that is such a light yellow, it is almost clear. You can check this throughout the day to gauge whether you've had enough. Remember, if you're feeling thirsty, you may already be dehydrated! If you're feeling constantly thirsty, while drinking plenty of water, this could be the sign of a medical condition, so be aware of that, and see your doctor if this persists. In making sure you start to get enough water, proper goal setting is key. Even if 64oz is not quite enough for you, it's a great goal to start with. It's imperative that your goals are attainable -- start with whatever feels reasonable for you today, whether that is 64oz, or 40oz, or 24oz. Congratulate yourself as you hit your water goal milestones, and continue to make progress until you reach the right amount for your body.

What About Lemon Water?

Haven't y'all heard? Lemon water will save you from dehydration, bloating, acne, leprosy, and gives you X-Ray vision? (DISCLAIMER: JUST KIDDING) Good for you, Lemon - you and your once largely unloved sour family have finally got your time in the lime- err, lemon-light. I have heard some pretty wild claims about the "miracles" of lemon water, as my snarky intro to this section connotes. Briefly -- I wouldn't believe the hype. There's no harm, for the average, healthy Joe, in adding a wedge to your glass, except for maybe a little bit of tooth erosion, or acid reflux. Especially if it helps you drink a little bit more water overall, adding lemon (or cucumbers, mint, berries, or whatever sounds good) to your H2O isn't a terrible idea -- I've been known to do it, as it tastes so good and refreshing, and can help make a normal day feel like a spa day. And drinking enough water can absolutely lead to some of the amazing results lemon water pushers purport, including clearer skin, fewer tummy troubles, and a feeling of overall wellness. But these benefits are also seen when folks simply drink an adequate amount of plain water.

Bottom line: If you hate lemon water, no need to choke it down. If you love it, get drinkin'!

There You Have It...

All you ever wanted to know about water, and maybe even a little bit more. If you've still not had your fill, check out the TED-Ed video below. You'll hear a lot of what I discussed here, plus more about the bodily mechanisms around water -- including what happens during dehydration, and over-hydration. Enjoy!

-Sam The Dietitian

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