By SUSAN BOGARDUS, Ph.D., RDN, LDN
Why is water considered the most essential nutrient?
Water functions in all your body’s systems. During digestion, water participates in the breakdown of food and transport of nutrients into the body. After absorption, water carries nutrients into cells and removes the waste products to be flushed out by your kidneys. Water’s function as a lubricant within the ear, nose and throat becomes apparent during the dry inside days of the winter. The drying of these surfaces increases susceptibility to colds and flu. Other functions include body temperature regulation, joint lubrication, shock absorber for eyes and brain.
How much water do you need each day?
This is a simple question with no easy answer. The human body contains 60% water. Water is lost through urine, sweat, lungs and feces. The total amount lost varies but is at least 55 ounces.
To maintain water balance the recommendation is to drink at least 60 ounces per day. Your unique water needs depend on your age, gender, health status, how active you are and where you live.
What happens to the body when a person does not drink adequate fluid?
Excessive water loss due to diarrhea/vomiting or inability to concentrate urine can cause dehydration. For example, infants need more water for their body weight than adults because their body contains more water and they lack the ability to concentrate urine before age one. Also, they can’t tell you that they are thirsty.
Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include: dry mouth, fatigue, increased sleepiness, decreased urine output and urine more yellow than usual, headache, dry skin, dizziness and few or no tears.
What are the benefits of drinking recommended amounts of water?
Drinking adequate water helps maintain the balance of body fluids which can decrease muscle fatigue and promote healthy skin. When you’re low on fluids, the brain triggers the body’s thirst mechanism. If you reach for a drink of water, juice or milk you can quickly replete your stores.
Another benefit of drinking water is that toxins can be transported efficiently through your kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. A deficit in water intake can make urine more concentrated and increase your risk for kidney stone formation. With adequate fluid, urine is light in color and free of odor. Normal bowel function allows things to flow along your gastrointestinal tract and prevents constipation.
Lastly, increased water consumption promotes weight loss. Is this magic? No, people who substitute water for higher calorie beverages decrease their caloric intake. Also, individuals trying to weight often choose foods that are more water rich, for example fruits and vegetables, which are more filling and healthier. This improves the quality of the diet.
Tips for increasing your water intake:
- Carry a water bottle when at work or running errands.
- Freeze water in bottles and take with you for cold water all day long
- Choose water instead of other beverages when eating out.
- Give your water a little pizzazz by adding a wedge of lime or lemon.
- Choose water over sugar sweetened beverages to manage your weight
Want more information? Check out these websites:
Rethink Your Drink (https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/drinks.html )
Staying Hydrated-Staying Healthy https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Staying-Hydrated—Staying-Healthy_UCM_441180_Article.jsp
Hydration and Exercise https://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-fact-article/173/healthy-hydration/
Susan is a part-time clinical dietician at Cherokee Indian Hospital.