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Archive for July, 2009

One thing that every diet guru and health professional agrees upon is the importance of water for a properly functioning body. Here is my article that discusses the importance of this essential element to your health. It is the third in the series of The Ten Principles of a Healthy Diet, previously published at Image of waterThe Complete Lawyer.

I is for the Importance of Water” (as a PDF) or inline below:

If you are suffering from stress, headaches, bodily tension, or cravings for sweets, … you can address these problems by exercising, seeing a therapist, getting a massage, or even changing professions.  But there may be a simpler way to alleviate these symptoms: try drinking more water.  Even if dehydration is not causing these symptoms, increasing your water intake can help.

Why Do Our Bodies Need Water?

Because our bodies are 70% water, we need a constant supply in order to function properly.  Everyday we must replace the fluids that our bodies use and lose through breath, sweat, urine, and stools.  When we maintain hydration, we can prevent premature aging, eliminate pain and headaches, lessen hypertension, and even promote weight loss by speeding up our metabolisms and lessening our desire for food, particularly sweets.

In addition, increasing your water intake allows your body to efficiently eliminate waste products by increasing the need to urinate and therefore flushing more toxins out of your body, which can help reduce problems like acid reflux, ulcers, gastritis, and ailments of the colon, kidneys, bladder, and urethra.

How Much Water Do You Need?

Although the average person on an average day needs at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water, different people may need to drink more or less depending on their weight, level of physical activity, climate, and diet.

As Joshua Rosenthal explains in his book Integrative Nutrition, a larger person will most likely need more water than a smaller person; a person living in the desert will need more water than a person living in a humid environment; a person who exercises regularly will need additional fluids to replace those lost through perspiration; and a person who eats a diet full of water-rich foods will need to drink less water than a person who does not.

Three main categories of foods, when consumed, will require you to take in additional fluids to maintain hydration and efficient elimination of waste products from your body:  sugar, caffeine, and meats.

Because sugar is 99.5% carbohydrates and only 0.5% water, you need large amounts of water to balance the intake of refined sugar.  For example, if you consume 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces or 9 tablespoons) of pure refined sugar, you need about 28 to 30 ounces of water—almost a quart—to counterbalance it.  This is why sweets make you thirsty.

It’s also why soft drinks are “phony drinks.”  Because most have seven to nine teaspoons of sugar in each can or bottle, they cannot possibly quench your thirst or hydrate you.  Add to that the caffeine in most soft drinks, and you get a double dose of dehydration.

Caffeine is a diuretic that actually increases your need for water, so you will need to increase your water intake by two for every caffeinated beverage that you consume.  In other words, if you have eight ounces of coffee or tea or Coca-Cola in the morning, you should drink two extra 8-ounce glasses of water to counteract the dehydrating effects of the caffeine and/or sugar.  Keep in mind that the average cup of coffee or bottle of your favorite soft drink is more than eight ounces (a Starbucks grande coffee and a single-serving soft drink bottle are each 16 ounces).

Lastly, consider the amount of protein in your diet, especially animal-based protein, because a high protein diet demands a large amount of water for metabolism and efficient elimination.  (This explains why high-protein diets like Atkins have high initial success rates: the body siphons its own water reserves in order to metabolize the protein, resulting in water weight loss.)

In contrast, vegetarians generally need much less water in their diets because plant-based foods already contain a high proportion of water.  In her book Food and Healing, Dr. AnneMarie Colbin details the water content in various foods:

  • Lettuce, iceberg: 95.5% water
  • Carrots: 91.2% water
  • Cow’s milk: 87.4% water
  • Apple, raw: 84.4% water
  • Grapes, green: 81.6% water
  • Potato, baked: 75.1% water
  • Brown rice, cooked: 70.3% water
  • Kidney beans, canned, cooked: 69.0% water
  • Fish, cod, broiled: 64.6% water
  • Chicken, broiled, no skin: 63.8% water
  • Beef, T-bone, broiled: 36.4% water
  • White bread: 35.5% water
  • Sugar: 0.5% water

Knowing the water content of the food you eat is important:  it will help you determine how much supplementary water your body needs to obtain through drinks.

Get The Fluids You Need

In addition to eating water-rich foods, get the fluids that you need by drinking water at least three times a day, or keeping a bottle or a cup of water on your desk or in your bag and sipping it throughout the day.

If you don’t like the taste of water, create a more appealing flavor by adding some fruit juice, a squeeze of lemon, a slice of cucumber, or some berries.  You can even drink sparkling water with “ice cubes” made from fruit juice rather than water.  Any beverage without caffeine or added sugar is hydrating.  Good choices include real fruit juices (without added sugar, so check the label) and herbal coffees and teas.

Herbal teas do not contain any tea leaves.  They are generally made from flowers, herbs, spices, and other plants; because they are brewed like tea, they are called “tea.”  Check the contents of your tea; if it has any kind of tea in it—whether black, white, or green; or contains leaves or tips—then it is not herbal.  Herbal teas can be great hot or iced.  Brew some at home, add stevia or agave nectar (both natural sweeteners) if you want a little sweetness, and keep it in the fridge.  Delis and groceries sell many good varieties of bottled herbal teas; find the ones you like most.

The same is true for herbal coffee which is not the same as decaf and is, unfortunately, not widely available in many places.  You can, however, purchase it at most health food stores.  My favorite brand is Teeccino (www.teeccino.com), made from carob, chicory root, and other herbs, and brewed in the coffee pot like regular coffee.

Remember that timing is also important in water intake.  Start your day with at least one glass of water since you have been without water all night.  Try not to wait until late in the day to drink the majority of your fluids (when you belatedly realize that you didn’t get enough water throughout the day) as this will cause you to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.   You need sleep as much as water, so don’t sabotage your sleep schedule by mis-timing your water intake.

Should I Drink Tap Or Bottled Water?

In the last five years, bottled water has become very popular, with people drinking water imported from places as far away as Fiji and France.  Unfortunately, bottled water is costly—and not only to our pocketbooks.  All those plastic bottles strain the environment because they do not biodegrade, must be shipped around the world using fossil fuels, and are made from petroleum.  Clearly drinking solely bottled water every day is not good for the planet.

It also may not be good for our bodies as plastic from the bottles can leach into the water, especially if left in the heat—for example, in the car during the summer.  These plastic particles are known to have hormone-disrupting effects, according to Dr. Liz Lipski, author of Digestive Wellness.

On the other hand, most tap water contains chlorine, fluoride, and sometimes lead which usually needs to be filtered before we drink it on a regular basis.

My advice is to be practical.  When you’re on the go, it may make sense to carry bottled water with you, whether in a single use bottle that you bought at the deli or in a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter.  Try an Internet search for “reusable water bottle with filter” and find one that you like.

At home, you can try home delivery from a water company that reuses and recycles 3 to 5 gallon bottles of water:  Poland Spring charges about $30 per month for three 5-gallon bottles.  Or you can drink tap water with an in-home filtration system like Brita or PUR.  You can also try the more expensive carbon filter or reverse osmosis filters, which are known to eliminate a higher amount of toxins and can be installed as an in-home system.

Because the kidneys of a healthy adult can process only fifteen liters of water a day, it is possible to drink too much water, resulting in “water intoxication.”  According to Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, drinking excessive amounts can disrupt the body’s delicate electrolyte balance.  The best way to avoid this, she explains, is to drink fluids throughout the day as opposed to consuming an enormous volume at one time.

Ultimately, remaining hydrated and ensuring that your body is working as an efficient elimination system is not difficult.  And you might feel much better by simply drinking and eating more water each day.

_____________________________________________

RESOURCES

Batmanghelidj, Fereydoon, M.D., Your Body’s Many Cries for Water: You Are Not Sick, You Are Thirsty; Global Health Solutions, Inc., 2001 (2d ed.).

Cherniske, Stephen, M.S., Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug; Warner Books, 1998.

Colbin, AnneMarie, Food and Healing: How what you eat determines your health, your well-being, and the quality of your life; Ballantine Books, 1986.

Gittleman, Ann Louise, M.S., C.N.S., get the sugar out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut the Sugar Out of Any Diet; Three Rivers Press, 1996.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D., “Can You Drink Too Much Water?,” at About.com.

Lipski, Elizabeth, Ph.D., CCN, Digestive Wellness: How to strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion; McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Lipman, Frank, M.D., Total Renewal: 7 Steps to Resilience, Vitality, & Long-Term Health; Penguin, 2003.

Rosenthal, Joshua, Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health & Happiness; Integrative Nutrition Publishing, 2008.

Steward, H. Leighton, Morrison C. Bethea, M.D., Sam S. Andrews, M.D., Luis A Balart, M.D.,  Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat; Ballantine Books, 1995.

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