It’s summer and we know we need more water, right! Well yes! Most scientists will tell you that our bodies are 60+ percent water (including the fluids in our cells, our tissues/ organs, our blood and our plasma). That makes water the most important nutrient that we consume for our health.
We use it progressively throughout our day, in all of the body's activities. Understanding this should cue us to drink in increments, gradually all day and not wait for our thirst to motivate us. Our individual needs vary based upon our age, sex, body type and our ability to sweat, and the intensity of activity we are participating in. This time of year when summer sports are enticing us, proper hydration is especially critical.
The USGS (US Geological Survey) quotes Dr. Jeffrey Utz, of Allegheny University, as saying “different people have different percentages of their bodies made up of water. Babies have the most, being born at about 78 percent. By one year of age, that amount drops to about 65 percent. In adult men, about 60 percent of their bodies are water. However, fat tissue does not have as much water as lean tissue. In adult women, fat makes up more of the body than men, so they have about 55 percent of their bodies made of water.”
A different perspective on water’s focal point as our most important nutrient comes from others. They assert that it is water plus the many solute components contained in the water that are the critical nutrients for our sustenance.
So what does this mean and who is right? Both perspectives are valid, especially when one looks at what the body’s “water” is made up of and the comprehensive functions it serves to support our health.
Our total body “water” is not H2O alone, it also contains multiple solutes including sodium potassium, calcium and magnesium, chloride bicarbonate, phosphate, proteins and other critical nutrients. Its multiple functions include promoting growth, development and maintenance of all body tissues, generating hormones and neurotransmitters, and regulating our body temperature, forming our saliva to aid in digestion, keeping our tissues (such as the mouth, eyes and noise) moist, lubricating our joints, cushioning and protecting our body organ and tissues, helping to promote regular illumination thus preventing constipation, supporting kidney and liver flushing of waste products, facilitating metabolism and carrying nutrients and oxygen around the body to the body.
There are some extreme risks to inadequate hydration. Insufficient fluid intake can lower your physical and mental performance, causing headaches, lethargy, mood changes, weakness tiredness, confusion, hallucinations and slow response times. Continued challenges include dry nasal passages, dry or cracked lips, dark-colored urine, increased risk of kidney stones, and salivary gland function.
Eventually dehydration leads to the end of urination and subsequent failure of the kidneys, resulting in the body’s inability to remove toxic waste products. In extreme cases, dehydration may result in death.
The wise choice to avoid this potential health emergency is prevention. That means consuming adequate water. And that means what? According to the Mayo Clinic: “We must replenish the loses from breathing, perspiration, urination and bowel movements.” The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day.
It’s not always easy or convenient to drink all of that water. Good news is that one can get about 20 percent of the water needed through foods we eat. Fluids obtained this way have the advantages of slowed excretion through urination, significant when traveling or doing other activities that preclude immediate availability of the facilities.
Some great hydrating foods, because they are at least 90 percent water by weight include: cucumbers (96.7), grapefruit (90.5), iceberg lettuce (95.6), celery (95.4), tomatoes (94.5), spinach (91.4), radishes (95.3), green peppers (93.9), cauliflower (92.1), watermelon (98.0), star fruit (91.4), strawberries (91.0), broccoli (90.7), baby carrots (90.4), and cantaloupe (90.2). Further bonus is that they add additional nourishment of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with few calories.
A word of caution using other beverages for hydration! Sports drinks, coffee, tea, and other various flavored waters may contain caffeine and other added stimulants that can be instead dehydrating. Worse, some may even cause insomnia, tremors, tachycardia, heart palpitations, and upset stomach, vomiting and abdominal pain, hypo-kalemia, hallucinations, increased intracranial pressure, cerebral edema, stroke, paralysis, altered consciousness, rigidity, seizures, arrhythmias, and death. Be thoughtful in choosing these beverages or allowing you children to consume them. Read labels carefully and discuss safety of consumption with your PCP and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Qualified advice supports the best possible health outcomes.
As always, for the health of it ...
Melanie Ajanwachuku, B.S., R.D.N., CDE is a nutrional consultant in the High Desert. Visit www.a-dietitians-exchange.com