Dietitian’s Mailbag #2: Hydraters Gonna Hydrate

This week’s question is two-fold because one of my readers decided to be sneaky and formulate his question with a Part A and Part B.  Plus they were both such good questions that I couldn’t choose just one.

Jamey A. writes, "Part A) Water. How much water should someone really drink on a daily basis? I feel like I'm constantly reading about hydration, yet my body doesn't seem to want that much water."

You’ve probably heard the widely referenced 8x8 “rule” of hydration (8 oz. of water, 8 times per day), but some of us find that difficult to swallow—literally.  Plus, you may find yourself wondering, how can my water needs be the same as a 6’5” professional athlete? (Unless that describes you, in which case you can replace ‘6’5” professional athlete’ with ‘tiny, sedentary person’).

Water is essential—we need it for proper brain function, smooth digestion, and kidney function, to name a few—but do we need that much?  In short, the answer is not necessarily. The 8x8 rule is widely promoted because it is easy to remember and covers a lot of bases when it comes to the average person’s needs. But I’d like to share with you an even better rule to live by when it comes to hydration: listen to your body and take its cues.

If you need help getting started with that, begin here:

  • Are you thirsty?  You don’t need to remind your pet dog to drink water and he does just fine. It’s instinct! If you feel thirsty, your body is trying to tell you to drink water.
  • Are you sweating? If you’re working out at the gym, sunbathing on the beach, or doing whatever it is that you do to break a sweat, you know that you’re losing water. Preempt your body before you start feeling thirsty by replenishing with some water.
  • Are you eating lots of salty foods? Your body tries to maintain a specific balance of sodium and water. When you consume sodium in food (think salty snacks like chips and crackers, table salt, etc.), your body holds on to water to maintain the right ratio.  Drinking more water allows your body to flush out extra sodium, restoring a normal sodium-water balance.
  • Stay in the clear. You knew this was coming . . . what goes in has to come out, and as some say “the clearer the pee, the better you'll be”. Check out this 'colorful' infographic from Cleveland Clinic to help regulate your water consumption. Remember, even mild dehydration can disrupt cognitive performance and mood.

All of our bodies are different—some of us love salty foods, some of us exercise daily like clock-work, some of us live in hot climates and sweat it out all day long, and the list goes on.  All of these factors combined determine our individual water needs. So rather than following a one-size-fits-all rule, I recommend taking cues from your own body to determine the right amount of water for you.

And don’t forget about the water that is in your foods and drinks.  Fruit, vegetables, milk, and coffee—it’s all contributing towards your hydration status.  In fact, on average, food provides about 20% of total water intake!

Jamey continued his query with “Part B) Is sparkling water equivalent, hydration-wise, to regular water? Or is it somehow less healthful?”

Sparkling water has been accused of everything from leaching calcium from your bones to eroding tooth enamel. But based on current evidence, this simply isn’t the case.  Sparkling water offers all of the same benefits as regular water.  In fact, it’s just good old-fashioned water that has carbon dioxide gas added. Of course, since you are swallowing carbonation bubbles along with the water, you might find yourself burping more or feeling a little bloated.

Keep in mind that the story is different when it comes to sodas—these beverages typically have added sugars contributing empty calories to your intake.  Beverages created from a home carbonating machine may fall into this category as well, depending on what ingredients are added.  Be creative with healthy additions like fruit chunks, cucumber slices, and fresh herbs like basil or mint.

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Shira Katz, M.S., R.D. is the former EAT Club Staff Dietitian

You can follow Shira on Twitter@SunnySideHealth