When we say goodbye to the summer season, and with it, to the high temperatures, it can make us look not so necessary to ingest a large volume of liquid. However, experts agree on the idea that to be healthy is essential to maintain an adequate hydration during the whole year.
The body needs fluid to carry out such basic functions as digestion, nutrient transport, disposal of waste through the faeces and urine… So much so that if we don’t invigorate the water we eliminated, i.e., keep a balanced water level, the body is forced to resort to water which is located inside the cells, causing an overload in them which can lead to headaches, fatigue and weakness, among other effects.
To maintain a healthy lifestyle it’s therefore essential to ensure that we are properly hydrated. The recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and numerous specialists in health and nutrition, is drinking between 2 and 3 litres of water a day. However, every age and circumstance will require a certain daily water intake according to factors such as age, sex or level of physical activity.
Diversity of sources and flavors
Along with physical exercise, healthy eating and a proper intake of liquids are the pillars to achieve a healthy lifestyle. When we talk about an adequate intake of water we are not referring only to the amount of water you drink, because we routinely consume foods that contain significant amounts of water in its composition, such is the case of fruit, vegetables, natural juices, broths, milk and dairy products, soya drinks, coffee and infusions, among others.
The diversity of fonts, colors and flavors of drinks is as important for the maintenance of an adequate hydration as it is plentiful in nutrition. As outlined from the European Hydration Institute (EHI), dispose of a wide range of options “contributes to stimulate both food and drink intake”. We find evidence of this in a study to runners which did a test on a treadmill. According to data provided by the EHI, it was observed that athletes drank up to 50 percent more when had at their disposal different types of beverages than when only provided them with water. “Palatability”, ensures from the Observatory of Hydration and Health (OHS, acronym in spanish), “favours a higher intake of liquids and thus an optimal hydration status is reached”.
Beverages such as natural fruits and vegetables juices are very important sources of vitamins and antioxidants. Its regular consumption can nice and easily help us to comply with the recommendation to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. It’s important to know that contrary to what occurs with water, all these alternative drinks have a caloric punch. Common drinks such as sugary soft drinks represent about 3 percent of the calories in an European average normal diet. However, today we can find on the market a wide range of drinks with little or no calorie intake, and with no sugars added, which must be our first option.
So, remember these recommendations of the Observatory of hydration and health (OHS):
- Keep properly hydrated throughout the year.
- Have a balance between the liquid you remove and the liquid you ingest.
- Drink before thirsty and not at once.
- Look after the adequate hydration of children, adolescents, pregnant women and elderly people.
- Before, during and after physical exercise, ingest liquid.
- Work, stress and be in places with air conditioning or heating also encourages the loss of liquids.
- Avoid alcohol, it dehydrates.
- The more heat, the more you should drink.
- For a better and easier hydration, take varied food and drinks.
- Learn to prevent the consequences of dehydration.
Mini-interview with the expert
Professor Ronald J. Maughan
Emeritus Professor of Sport and Exercise Nutrition
Chair of the European Hydration Institute (EHI) Science Advisory Board.
1. What health benefits brings water to our body?
Water is essential for all life; a few days without water and we die. Long before death, all physiological functions are impaired by an inadequate water intake. That means that both physical and mental performance suffer if the level of dehydration is sufficiently severe. Mild dehydration is probably of little consequence if it is only transient, but chronic mild dehydration has been assiciated with a number of disease states.
2. Which are the dangers or health problems that could we suffer due to dehydration?
Chronic hypohydration is a risk factor for a range of adverse outcomes, including constipation, urinary tract infection, bladder cancer, hypertension, coronary disease and stroke. Acute dehydration is associated with decrements in cognitive function, reduced physical working capacity and may also be a precipitating factor in hospital admission.
3. There are many types of water, wich one is the most recommended for the correct working of the body?
Really, there is only one type of water, but it comes in many beverages and foods and our bodies also produce water when they oxidise foodstuffs to generate energy. The water that we need can come from drinks and foods, with about 70-80% typically coming from drinks and 20-30% from food. Bottled waters, in general, are not different from tap water, and the differences between waters disappears when they are consumed together with foods: everything is mixed together in the stomach and small differences in composition become insignificant.
4. How much is the minimum daily amount of water required by our body?
Water balance is achieved when the amount of intake from all sources (water from drinks and foods plus the water generated by metabolish) equals the losses from all routes (urine, feces, breathing and through the skin). How much we need may vary from less than one litre to more than 10 litres, but this depends very much on physical activity levels and on the temperature and humidity of the environment. Typically about 2 litres for women and 2.5 litres for men is an appropriate amount.
5. Which steps must we follow to achieve a proper hydration?
It is not always easy to know if a person is well hydrated or not. Many of the signs of mild dehydration are those that we often experience for other reasons: headache, tiredness, etc. If you are passing only small amounts of dark coloured urine, it is highly likely that you are dehydrated and that you should be drinking more. You do not need to drink constantly, but you should drink enough to produce pale coloured urine.
6. On the website of European Hydration Institute you speak about the importance of having a wide range of options when it comes to drink fluids, as this will facilitate the intake of them. Which another drinks and in what quantities are recommended from EHI?
There are no specific recommendations as this depends on lifestyle, taste preferences and the need for other nutrients. Plain water has no calories and is kind to the teeth, but many people do not like to drink plain water, and there is no reason why anyone must drink water rather than other drinks. It has been demonstrated that those who drink a greater variety of different drinks are more likely to achieve the recommended total water intake. With the growing problem of obesity, especially among children, though, there are good reasons why young children should drink water rather than drinks that are high in energy.
7. How can we get across people, especially children and elderly, they should drink water or another drinks even if they are not thirsty?
It seems to be difficult to communicate this, but it should not be impossible. Other public health messages have also been difficult (eg smoking) but have gradually becomme accepted after major campaigns. The simple message is that people who are well hydrated are generally likely to feel better and may well also live longer.
8. Obesity has become one of the main health problems of the twenty-first century, how and on which terms can water consumption help in the prevention of this disease?
There is some evidence that those who drink water rather than high energy drinks may be less likely to become obese, but there are clearly many other factors involved. Certainly, drinking water may help some people to control feelings of hunger and thus to help restrict the amount they eat.
9. The athletes are exposed to a greater fluid loss; for its replacement, are sport drinks recommended? Are they healthy?
Athletes will not perform at their best if they become seriously dehydrated. Drinking water can help ensure the best possible performance. There are some situations where adding sugar and salt – the main components of sports drinks – can provide further performance benefits. These same ingredients are those found in oral rehydration solutions used in the treatment of diarrhoea. They can help performance by stimulating the absorption of water in the small intestine. The sugar can also be an important fuel for muscles and the brain when exercise is very prolonged.
Source: European Hydration Institute