by Kristen Rezabek, MS, RD, CD; MG Class of 2013
Stranded on a desert island we could survive about 5 weeks without food, but without water our life expectancy would be reduced to just a few short days. Two-thirds of your body is made up of water, about 40-50 quarts in the average adult. Water has many functions in the body; it flushes away toxins, regulates our body temperature, and carries oxygen and other nutrients to the cells of the body. Every day we lose at least 1.5 to 2 liters of water through urine output, respiration, and sweat. And as the temperature gauge rises in the warm summer months our fluid losses increase.
Waiting until you feel a sensation of thirst is not a reliable way to judge how well you are meeting your hydration needs. Usually when you experience dry mouth your body is already in a state of dehydration. In addition, as you age your thirst mechanism becomes less sensitive and your kidney function is reduced. Instead of relying on thirst to tell you when to drink, gauge how well you are keeping hydrated using your urine color as a marker. Pale yellow (like lemonade) or clear urine means you are getting enough fluids. Darker urine color (more like apple juice) is an indicator you may be dehydrated. If you are taking a vitamin and mineral supplement, particularly one with B vitamins, your urine color may be darker, an indicator your body has not absorbed all of the supplement. A person who is well hydrated should empty at least four full bladders each day. If you go the bathroom at 9 am and then not again until 2 pm you are not consuming enough fluids. On the other hand if you have to get up two or more times a night to use the bathroom you should check with your doctor, frequent urination may be a sign of diabetes or other medical problems.
The minimum amount of fluids you need is ½ ounce per pound of body weight (divide your body weight by 2 to determine how many ounces of water you need a day) or the recommended 8-10 eight ounce cups per day. However the average American drinks only 4.6 cups per day, far below the recommended amount. Signs of mild dehydration may include a flushed face, irritability, dry or warm skin, strong smelling dark-colored urine, dizziness, weakness and headache. Severe dehydration can cause low blood pressure and fainting. Overtime chronic dehydration can increase your risk for kidney stones, hypertension, constipation and migraines. Dehydration is a serious problem for people over the age of 65 and a frequent cause of hospitalization.
Your fluid needs may also increase beyond the recommended 8-10 cups per day depending on your level of physical activity, environment and state of health. During periods of exercise you need to drink at least 8 ounces of water before you start, a ½ cup every 20 minutes during exercise and 8 ounces in the 30 minutes upon completion of exercise. This will ensure you are staying well hydrated. In hot weather (80 degrees or hotter) and at high altitudes (above 5,000 feet) you need to drink an extra 1-2 cups of liquids a day to meet your fluid needs. And if you are experiencing an illness such as diarrhea or fever you need to drink extra liquids to compensate for fluid losses and to prevent dehydration.
If 8-10 cups of water per day sounds like a daunting task to you remember that anything liquid at room temperature counts as part of your fluid requirement. Juice, milk, soy milk and herbal tea are all liquids that, ounce for ounce, count towards meeting your hydration goal. High water content foods such as soups, broths, pudding, gelatin, popsicles, ice cream and fruits also count towards part of your liquid requirements. Caffeine is no longer considered to be as severely dehydrating, however it is a diuretic and does cause frequent urination. For caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda you can count about half of what you drink as a fluid, for instance 2 cups of coffee would be equal to one serving of the 8-10 recommended per day. Half of your 12 ounce soda is equal to 6 ounces of fluid. Just remember drinking regular sodas adds extra calories (a 12 ounce soda contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar). Juice is also high in calories (even 100% fruit juice) so limit the amount you drink to 6-8 ounces per day. Alcohol is one liquid that doesn’t count towards your fluid requirements, in fact for every alcoholic beverage you drink it is recommended you consume at least one cup of water.So what is the best way to keep up with your hydration goal of 8-10 cups per day? Try to drink 8 ounces every one to two hours. Drink a liquid with each meal. Water is your best choice for hydration, aim for at least six 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Use these tips to keep you on track:
water so you always have liquids to sip.
to make a refreshing beverage.
calories but still gives a fruity taste.
without all the extra sugar. Add a splash of juice if desired.
Try these thirst quenching summer recipes to help keep you hydrated:
Classic Arnold Palmer
- 4 tea bags (any flavor)
2 cups boiling water
2 Tbsp honey (or add other sweetener to taste)
1 cup lemonade
Pour 2 cups boiling water over 4 tea bags. Steep for 5 minutes, then remove and squeeze tea bags. Stir in the honey while the tea is hot. Add lemonade and ice cubes, then chill. Garnish with lemon slices, and serve.
- 6 cups fresh orange juice
4 1/2 cups chilled seltzer or club soda
Garnish: orange slices
In a large pitcher, stir together juice and seltzer or club soda and garnish with orange slices. Serve in tall glasses half-filled with ice. Makes about 5 cups.