Staying hydrated, especially in the summer, is vital to feeling energized.
Water is essential to many key bodily functions, including digestion and regulating body temperature. Letting yourself become even mildly dehydrated can leave you feeling tired and result in a headache. Severe dehydration has far worse consequences, such as a high fever and even unconsciousness. Thirst is not always the best indicator of your hydration status. That's why it's important to drink water throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty.
How much water do you need?
We've all heard that you should drink eight glasses of water a day, but that is actually a myth. You likely need more than that, especially if you are active or in a hot climate. For those over 19 years old, aim for at least 11 cups of water if you're a women and 15 cups if you're a man. Drink more if you're active.
Keep in mind that many beverages and even your foods can count towards your total water intake. In fact, about 20 per cent of your water intake comes from the food you eat. Many foods, especially fruits and vegetables, have a high water content and can help you meet your hydration needs. Foods like cucumber, iceberg lettuce, strawberries and watermelon are almost all water by weight. Try freezing cubes of watermelon and adding them to water in the summer for a refreshing and hydrating beverage.
What about coffee and tea?
Water is the most consumed beverage by Canadians, but coffee comes second. Men over 50 years old even reported drinking more coffee than water! Now, let's debunk the "coffee is dehydrating" myth for good. Numerous studies (here, here, here, here, here, and here to name a few) have shown that drinking coffee in moderation does not negatively affect hydration status, especially if you're a regular coffee drinker and more habituated to the mild diuretic effect of caffeine. In this case, coffee may be just as hydrating as water.
Both coffee and tea have been shown to be healthy drinks. However, consuming too much caffeine can still negatively impact your health, causing irritability, headaches and sleeplessness. Keep your intake to less than 300 to 400 mg per day. This is equal to about two to three eight-ounce cups of coffee, four to five shots of espresso, or five to eight cups of black tea.
If you love a warm drink in your hand like me (even in the summer), switch to decaf coffee after a cup or two, or drink herbal tea, which is caffeine free. The health benefits of coffee and tea are negated if you add a lot of cream and sugar. Try reducing the sugar you add gradually (your taste buds will adapt), and switch to whole or two per cent milk instead of cream.
A warning for those over 65
Staying hydrated is especially important for people over 65 years old. Dehydration is one of the top reasons elderly people end up in the hospital. Even mild dehydration can lead to dizziness and fainting. A fall can be detrimental for older people and challenging to recover from. Many never fully recover from a fall that results in a serious injury, which is one out of five falls.
To make matters worse, thirst tends to diminish after the age of 65, making dehydration more likely. If you are over 65, ensure you keep a water bottle handy at all times and follow the tips below to stay hydrated.
Watch out for hidden sugar
According to Canadian Community Health Survey data from 2004, beverages are significantly affecting our daily calorie intake, especially for those under 18 years old. Beverages contribute to more than one third of the sugar consumed daily by adults. Interestingly, your beverage choices may be an indicator of how nutritious your diet is. A study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, showed a link between healthier beverage choices and healthier food choices.
A few of my dietitian colleagues just contributed to a great article about all the sugar that can hide in summertime drinks. Many summer drinks can pack in more than 60 grams of sugar. One of Booster Juice's "superfood" smoothies, Aha Caja, has 85 grams of sugar in it. That's more than 20 teaspoons!
While some beverages can positively contribute to your nutrient intake, it's easier to over-consume calories when you drink them, especially as part of a meal. Most of your fluid intake should come from low-calorie sources.
Don't fall into the sports drink trap either. You do not need to use a sports drink to replenish fluid, carbohydrates or electrolytes, unless you are active for more than an hour. Walking doesn't count — get your heart rate up. There are some exceptions (such as being in a hot climate), but this rule applies to most people.
Here are more helpful tips for staying hydrated this summer:
- Drink a large glass of water when you wake up in the morning to kick off your hydration routine.
- Keep water by your desk at work (in a spill proof bottle if you're accident prone like me).
- Drink a glass of water before each meal.
- Flavour your water with sliced fruit (e.g. citrus, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple) and cucumber.
- Brew different flavours of tea (David’s Tea has lots of refreshing summer options) and keep them chilled in the fridge for an easy beverage without the added sugar.
- Download an app that helps you keep track of your fluid intake and reminds you to drink throughout the day.
- Going to bed? Drink a glass of water. As an added benefit, that urgency to go in the morning will make you get up on time!
- Don’t rely on your thirst — drink fluids throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty.
Melissa Baker is a registered dietitian with a masters degree in nutrition communication. She loves being a part of the exciting nutrition world, and helping to improve the health and quality of life of Canadians. Every month, Melissa examines nutrition trends in her HuffPost Canada Living franchise, "What's The Deal?" For more from Melissa, check out her blog Upbeet.ca.