How many times have you been told to drink more water? As a nutritionist I often question people about how much and what kind of liquid they are drinking, and encourage them to drink a bit more. Other factors to consider, and just as important as how much you drink, is when you drink and the quality of your drinking water.
Why do I need to drink water?
Many of us are walking around in a state of dehydration but not even aware. We physically need water to survive. We can survive about a month without food but less than a week without replenishing our fluids. Our bodies are comprised of more than 60% water. Blood is about 92% water; the brain and muscles are 75% water and even our bones contain 22% water.
Water is needed for EVERY system in our bodies: every cell, every organ. It transports nutrients, removes wastes, regulates body temperature, cushions joints, delivers oxygen to cells, aids the natural healing process, and conducts electricity for our nervous system. Do these sound like tasks that are an important part of your day? Then hydration needs to be an every day focus.
Do I really need 8 cups?
The daily recommended amount of water is about eight cups per day, but it’s important to consider your size, your activity level, the climate and temperature, and the types of foods you eat (lots of fresh fruits and vegetables versus a lot of refined, processed foods). Soft drinks, coffee, and tea are liquids but they can contain caffeine. Caffeine and alcohol can act as mild diuretics, preventing water from traveling to necessary areas in your body.
Tip: Add slices of lime, lemon, orange, or cucumber to your water. This can help improve the taste and help in your quest to drink more water.
When is the best time to drink water?
Start your day with a glass of warm or room temperature water with a squeeze of fresh lemon to help flush your digestive system and rehydrate you from your overnight fast.
Continue to drink water over the course of the day between meals. Try not to drink much with meals as this can dilute your digestive juices; save your liquids for about half-an-hour before meals and an hour or two after eating.
Although quite rare, drinking too much water too quickly can lead to water intoxication. This is most likely to happen during intense athletic events. When there is an excessive amount of sweating, the body loses an abundance of electrolytes, or salts, that are required to balance water throughout the body. Over-hydration without electrolyte replacement can cause a fatal disturbance in brain functions when the normal balance of electrolytes is pushed outside of safe levels.
TIP: Daytime fatigue can often just be mild dehydration. Having a glass of water can result in increased energy levels.
Should I filter my drinking water?
If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, your tap water is from a protected watershed and is treated with the use of UV light, ozone and chlorine. This treatment can be beneficial as it makes our water safe to drink by killing any potential pathogens. Unfortunately chlorine can also kill the good organisms in our gut and on our skin. Chlorination can also form by-products when combined with organic substances, such as those found in our watershed. These by-products are linked to health problems like an increased risk of cancer. Fortunately in British Columbia we do not have to be concerned about the effects of fluoride as it is not often added to our water; less than 4% of British Columbia municipalities fluoridate their water supply. Forty five percent of Canadians though do live in municipalities that fluoridate; if yours does that’s one more contaminate to consider filtering out of your water.
Something else to keep in mind when looking at water quality is the age of the pipes in your home. Homes built prior to 1989 often times used lead pipes, which may allow lead to be leached into the water system.
Taking these things into consideration, some people decide to filter their tap water with some type of water filtration system. Water filters can remove chemicals and improve the smell and taste of water, but be sure to do your research and pick a water filter that is appropriate for your needs and water conditions. You can find information about your water from your local water district.
How about bottled water?
The bottled water industry is under-regulated and bottled water is not necessarily contaminant free. Bottled water can sometimes just be bottled tap water. This not only makes water expensive, but the plastic can be toxic to humans and to the environment. Note: if you are out and the only option is bottled water, drink it! It is more important to stay hydrated than to be stressed about drinking out of plastic.
What about alkaline water?
There is a lot of debate about the benefits and drawbacks of alkaline water. Not enough scientific research has been done to support or deny any claims. Our bodies are very smart and will keep the pH of our blood at the exact level for our survival. The best way to help your body do its job is by eating a healthy diet filled with lots vegetables and fruits and reducing sugar, alcohol, and processed foods. And by staying hydrated!
Tip: If you have digestive issues or heartburn, drink a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar a half hour before a meal.
Tamara MacKenzie is a Nutritionist with InspireHealth’s Vancouver Centre. Tamara graduated from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and is dedicated to exploring the healing powers of “real” food.