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Water and fluids

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Water is vitally important – your body needs at least 1500mls per day just to survive.
Many of our drinks also contain caffeine. As well as giving us an energy boost, caffeine is a diuretic and makes us pass out more urine just like alcohol. So any drink that contains caffeine, whether it is coffee, tea, cola, energy drink or even green tea, will make us get rid of water. Although we are drinking fluids we are actually getting more dehydrated as anyone with a hangover can verify. So we have to replace the water the caffeine gets rid of. Many people don’t drink much water and rely on tea and coffee for their fluids. They don’t realise that these drinks are counterproductive – providing fluid and then flushing it out in extra urine.

How much water should I drink?

Adults should be aiming for at least 3-4 litres of water per day. If the weather is hot, we lose significant water evaporating from our skin even if we do not sweat. And people working outside and sweating need even more water. So the total daily fluid intake needs to be adjusted to cope with weather and activities.

How can I tell if I’m getting enough water?

Our thirst mechanism tells us when we need more water but it often doesn’t work well at the extremes. In other words when we get very dehydrated we lose our thirst.

The easiest way to tell if we have enough water is our urine. If we are producing lots of pale urine then we are getting enough fluid. However, if we drink tea, coffee, caffeinated sodas or alcohol the urine is not reliable. The caffeine or alcohol makes us produce lots of urine but we get more and more dehydrated.

Other signs that we may be dehydrated:

Urine is a dark colour and small in amount
Headaches
We don’t feel hungry
We can’t digest our food – not enough fluid to make good gastric juice
Dizziness – especially when we stand up
Fatigue – the commonest cause of headaches and fatigue – dehydration
Aches and pains, sore feet

Water and exercise

Again we lose more water when we exercise. So it is important to pre-load with water before the exercise. Many athletes will pre-load with water the night before an event.

Drinking water with meals

When we drink water alone it is absorbed quickly within ½ to 1 hour. When we drink water with food, the gut interprets this all as food and takes longer to absorb it along with the nutrients that are digested. The water may take 1- 2 hours to be absorbed. So if you are thirsty, it’s much better to rehydrate before eating. The fluid is then absorbed quickly and utilised.
Some people recommend not drinking water with meals as it dilutes the digestive juices but a small amount of water to wash down your food is not a problem.

I’m sure you have had times when you tried to eat when you are dehydrated. The food just sits in your stomach like a lead weight, not able to be digested. And you feel bloated for up to 2 hours afterwards. So the message is drink water first and rehydrate, then eat your meal with only a small glass of water.

Characteristics of water

Water is a very stable molecule – H2O. It has unique properties as a liquid due to the strong hydrogen bonds with oxygen. Its high boiling point and freezing point make it a great solvent.
Drinking water has a variety of minerals dissolved in it depending on what type of soil it has filtered through. This affects the taste. Water supply companies and bottled water companies adjust the amount and type of minerals to produce an acceptable flavour.
Calcium has a profound effect on water and the more calcium (from chalk in the rock) the harder the water is. This makes it harder to froth with soap etc.
Water can be acidic just like foods and so ionised water helps to alkalinise our bodies and help our body cycles work better. Tap water also has plenty of other metals which can be viewed as contaminants such as copper from the copper pipes, so it’s best to use a filter to remove unwanted particles.

Fruit juices

Fruit juices are often high in sugar. Food companies are allowed to add sugar up to a certain level and still put ‘No added sugar’ on the packaging – to maintain a consistent level of sweetness. A 250ml serving of unsweetened fruit juice contains 27g or 5 teaspoons of sugar!

Vitamins and anti-oxidants deteriorate quickly so they will be getting lower and lower the longer the juice sits on the supermarket shelf. Vitamin C only lasts about 2 hours after you process fruit, so many companies have to add Vitamin C to juices to maintain adequate levels. Even if you cut a piece of fruit in half – that exposed edge will start to deteriorate quickly and lose nutrients. So the cut half of a lemon will not be as good the next day as the half you used the day before.

Fruit juices and cordials may contain artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives. Often you will see labels that say – ‘No artificial colours or flavours’ – but they neglect to mention the third or fourth ones. Different companies may market a different combination of these 4 but it is rare to find juice without all four. Supermarket freshly squeezed juice may have a sell-by date for 3 days. In other words it won’t make you sick after 3 days, but the vitamin C and anti-oxidants are long gone.

Freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices are a great way to increase the healthy nutrients from fruit juices. However all of the fibre and possibly some of the nutrients may be lost. Smoothies containing the whole fruit and vegetable ensure that all of the plant is retained.

Be careful when buying at juice bars that no sugar is added. I questioned this at a local juice bar and they told me no sugar was added. But they use sorbet and fruit nectar which was undoubtedly made with sugar. A shot of spirulina or wheatgrass is a great way to increase the green leafies and magnesium at the same time.

Here is a handy healthy veggie juice.
Celery, apple, carrot, ginger, fresh turmeric,
Optional (dandelion greens, kale, spirulina, wheat grass)
Dandelion greens and kale are great liver detoxifiers and ginger and turmeric are great anti-inflammatory spices. However, the greens and kale can be bitter to taste. So the apple and carrot add sweetness. This juice can be made at home or can be requested at a juice bar.

Herbal teas

These are great to drink as a hot drink or cold. Again quality is important, so try to buy organic. Green tea is high in anti-oxidants but can be bitter to taste. Camomile is a great relaxer and can help sleep at night. Peppermint, ginger etc are all useful alternatives. Make you own ginger tea with a couple of slices of fresh ginger in a cup, add a teaspoon of lime or lemon juice and top with hot water.

Black tea

This is regular tea that you get in teabags. It contains caffeine which picks you up, if you’re tired, but it can make you produce extra urine, so making you more dehydrated. If you drink more than 2 cups per day, add extra water to compensate. Chai is black tea with some spices etc added to give it an oriental flavour.

Soy chai and latte

Soy that is free from chemicals etc is fine to drink. However, over 90% of soy grown in the world is genetically modified. This may mean that it is sprayed repeatedly with pesticides and fertilisers. Choose organic soy milk when possible.

Coffee

Coffee is made from a bean which is high in anti-oxidants. However, the processing and roasting of beans, means the average cup of coffee does not rate as a health drink. On the other hand, coffee itself is not bad for you. It’s what you add that can cause a problem. Instead of being made with milk – have a black coffee or add a splash of cold or hot milk (just like a cup of tea). Also the caffeine causes dehydration so drink extra water to compensate for the loss through extra urine. Being addicted to coffee and needing several cups to get through the day can be a sign of adrenal fatigue. Fancy coffees with like Frappuccinos contain flavoured syrups which are loaded with sugar, and artificial cream which is loaded with trans fat. Avoid like the plague!

Flavoured milks

These are highly processed and loaded with sugar. Make you own with the healthy milk of your choice with some raw organic cacao powder added.

Coconut water

This is being touted as a health drink, which it is in its raw state. But beware, it’s high in carbohydrate, so take that into consideration with your daily carb intake. A 500ml bottle of coconut water contains nearly 20g of carbohydrate, 13 g of which is sugar (2 and a half spoonfuls of sugar). Avoid flavoured coconut water, which inevitably has added sugar. Check the carb count on the back of the bottle.

Alcohol

Alcohol acts like a carbohydrate in your body, particularly like fructose. So reducing alcohol intake will help with weight loss. It also makes you dehydrated, makes you more acidic and drains minerals from your body. It also produces some by-products which are harmful to the liver. Current recommendations are to have at least 2 alcohol free days per week.

However, there is evidence that red wine has some healthy nutrients which may be anti-aging, such as resveratrol. One glass per day appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Government recommendations are that men should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and women 7 units per week.

Sodas and fizzy drinks

Sodas or fizzy drinks with lots of sugar and fructose upset our blood sugar regulation and this can lead to diabetes. When we eat sugar it is absorbed very quickly into our bloodstream as it’s a small simple molecule. In response, our pancreas makes insulin to process the glucose and fructose.

This makes the blood glucose go down and the insulin is turned off. When this happens we might feel dizzy and weak. We also feel hungry especially for sugary foods. So we take in more sugar. Our blood sugar goes up so then insulin production kicks in again.

The blood sugar goes down again and we feel hungry. So we have this cycle of the blood sugar going up and down and the insulin production also see-sawing up and down too. This sets up a cycle of being constantly hungry especially for sugary foods. Our poor pancreas is put under a lot of strain starting and stopping insulin so it starts to wear out. Insulin production eventually decreases and we get diabetes.

Fizzy drinks are very acidic which is not good for teeth enamel, never mind the sugar content. They also contain lot of phosphoric acid. This strips calcium, magnesium and zinc out of the body – those minerals which are so necessary for good bone growth.
Many other drinks contain sugar so it pays to be aware of how much sugar is in each drink. The best way to decide is to check the food label on the bottle. Check the total amount of carbs for the bottle and how much of that is sugar.

Now here is an easy way to look at sugar in drinks.

Most sodas contain about 38-39gms of sugar in a 12 oz. can (330mls). That’s nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar! The only reason you can drink it is because of the phosphoric acid counteracting the sweetness meanwhile draining you or your child’s essential minerals from their body (as well as rotting their teeth).

Vitamin waters often contain an ounce of sugar – around 30gms in 500mls. That’s around 6 teaspoons depending on the size of your teaspoon.
Now measure out 6 teaspoons of sugar into a cup and try to eat it. I guarantee you will feel sick before you finish the sugar. But what happens in a drink, it’s diluted with water and balanced with an acid so you don’t taste it as being too sweet.

Flavoured waters also have about the same amount of sugar, so a 500ml bottle of flavoured water contains about 6 teaspoons of sugar.

Sports drinks are another problem. A 600ml bottle of sport drink has around 36g sugar as well as sodium. Included are also flavourings, colourings and preservatives. Unless you are a competitive or endurance athlete you do not need a sport drink – plain water is good enough.

It’s therefore essential that children learn to drink water and not just get all their fluids from sodas, fruit juices, cordials and sports drinks.

Summary

  1. Try to drink around 2 litres of water per day. Use filtered water where possible
  2. Mineral water and sparkling water are good ways to make water more interesting. Add a slice of lemon to add flavour
  3. Green tea and herbal teas are great hot drinks
  4. Have a cup coffee per day if you like coffee. Try to have a long black with a splash of milk on the side- hot or cold
  5. Black tea is OK. 2 cups per day is good to aim for. Chai tea is ok too
  6. Home made juices and smoothies from fresh ingredients
  7. Fresh juices and smoothies from cafes and juice bars – watch for too much fruit and added nectars, don’t upsize to large size
  8. Fresh veggies juices
  9. Coconut water – occasionally as a treat

Fluids to avoid

  1. Commercial fruit and veggie juices which may have added sugar
  2. Cordials
  3. Sodas or fizzy drinks, even sugar-free ones
  4. Sports drinks unless you are taking part in an endurance event
  5. Vitamin waters
  6. Flavoured waters – make your own at home, with lemon or fruit
  7. Flavoured milks
  8. Soy drinks unless made from organic soy
  9. Flavoured coffees with cream
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