These long, hot, sizzling summer evenings make it hard to resist a glass of rosé, a gin and tonic or an ice-cold beer. And I’m not suggesting that you should – well not all the time anyway. I’m not against the occasional indulgence, but on the hottest day of the year so far, with the temperature creeping up to 34°C in London, we need to talk about the importance of staying hydrated. And I’m afraid alcohol just isn’t up to the task. In fact it has the opposite effect – it’s actually super dehydrating, and that’s before the added effect of the hot weather as well.
I'm sure we've all experienced the symptoms of mild dehydration, although at the time we might not necessarily have realised the cause.
Why does the body need water?
So here’s a cheery thought for you – we could survive for weeks without food but we could only last a few days without water.
Our bodies are approximately 60% water. Every one of our cells, tissues and organs needs water to function properly;
- To regulate body temperature
- To carry nutrients and oxygen to our cells
- To flush out toxins
- To lubricate and cushion joints
- To protect the spinal cord and brain
Every day the body needs to replace about 2.4 litres of water that we lose through tears, sweat, going to the toilet and even breathing – even more when the weather is really hot and when we’re exercising. So proper hydration is essential for our overall health.
What are the benefits of hydrating well?
Optimal hydration supports optimal functioning of the body. You’ll feel more energised and focused and with that comes improved productivity at home and at work. As well as a clearer mind you’ll have clearer skin and healthy hair and nails.
Water helps break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients and it helps to prevent constipation.
Healthy immune system
When it comes to bolstering your defences, water is a miracle worker. It flushes germs from your system, helps your blood to carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells and allows those cells to absorb important nutrients.
Weight loss and reduced sugar cravings
We often mistake thirst for hunger so it’s a good idea to drink water before reaching for a sweet treat. And research shows that having a glass of water before a meal may fill you up so you eat less, plus increased water intake may boost your metabolism so you burn more calories as well. Win-win!
Reduced headaches and migraines
Staying hydrated can help keep headaches and migraines at bay for many people.
What happens if you don’t drink enough water?
You’ll become dehydrated if you use or lose more fluid than you take in. Your body won’t be able to carry out its normal functions optimally. Dehydration can seriously affect not only your physical wellbeing, but your mental wellbeing as well.
Studies have shown that even mild dehydration – as little as 1–2% of body fluid – can impair cognitive performance. It’s one of the biggest causes of tiredness. It leads to irritability, poor concentration, poor memory, confusion, increased headaches, dizziness and ultimately poor performance.
And if you are regularly dehydrated you may have an increased risk of developing kidney stones or you may experience regular urine infections.
How do you know if you’re drinking enough?
Everyone’s needs are different and will depend on various factors including body weight, activity level, health conditions and climate; but aiming for between 2 – 2.5 litres of water is a pretty good start. If this is a long way off from where you are, then go slow and increase gradually while your body adjusts.
You’ll need to drink more in the hot weather, as you’ll be sweating more. And if you’ve been poorly, with vomiting or diarrhoea then you’ll need to replace the fluids lost.
If you actually feel thirsty then you’re already dehydrated.
A good way to check your hydration levels is to keep an eye on the colour of your pee! If you’re adequately hydrated it will be a very pale yellow. Light yellow is also okay but anything darker is a sign that you are dehydrated and you need to drink more water. Light to dark orange/brown indicates severe dehydration. If you notice any pink or red colouring, and you haven’t recently eaten red foods like beetroot, then you should see your GP.
Does fruit juice count towards your water intake?
It’s obviously great to avoid those sugary, fizzy drinks that spike your blood sugar and negatively impact weight, sleep and mood but I advise caution when it comes to fruit juices as well.
Yes, they contain water and will aid hydration but they also contain all the sugar and none of the fibre. And we need the fibre from the whole fruit to help slow down the sugar absorption. If you regularly quench your thirst with a glass of apple juice you will have drunk the equivalent of over 8 teaspoons of sugar!
Fruit is obviously packed with nutrients but the best way to benefit from the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is to have it in its raw state, ideally pairing it with some protein – for example, an apple with a handful of nuts.
What about coffee or tea?
Caffeinated drinks actually only have a mild diuretic effect so they do count towards your fluid intake. But I wouldn’t recommend that they’re your only fluid intake.
Caffeine can help you feel more alert, productive and motivated – in the short term. But for some, drinking coffee can leave them feeling anxious, jittery and unable to focus. The caffeine acts as a stimulant and triggers the release of cortisol, which in turn releases sugar into the bloodstream to give you that boost. But a sharp increase in your blood sugar is followed by a sharp dip and you’re soon feeling tired again - time for another cup. Plus caffeine has a half-life of around 6 hours – so that afternoon cup of coffee can have a big impact on your sleep.
10 tips to help you increase your water intake and stay hydrated
- Start the day with a mug of warm water with a slice of lemon or lime and ginger
It’s a great way to wake up your digestion and can support your liver function too.
- Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go
Do this at home, at your desk and when you’re out and about. Calculate how many refills you’ll need to reach your daily intake target.
- If you really find water boring or tasteless then jazz it up!
Add ice, slices of orange or lime, herbs such as mint, basil or rosemary, berries or sliced cucumber. Experiment and find flavours you love.
- Swap out your afternoon caffeinated tea or coffee and have herbal tea instead
Pukka have a great range so you’re sure to find a few that you like.
- Or try your favourite herbal tea as an iced drink
Simply brew the tea, leave to cool in the fridge and add ice. Ginger and citrus teas work particularly well.
- Have a glass of water with every hot drink you make
This will help compensate for the mild diuretic effect of caffeine and may stop you reaching for that second or third cuppa.
- Have a glass of water first before you grab a snack
Feeling peckish? Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Before reaching into the biscuit tin drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes to see if you are still hungry.
- Eat more high water content fruit and vegetables
These will contribute to your fluid intake and help get you to the recommended ‘7 a day’. Plus you’ll benefit from minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium, which are essential for electrolyte balance and hydration. So add cucumber, celery, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, kiwi and watermelon to your meals and snacks.
- Track your progress
There are loads of apps available to track your water intake. Download your favourite and set a daily, weekly and/or monthly goal.
- Invest in a water filter jug or bottle
To avoid quaffing high levels of chlorine and fluorine along with your tap water and reducing the need for lots of single use plastic.