The Benefits of Drinking Water: Fact and Fiction

By Jill Martinell

glass of waterWater is an essential nutrient that everybody needs, and it makes up about 60% of total body weight for young adults and about 50% for the elderly. In fact, it is more important than all the other nutrients, and we can only live a few days without it. So we know that we need to drink water everyday, but there are many myths surrounding the subject of drinking water. Whether we are wondering if we actually need 8 glasses of water a day, or if we are curious if water will make us lose weight, I am here to cover some of these myths to see if they are actually fact or fiction.

We always hear that we need to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, but is this really true? According to a publication by the USDA in 2002, there is no scientific research that has compared health risks with this recommendation. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council recommends that we drink “1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food,” which comes out to about 64-80 ounces a day. Unfortunately, this is not taking into consideration the amount of water we get in the foods that we eat everyday including fruits, vegetables, milk, and juices! So how do we know how much water we actually need? Well our bodies are a good judge of how much we should drink. If we need more water, our urine will be concentrated and look darker, and our brain will let us know when we need water by making us thirsty. According to experts, if you don’t feel thirsty, then your fluid intake is probably right where it needs to be. [Editor's Note: Typically, when we feel thirsty, we are already a bit dehydrated. The idea is to drink enough, of have enough "juicy" foods---like fruits and vegetables, or soups, milk, juices---that we don't feel thirsty very often. Elderly individuals are less sensitive to their own thirst signals, and may be dehydrated but not feel thirsty. They need to be encouraged to drink more often, and to eat foods such as soups which contain more liquid. ---J. Learn]

The world is obsessed with beauty and looking young, and one thing I always hear is that drinking more water everyday will keep skin healthy and younger looking. Could this be the truth, or is it just another fad? Researchers from the British Nutrition Foundation explain that there is very little evidence supporting this claim. A study published in 2007 suggested that “500 ml [about 2 cups] of water increases capillary blood flow in the skin,” but it is hard to say whether this will actually make a difference in your skin’s appearance. For healthy, younger looking skin, you would be better off eating a balanced diet and using a sunscreen every day.

Of course eating right and exercising regularly can help us lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, but can drinking more water help us lose weight? In fact, drinking enough water each day can help maintain a healthy weight, and in some cases lose weight. This is because water suppresses the appetite, it reduces energy intake, and it helps the body metabolize stored fat. If our bodies aren’t getting enough water, our kidneys can’t function properly. If this happens, the liver has to help the kidneys and it can’t do it’s job, which is to metabolize stored fat into usable energy for the body. Water also helps with weight loss because if a person drinks a glass of water before they eat a meal, they are likely to eat less in a sitting. Drinking water can be a very helpful tool for people trying to lose weight, because it has no calories, and it can be something to focus on to take away from the thought of eating empty calories.

Water bottles may be convenient, but is drinking from a water bottle better than drinking tap water? This is hard to say because the quality of bottled water can vary depending on the water’s source and the company practices. According to the textbook Understanding Nutrition, bottled water is considered a food, so the FDA has set quality and safety standards for the product. This means that labels on water bottles must identify where the water came from. Luckily, around 75% of bottled water comes from springs or wells, which are generally protected. The other 25% is basically just tap water in a bottle. The EPA monitors the public water system to make sure it is safe to drink, but tap water can still contain “infectious microorganisms, environmental contaminants, pesticide residues, and additives.” (Understanding Nutrition, 11th Edition) So even though our tap water is considered fine to drink, it may be in our best interest to drink filtered or bottled water. [Editor's Note: Many commercially available bottled waters are just tap water from the public supplies around the country. If you choose to drink bottled water, buy your own stainless water bottle---not plastic---and use filtered tap water from home, such as from a Brita pitcher, or just your own tap water. Avoid the plastic bottles---they are a waste of the petrochemicals to make the plastic, and fill up our landfills. ---J. Learn]

There are many myths when it comes to drinking water and our health. If we drink water when we are thirsty, and eat foods that are high in water content, our body will be able to work properly, and we will be able to stay happy and healthy!

Understanding Nutrition, 11th Edition, Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes, 2008

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