Nutrition for Life - 2017

Water: The Essence of Life

By Parul Kharod

As we approach the hot days of summer, let us think about the importance of proper hydration.

Drinking an adequate amount of water is necessary for many reasons. Water is one of the body's most essential nutrients. We may be able to survive six weeks without food, but it is not possible to survive more than a week without water.

Functions of water in the body

• Water helps maintain blood volume and helps regulate blood pressure.
• It helps lubricate joints and body tissues such as those in the mouth, eyes and nose, and helps cushion organs.
• It helps keep body temperature constant at about 98.6 degrees.
• It helps metabolize fat.
• It helps with proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
• It transports nutrients and oxygen to all cells.
• It helps flush and carry out toxins and waste products .
• The average human body is 75 percent water, blood is 92 percent water, bones are 22 percent water, and muscles are 75 percent water, so it is not surprising that our immune system depends on our water intake.

A study published in the June 2016 issue of the American Journal of Public Health reveals that more than half of all children and adolescents in the U.S. are not getting hydrated properly—probably because they're not drinking enough water. This could have a major impact on their physical health and their cognitive and emotional functioning.

Another study showed that the average American gets 21 percent of his or her calories from beverages. The majority of these beverages are soft drinks and fruit drinks with added sugars. In general, there has been a large increase in consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks over the last several decades, leading to an increase in obesity and diabetes.

Although excessive dehydration is associated with serious health problems, even mild dehydration can cause issues such as irritability, fatigue, and lack of focus.

If you are not getting enough water, your body will react by pulling it from other places, including your blood. This causes the closing of some smaller vessels (capillaries), making your blood thicker, more susceptible to clotting, and harder to pump through your system. This can have serious consequences such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Did you know that one of the most common causes for headaches is dehydration? Recent studies have also linked the lack of water to arthritis and heartburn.

Water contributes to energy storage along with glycogen. Without water, extra amounts of glucose remain in the bloodstream until reaching the liver, the extra glucose is stored as fat. Your body takes water from inside cells in an effort to compensate for a dehydrated state, including fat cells. Less water in your fat cells means less mobilization of fat for energy.

One of the liver's primary functions is to metabolize stored fat into energy. The kidneys are responsible for filtering toxins, wastes, ingested water, and salts out of the bloodstream. If you are dehydrated, the kidneys cannot function properly, and the liver must work overtime to compensate. As a result, it metabolizes less fat. Therefore, if you have diabetes or are trying to lose weight, it is even more important to drink adequate amount of water.

It is important to hydrate our body with water rather than other sugary beverages or diet drinks.

Sports Drinks: We don't need Gatorade if we go to the gym! Even the kids don't need it after every practice. The guidelines for athletes suggest that for games and sports events outdoors lasting 1 hour, water is sufficient. For events lasting longer than 60 min, and/or taking place in hot, humid weather, sports drinks containing 6% carbohydrates and 20 mEq/L to 30 mEq/L of sodium chloride are recommended to replace energy stores and fluid or electrolyte losses.

Soda: Soda contains a lot of sugar. Soda has many questionable ingredients that have been linked to heart disease, kidney disease, bone loss, loss of teeth enamel, gout, arthritis, and many other health problems. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of soda. To learn more about the dangers of soda, read this detailed article:

Diet drinks: Diet sodas and other beverages containing artificial sweeteners have no connection to weight loss. Several studies have shown that drinking diet beverages does not help you lose weight. In fact, the body may compensate and make you gain weight! The sweet taste of the artificial sweeteners may trigger a false alarm for the body to start making insulin thus causing insulin resistance and an increased risk of diabetes and weight gain. A recent study has linked consumption of diet drinks to increased belly fat.

100% Juice/Fruit Punch: All such beverages are 100% sugar. It is better to eat a whole fruit than drink juice. Moreover, the artificial colors in some of these beverages are being researched for links between attention deficit and autism. The artificial food colors and dyes are said to increase risk of cancer.

Flavor your water with natural ingredients if you need to. Use lime, lemon, ginger, fresh mint leaves, or small pieces of citrus fruits or berries or cucumber. Avoid artificial flavor packets.

The bottom line is that it's best to hydrate your body with water. Experts advise not to depend on thirst as a guide. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. So do not think of water as a drink with your meal. We need water all day long. Get into the habit of sipping water at regular intervals. We need a minimum of 64 ounces of water per day, more when we exercise or when we are outside in the heat for a long period.

-- Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at