"The truth is, while you should shoot for eight glasses of water, your daily requirement really depends on your diet, size, and body chemistry," says Roberta Anding, an RD in Houston and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "And, of course, the color of your urine."
What's with the potty talk? "Though it may sound strange, urine color is the most accurate indicator of hydration," Anding explains. Dark yellow urine is a red flag to drink more water, while a lighter color means your body is properly hydrated. "If it looks like apple juice, you're not getting enough water -- it should be the color of pale lemonade," she says.
Lactating and pregnant women need to be even more vigilant about drinking their daily dose. "Moms-to-be are more apt to get dehydrated since their blood volume doubles during pregnancy," Anding says. "Once a pregnant woman gets dehydrated, this extra amount of blood thickens, making it ineffective in passing nutrients along to the baby."
Recent studies have also shown that women who don't drink enough water in pregnancy have a higher risk of preeclampsia and hypertension, both related to dangerously high blood pressure. For breastfeeding moms, water can boost milk production and raise your energy level.
But what about consuming other kinds of drinks -- do they count? Not as much as you might hope. "Obviously, there's a health difference between pure water and other beverages," Anding says. "While you can get some water from juice, soda, coffee, and tea, they may also contain ingredients that counteract water's positive effects," she says.
Some examples: Caffeinated beverages act as a diuretic, so you may excrete more liquid than you take in, while soda and fruit juices contain a lot of sugar. "Such drinks can tax the body more than they help it," Anding says.
Fruits and veggies -- besides being smart sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber -- are also a good way to get extra water. "Most are at least 80 percent water," says Melinda Johnson, an RD in Phoenix. Oranges, melons, and cucumbers are even higher in water content, she says, adding, "Summer is the time to take advantage, since so many juicy fruits and other produce are in season."
But if you're trying to eat more watermelon just to get out of drinking water, give it up. "Don't try to substitute water-volume foods for the real thing. Anything that's eaten should be considered a bonus source of water," Johnson says. "In the long run, you'll get better hydration out of just drinking water instead."
Finally, don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water. "Thirst isn't an adequate gauge of your body's need for fluid replenishment, particularly if you're active," says Ashley Roman, MD, an ob-gyn at New York University Medical Center, in New York City. By the time you feel thirsty, you've already lost a lot of fluid, so keep drinking water all day.
Numerous studies have shown that being properly hydrated can improve your health and appearance. Here's how:
Between flavored, fortified, and fitness, you may be wondering: Whatever happened to regular old water? Does your tap water take a backseat to these fancy alternatives? Experts say no.
"Most bottled waters aren't worth the hype, with many being quite expensive for what they provide," Anding says. Plus, if a woman takes a prenatal or daily vitamin, many experts say fortified drinks aren't necessary -- and could be harmful, if they lead to oversupplementation. "If you drink these products alone, you're probably fine, but if you're also eating fortified foods or taking other vitamins, you're getting too much of a good thing," says Anding.
Some flavored waters also contain high-calorie, caffeinated, or herbal ingredients that can be questionable for pregnant or nursing moms. And while fitness waters can be beneficial, experts suggest them only for those moms who are very active. "If you do aerobic exercise or strenuous activity for at least 60 minutes, then these drinks can be a good way to replenish lost water and electrolytes -- otherwise regular water is sufficient," Anding says.
Unfortunately, sugar flavoring can be a sticking point for women who don't like the taste of water. But keep in mind there are other, healthier alternatives. "Spice things up by creating ice cubes out of your favorite fruit juice. The cubes will give your water a sweeter taste while adding extra nutrients and not too many calories," says Melissa Johnson, an RD from Phoenix and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Or she suggests squeezing lemon, lime, or orange into water -- or adding berries -- for a boost of vitamin C.
Unless you're traveling south of the border, most experts say what comes from the kitchen sink is actually as nutritious and safe as bottled -- even if you're pregnant. "Tap water can be full of much-needed minerals, such as sodium, magnesium, zinc, and fluoride, that remain even when flushed through a filter. Bottled waters are often purified or distilled, which strips them of those good-for-you ingredients," says Johnson. Still skeptical? "If you have specific questions or worries, get your water checked by your local health department," says Tom Bruursema, the general manager of the NSF, a national nonprofit water-safety organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Or check your town's water report online through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Consumer Confidence Reports.
"Absolutely," says Anding. "Once a bottle has been used, it's been introduced to the bacteria in your mouth." The longer the bottle stands, the more bacteria multiply. "Never let an opened bottle sit for more than a day," Anding says. "Drinking from it can cause problems such as diarrhea and stomachaches." If you opt to reuse a water bottle, just be sure to clean it often.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2006.
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