What You Should Know About H20

Water -- the one natural product that can boost your energy, improve your skin tone, and keep your weight in check for free.

Daily Consumption

"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.

Expectant Moms & Drinking Habits

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.

Water vs. Other Beverages

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.

Foods with High Water Content

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."

Drink Before You're Thirsty

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.

Health Benefits of Water

Numerous studies have shown that being properly hydrated can improve your health and appearance. Here's how:

  • Better skin. Water helps the body flush out waste -- even through the skin. Dehydrated skin hangs on to dead, flaky cells. Drinking more water not only helps to hydrate the skin but also aids in this cell-shedding by loosening dead cells, allowing skin to look more radiant, explains Fran Cook-Bolden, MD, dermatologist and coauthor of Beautiful Skin of Color (Regan Books).
  • Good health. Water's cleansing ability also promotes better kidney and bladder function, decreasing your risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
  • Revved-up metabolism. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers from Berlin's Franz-Volhard Clinical Research Center report that adults who consume two liters of water a day may burn an extra 150 calories a day. In the study, adults were monitored for water's effect on fat tissue. Drinking water boosted participants' metabolic rate within 10 minutes. (Interestingly, experts think up to 40 percent of the metabolic increase occurred from their bodies warming up the water they drank.) Bottom line: Researchers now estimate that over the course of a year, women who increase water consumption by 4 1/2 cups a day could burn an extra 17,400 calories, preventing 5 pounds of weight gain.
  • More energy. "Dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue," says Dr. Roman. "All of our body's functions are about fluid balance." Dehydration lowers blood volume, making the heart work harder to supply the body with oxygen. "This impairment usually results in a lower energy level, making most women feel fatigued," she says. Drinking water provides an instant energy boost.

The New Generation of Water

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.

Flavored Water

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.

Bottled vs. Tap

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.

Can Bottled Water Go Bad?

"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.

Water Works

Water Dictionary

  • Mineral: From an underground source that contains naturally occurring dissolved solids, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.
  • Spring: From an underground water source naturally flowing to the earth's surface.
  • Purified: Often tap water that has been distilled and treated to remove contaminants.
  • Sparkling: With natural or artificial effervescence.
  • Fortified: Enhanced with vitamins, minerals, or herbs, plus added flavoring.
  • Fitness: Contains added electrolytes with flavoring or sugar. Some may also contain stimulants such as caffeine or herbal supplements.

How to Stay Hydrated

  • Strive to drink at least one glass of water with each meal and weave in a glass or two when you have a snack.
  • Keep several filled water bottles in the fridge so they're chilled and ready to throw in your diaper bag.
  • Use a larger glass. If you normally use an 8-ounce glass, try a 10-ounce.
  • To really ensure that you get enough water, stock up on water-volume foods like fruits and veggies. "These foods are not only more refreshing," Anding says, "but they're hydrating too."
  • If you're on the go, always take a travel cup filled with water in the car.
  • "Try to have a glass of water at every transitional point of the day: When you first get up, just before leaving the house, when you sit down to work," says Melissa Johnson, RD. Before you know it, you'll easily be drinking plenty of water and feeling much healthier.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2006.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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