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The Importance of Water and Hydration

Why is water so important?  Often labeled “the Forgotten Nutrient”, water is what makes all the systems in our bodies work.  Composed of hydrogen and oxygen and naturally-occurring minerals, it is your best bet to rehydrate and energize. The Centers for Disease Control says water helps keep your body temperature normal, lubricate and cushion joints, protect your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, and eliminate wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements.  That’s a nutritional powerhouse!

Fluid needs are different, depending on your age, activity level, health status, and environmental conditions.  Thirst should be your guide.  Signs of dehydration or excessive water loss start with fatigue and dry lips and tongue, but progress to heat cramps, dizziness, nausea, delirium and unconsciousness.  Anyone with a medical condition requiring fluid control, athletes, and those living in extreme conditions have individual water requirements which may not follow current general recommendations.

Summer’s hot temperatures, direct sunlight, and humid days can quickly dehydrate kids at play.  Smaller body size means kids dehydrate quicker than adults, plus, they may be less experienced recognizing the signs of dehydration.

Early signs of kids with dehydration are: fatigue, thirst, dry lips and tongue, lack of energy and being overheated.  It is so important to treat these signs early, before painful heat cramps of the arms, legs, abdomen or heat exhaustion occurs.  Heat exhaustion shows up as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness, and muscle pain.  Untreated, these symptoms worsen and heat stroke occurs, including nausea and vomiting, seizures, delirium, shortness of breath, a temperature of 104 degrees or higher, and unconsciousness.

Pack water wherever you go in the summer.  Caffeine and added sugars found in soft drinks and nonnutritive beverages can actually dehydrate kids and even healthful juices contribute excess calories.  Choose water and offer it to kids often, especially when they are active or exercising and losing more body fluid through sweat.   From the American Academy of Pediatrics Sun and Water Safety tips, 5/2/2017 “before outdoor physical activities, children should drink freely and should not feel thirsty. During activities less than one hour, water alone is fine. Kids should always have water or a sports drink available and take a break to drink every 20 minutes while active in the heat. 5 ounces of cool tap water every 20 minutes for a child weighing 85 pounds and 8 to 9 ounces for a teen weighing 132 pounds.”  Freeze water bottles overnight if kids will be out for a full day.  For a shorter time out having fun in the sun, chill water bottles just 1 hour in the freezer.  Keep bottles in a cooler or insulated bag to help keep them cool and your kids, too!

Are you drinking enough water? For adults, the popular guideline to “drink 8 cups of water each day” is not supported by hard evidence, but it is easy to remember and is similar (1.9 liters) to the recommendation from the Institute of Medicine for total fluid intake from fluids and foods. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day.  Remember, thirst determines fluid needs. The smaller body size of a child and inability to tell when too thirsty or hot should be a red flag for parents on hot, humid days. Children, four to eight, require 1.3 liters (5.5 cups). Teenagers need to drink more-about 1.8 liters (seven cups) for girls and 2.6 liters (10.5 cups) for boys.

To prevent dehydration and make sure your body has the fluids it needs, make water your beverage of choice. Water has zero calories, is sugar-free, and choosing water instead of sugary drinks reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Drink a glass of water or other calorie-free or low-calorie beverage with each meal and between each meal.  Drink water before, during and after exercise and on warm days. Some tips for hydrating in hot weather include:

Start hydrating right away. It’s easier to maintain your fluid balance if you start out in a well-hydrated state.

Schedule regular beverage breaks and keep a water bottle handy so you can take frequent sips of water while you work or exercise. Choose electrolyte-replacing drinks for maximum water absorption only when there is a need for rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes in combination with water during prolonged, vigorous physical activity.

Drink water after you’ve finished work or an exercise session.

Snack on fresh fruits like berries, watermelon, peaches, and nectarines that are high in water volume. Other foods containing water include lettuce, broccoli, milk, orange juice, carrots, yogurt, and apples.

Don’t drink large amounts of plain water all at once – this can lead to hyponatremia or water-toxicity.

While rare, water intoxication is caused when too much water is consumed in a short period of time, diluting other nutrients in the body and putting pressure on the brain. This condition is called hyponatremia. If not treated, it can lead to coma or death.  Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners who drink large amounts of water, are at higher risk of hyponatremia. How do you know if you’ve consumed enough water? One way to gauge your hydration level is to look at the color of your urine. If you’re well-hydrated, it should be pale. Also, you’ll be urinating more frequently.

Water is also easy on the wallet.  You can save money by drinking water from the tap at home or making it your beverage choice when eating out.  Many people think bottled water is purer.  Both bottled and tap water from a public water source must meet the same standards.  If you get water from a private well, the owner is responsible for testing it, which should be done each year. Contact a private commercial laboratory certified to test drinking water or the Delaware Public Health Laboratory at (302) 223-1520.  The Safe Drinking Water Hotline is (800) 426-4791 or www.epa.gov/safewater/labs

For additional nutrition and health information, access our website at http://extension.udel.edu/fcs/

Photo credit: https://i1.wp.com/gettinginshapeafter40.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/water-pic.jpg

Keep water close at hand and your drink of choice this summer!

Cheryl D. Bush, MS, RDN, LDN