Healthy Eating Water - Is it a Nutrient?
Although water is often overlooked in a discussion of nutrients, it could be said that water is the most important nutrient of all. Unlike the other nutrients, you cannot survive without water for more than a few days. Water is also the medium by which the other nutrients are transported to the places in your body where they are needed.
In recent years, the topic of water has become controversial, due in part to a new scarcity of fresh water in some locales, to new research regarding the role of water in good health and probably mostly due to the amazing new marketing opportunities that have developed with regard to this life-sustaining fluid.
The Science of Water
Why does your body need water?
Your body is made up of more than 50% water. It is necessary for so many processes that take place moment by moment inside of you, that it would probably be easier to list what functions do not require water, than to name all that do.
There is water in your blood—more than 80%--that carries oxygen and nutrients throughout your system. Your kidneys require water to remove waste products that are ultimately excreted in urine. Water is part of metabolism and helps to keep your body temperature normal. It is part of the structure of your eyes, lungs and muscles and helps keep a baby afloat inside the womb. Water is in the fluids of your body including lymph, sweat, tears, spinal fluid and synovial fluid around your joints. Water helps solid waste products to travel smoothly through your intestines and out of your body.
What about thirst?
Thirst is your body’s way of telling you that it needs water. Unfortunately, in our modern culture, we think that thirst is our body’s way of saying it needs a fizzy soda or anything liquid BUT water.Your body needs to excrete at least a pint of fluid each day through urine in order to function.
In addition, when you consider all of the functions that require water, the thirst mechanism becomes even more vital. Some experts say that by the time you actually register being thirsty, you are already on your way to dehydration. Whether this is true or not, your body is working daily to keep you healthy, and the thirst mechanism is just one way that it signals to you that it needs help.
You can help
Due to the importance of water, your body has the ability to maintain a balance of water intake and water output, to keep you healthy and feeling good. In times of water deprivation, your body can conserve what water it has, and in times of over abundance, it can remove what it does not need. You can help your body with this process by the quantity and quality of water you drink and by what kinds of foods you eat.
What is it?
The term “water” actually encompasses a myriad of mixtures of varying composition. In the most basic, scientific sense, water is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen--H2O. Then, unless it is distilled water, there are traces of minerals and other particles--possibly even some bad actors--mixed in to make the substance we call water. The amount and variety of these other substances will depend on the source of the water. The “bad actors” in water include pesticides, infectious microorganisms and other chemical waste products.
Tap Water is the water that comes out of the faucet. If you live in the city, this water comes from the water utility and will vary greatly in composition, depending on where you live and what kind of pipes you have in your house. Municipalities have EPA health standards for contaminants in water, and the goal is to keep contaminants below those set standards for potable drinking water. These standards are their best guess, but no one can say for sure what the effect of any level of a contaminant may have on the health of an individual. The purity of the water you drink is particularly important if you are pregnant, nursing or in poor health.
If you live in a rural area, your tap water comes from your private well. This water is tested when you purchase your home, and, generally, only if you choose to test it thereafter. With a private well, the purity of the water becomes even more your responsibility.
Distilled water is water that has been “distilled” down to its basic components, which means all (or most) of the minerals and contaminants have been removed. Although distilled water is great for your steam iron, it is not recommended for long-term drinking because it is very acidic and tends to leach minerals out of your system and can cause heart problems, including irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
Mineral water is water that is sometimes effervescent and can occur naturally or be prepared by adding dissolved minerals to distilled or filtered water.
Spring water, as its name suggests, comes from a natural spring in the ground. If it is bottled, it may be filtered to remove undesirable contaminants.
In recent years, bottled water has become a huge industry. There is great variety in bottled water, both in price and quality. Some bottled waters are from municipal water supplies, and what you are paying for is the convenience of having it in a bottle. Other bottled water is spring water, sometimes from a special source that is reputed to be good for your health. The label on the bottled water should tell you where it comes from and what, if anything, has been added to it.
There is whole new aspect of the bottled water industry with the advent of “flavored water” and water to which vitamins, herbs, minerals and even caffeine has been added. These products really broaden the definition of “water” as we know it and care should be taken not to confuse drinking real water with drinking these beverages. Reading the labels is your best resource for assuring that you know what you are drinking.
--Caveat for Healthy Eating Water: Many of these flavored waters, like most soft drinks, contain high fructose corn syrup, which has been implicated in increased rates of Type II diabetes and obesity. Please read the label and consider drinking real water instead!
Most water that we drink these days has been filtered in some way. However, there are filters that you can buy that will do a more thorough job of removing the bad guys from your water. These include activated charcoal filters that attach to your sink or fit in a pitcher, or reverse osmosis filters that go on your counter top or under your sink. If you use reverse osmosis, the resulting water will be mostly free of the bad actors such as bacteria and parasites, but it may also be quite acidic and would benefit from some added minerals. The most important thing to remember if you filter your water is to change the filter at the appropriate time.
How much water should I drink?
The question of how much water you need is another subject of controversy. The consensus among health experts seems to be that you need to drink about 8 glasses of water each day. However, there are some experts that say you need more and some that say that you need less. I have even seen a formula where water needs are based on weight, i.e. so much water for every pound of weight.
Some experts include all liquid beverages in this recommendation, while others say only actual water qualifies. To further confuse us, some experts say that juicy fruits and vegetables and soups are included in this overall recommendation.
Not the same for everyone
With all of this conflicting information, what’s a person to do? The answer is that there is not one answer for everyone. The amount of water you need to drink will vary based on your age, gender, activity level, environment, health status, diet and even whether you are nursing a baby. It probably isn’t a bad idea to aim for the conventional wisdom recommendation of 8 glasses each day.
In addition, if you eat fresh, whole foods, you will take in more fluids and fewer toxins for your body to flush out. Fruits and vegetables are mostly water, but most foods, other than oils, contain at least some water.
Common sense tells us that tea and juice and coffee and other beverages have a large water content, but they also require digestion and they produce waste products, so they are not the same as drinking just water. If you are an athlete, or you perspire a lot for other reasons, like living in a hot climate or working in a hot environment, you will need to drink more fluids. The same applies if you are nursing a baby.
Want to lose weight—Hydrate!
If you are trying to lose weight, you need to drink more water, to keep your metabolism revved by assisting in the metabolism of fat, not to mention as a way to feel full and to keep from retaining water and getting discouraged.
Caveat for Healthy Eating Water: Although unlikely, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. People have actually died or been seriously injured from drinking too much water in too short a period of time (more than 10 quarts within a few hours). Marathon runners generally drink sports drinks rather than plain water to avoid upsetting their electrolyte balance.
Healthy Eating Water - The Secret
The bottom line is that many of us do not drink enough water. This is partly because there are so many interesting alternatives that may make water seem bland and dull by comparison. One way to make water more appealing is to keep some water in a nice glass bottle in the refrigerator (“glass” because it is more chemically stable than plastic, with no risk of chemicals from the plastic dissolving into the water).
If you always have an accessible supply of cold water, you will be more likely to drink it when you are thirsty. You might even consider drinking it out of that nice stemware that you save for those special drinks. After all, fresh, clear, delicious water is very special, and it should be your beverage of choice more often than not.