gSparkling water has become something of a badge of honor among celebrities, with Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow revealing they drink up to three liters a day. But not everyone finds it that easy. Florence Pugh, for example, recently announced that she found water too boring to drink. In addition to the lack of flavor, she has complained about the constant bathroom breaks that come with a high intake, calling them a waste of time. Instead, she prefers orange juice, elderflower juice and tea.
What do the experts say? How much water should we drink each day and is it just as healthy to get your hydration from other beverages?
Chester GP Chris Ritchieson says NHS guidelines suggest drinking six to eight glasses of water a day, or about two litres. While this is general guidance, there’s very little research and hard evidence on the optimal amount of water to drink, he says. People have different levels of sensitivity to dehydration, so it could vary from person to person.
When symptoms of dehydration do occur, they can be hard to spot and easily confused with something else. Not drinking enough can increase your risk of UTIs and headaches, along with fatigue, confusion, darker urine, dry, cracked skin and irregular bowel movements, says Ritchieson. It can also lead to low blood pressure or postural hypotension, a condition in which standing up can cause sudden dizziness and falls.
Drinking more water, meanwhile, can help prevent health conditions like migraines, frequent headaches, and kidney stones.
While plain water is the healthiest source of hydration, Ritchieson says any soft drink makes a contribution. When researchers at the University of Stirling monitored hydration levels in students for four hours after drinking different fluids in 2016, they found that a liter of instant coffee and even beer was as hydrating as the same amount of water. But hydration levels remained the highest of all, even above water, after drinking the milk.
While this is general guidance, there is very little research and hard evidence on the optimal amount of water to drink. But it’s not a good idea to drink many alternatives to water on a regular basis. Tea and coffee are diuretics, which means they make you go to the bathroom more often, Ritchieson says. Fizzy drinks, gourds and juices will also keep you hydrated, but we discourage people from drinking too much due to the high sugar content, which can lead to other long-term health problems.
The caffeine in tea and coffee can cause other side effects, according to Nishtha Patel, a functional medicine practitioner and clinical nutritionist. These include an increased heart rate and palpitations, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, digestive problems such as nausea and diarrhea, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and even caffeine addiction. It’s recommended that you limit your caffeine intake to about 400 mg per day, which is equivalent to about 4 to 5 cups of coffee or 8 to 10 cups of tea, he says.
When it comes to sugar, the NHS recommends consuming no more than 30g of free sugars per day, including added sugars from food manufacturers, as well as natural sugars in fruit juices, honey and syrups. Patel says that some carbonated or energy drinks contain enough sugar to take us over the recommended daily intake in just one serving. Diet sodas aren’t much better. They affect the gut microbiome and, like other ultra-processed foods, have been linked to other diseases, including memory decline and liver problems.
Fresh juices contain more nutrients than sodas, but Patel cautions that it can still be easy to exceed the recommended daily amount of sugar. On average, one serving (225g) of freshly squeezed orange juice contains around 20-25g of sugar. Consuming too much sugar, even from natural sources, can still have negative effects on your health and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Water hydrates us with zero calories.
If, like Pugh, you find drinking water too boring or tasteless, nutritionist Thalia Pellegrini recommends adding fruit or cucumber to a pitcher of water and putting it in the fridge. That adds enough flavor for some people, she says. You can also try herbal teas and diluted fresh juices. If you really can’t stand the taste of water, try adding squash. It has a lot of sugar but it’s better for you than going without liquids.
A plant-rich diet can help, as you’ll get extra hydration from fruits and vegetables. Some ingredients like celery, lettuce, tomatoes and watermelon are more than 90 percent water, she says. You can also try eating lots of peaches, pineapples, oranges, and pears.
And what about people who avoid drinking water because they fear needing the toilet too often? Veerpal Sandhu, an advanced clinical pharmacist for general practice in Essex, says this is particularly common in pregnant women and the elderly, who may have more trouble controlling their bladder. Most people manage not to drink too much before travelling, going out or going to bed, she says. One solution is to drink more when you are near available restrooms. And there are pelvic floor exercises you can do to improve bladder control.
Ritchieson adds that for older people, limiting fluids can lead to more bathroom breaks. It makes the bladder more sensitive, so they actually need to go more, he says. We tend to find that many people, especially in the summer months, underestimate how much they need to drink.
Sandhu points out that water is essential for human health. It makes up over two-thirds of the healthy human body. It lubricates the joints and eyes, aids digestion, eliminates waste and toxins and keeps the skin healthy.
Of course, it is possible to drink too much water. As a result of some of the publicity often from celebrities about drinking more, we occasionally see people who have gotten sick from drinking too much, Ritchieson says.
Overhydrating can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, which means your salt levels have become too dilute. This can cause headaches, dizziness and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness. If you plan to increase your water intake, I recommend doing it gradually and drinking little and often throughout the day.
How much is too much will depend on the individual and how fast they drink. That’s why we always recommend little and often, says Ritchieson. Your kidneys can remove 20 to 28 liters of water per day, but no more than about a liter per hour, so it’s important to spread your intake throughout the day.
For most people, unless they are exercising, living in a hot climate or unwell, 1.5 to 3 liters of water a day will always suffice.
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