Here at That Salad Lady, we’re all about building your bowl full of whole foods, but we simply can’t ignore the importance of filling your cup with water too. Water is perhaps the most overlooked yet most essential nutrient in a healthy diet. Nearly every cell, tissue and organ system depends on it. I’m sure you already know that water is important. Because it’s so important, you might wonder if you’re drinking enough. So, how much water should you drink every day?
Honestly, this is kind of a loaded question. You’ve probably heard the advice to drink eight glasses of water a day. Many believe more is better. I’m sure you’ve seen people carrying around gallon water jugs at the gym, work or school. Truth is, we’re all different. We all need different amounts of water to stay hydrated. To understand why and to truly appreciate the importance of water for whole life wellness, you must first understand the many roles of water in the body.
So, What’s the Big Deal About Water?
In and of itself, water makes up about 40-60% of total body weight. As a major component of blood, water naturally supports the transport of oxygen, nutrients, electrolytes and hormones as well as the removal of wastes through circulation. Water also plays a key role in regulating body temperature, functions as a lubricant for joints, helps to prevent eye, nose and mouth dryness, and supports healthy digestive, liver and kidney function.
Despite its many functions, we lose a significant amount of water each day through our urine, bowel movements and sweat, amongst other things. However, by regulating thirst and controlling urine output the body is able to continuously replenish these losses and maintain a delicate water balance. Problems arise when this balance is not sufficiently maintained (more water is lost than taken in). This is what puts our bodies in a state of dehydration.
As little as three days of prolonged dehydration can dramatically compromise cell, tissue and organ function throughout the body and weaken the immune system’s ability to ward of illness and disease. Extreme cases of dehydration can even lead to early death. So, in actuality, water is more important than food. This is why it’s so important to maintain adequate hydration levels on a day-to-day basis. Luckily, staying hydrated is much easier than people think.
Hydration: How Much Water Is Enough?
This brings me back to that “eight glasses a day” advice. I’ll cut to the chase and say it’s true that on average, the body requires about 8-12 eight-ounce cups of water each day in order to function properly. Sometimes we even need more. For instance, if you regularly exercise, you’ll likely need an extra 2-3 cups to compensate for water lost in the form of sweat. In addition, if you’re overweight (over 300 pounds), you may need to take in as much as 16 cups a day.
Now, this is where things can get a little confusing.
Unbeknownst to many, ALL liquids count towards your daily water intake. This includes alcohol and caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks. Does this mean you should swap out all your water for alcohol and caffeinated beverages? Absolutely not, as drinking too much alcohol and caffeine can increase the rate at which you urinate and ultimately promote dehydration. However, the fact of the matter is they still count as water. Kind of crazy but true.
Then there is food, which in addition to beverages also count as water. This is because water is naturally present in most foods, especially plant-based whole foods like vegetables and fruits. So, if you’re regularly building your bowl with these foods, you may find yourself drinking less water. This is perfectly fine. I will emphasize, however, that signs of thirst and hunger are very similar and confusing the two can easily lead to overeating and, ultimately, weight gain.
This is why if you find yourself feeling hungry, especially between meals, it’s always good to drink a full glass of water before you eat. You just may be more thirsty than hungry.
How to Maintain Healthy Hydration
When it comes to maintaining healthy hydration, there’s absolutely nothing better than drinking plain old water. But, as you can see, the question of how much water you should drink every day isn’t necessarily simple math. While drinking plain water is best, know that other drinks and foods can help you stay hydrated too. So, if you find yourself drinking less than 8-12 cups of water a day, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In general, if you’re rarely thirsty and regularly producing urine that’s pale yellow in color, your water intake and hydration levels are more than likely adequate.
To keep yourself from becoming dehydrated, just ensure you’re hydrating adequately by maintaining a diet that’s properly balanced with liquids and plant-based whole foods and you’ll be fine. If you regularly drink caffeinated beverages or occasionally enjoy alcohol, make it a practice to drink at least eight ounces of water with every 4-ounce portion. Doing so will not only lower your risk of dehydration, but also reduce the likelihood of your overindulging.