Water is one of the six essential nutrients, along with carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. These essential nutrients must be ingested for the body to function normally. Over half of the human body is made up of water. Water plays many important roles in the body, including flushing out waste, regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients and digestion. Water can help maintain clearer, younger-looking skin and cushions joints.

Brigitte Weymiller mug

Brigitte Weymiller

Besides these important roles, water can also be beneficial for weight loss. It can help increase satiety (the feeling of fullness) because water adds volume without adding calories. Your body can also sometimes mistake thirst for hunger, so consistent water intake during the day may prevent snacking, grazing and extra portions. While water doesn’t have any magical effect on weight loss, substituting it for higher calorie beverages can help decrease calories.

Approximately 80 percent of water intake comes from drinking water and other beverages, and the other 20 percent comes from food. Water-rich foods include fruit, vegetables, broth-based soups, milk and yogurt. For example lettuce, tomatoes, grapefruit and watermelon are more than 90 percent water. These foods provide a good variety of vitamins, minerals and volume. Eating foods with high water content can help with improved eating habits by increasing the fullness factor.

How much fluid do I need?

There is no one rule for fluid needs. An old suggestion to drink eight glasses a day was nothing more than a guideline, not based on scientific evidence. Healthy adults should use thirst to determine their fluid needs: If you are thirsty, you should drink water. The best way to determine if you are hydrated is to check your urine color. Clear to light yellow is ideal. The darker your urine, the less hydrated you are. While not everyone needs exactly eight glasses of water daily, you do need to keep yourself well-hydrated.

Do I need to drink more if I exercise?

Remember to replace the water lost each day or you may become dehydrated. Fluid losses can increase in warmer climates or during exercise. Even being slightly dehydrated can impair brain function and increase fatigue. Drink enough for your urine to be mostly colorless and odor-free. It is important to know the signs of dehydration.

Early signs are:

Thirst

Premature fatigue

Increased body temperature

Faster breathing and pulse rate

Decreased exercise capacity

Later signs include:

Dizziness

Increased weakness

Labored breathing with exercise

What about other beverages?

Plain water is the best choice for hydrating the body. It is absorbed right away, no filtering needed. It is always best to drink plain water, and flavor it with fruit or herbs as needed. Beware of beverages containing added sugar. The body does not feel “full” from liquid calories, and added sugars can actually dehydrate you by causing you to excrete more water. The liver and kidneys have to filter the color, additives and sweeteners (natural or not) before the water in them can be absorbed.

Try these tips to increase your intake of fluid:

Have a beverage with every snack and meal.

Pay attention to your thirst.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Their high water content will add to your hydration.

Keep a bottle of water with you in your car, at your desk or in your bag.

Choose beverages that meet your individual needs. If you’re watching calories, go for non-caloric beverages or water.

If you would like more information on improving your eating habits, Gundersen registered dietitians can help. For an appointment, call (608) 775-3447.

Strawberry mint water

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups chilled water

2 cups strawberries, sliced

4 large fresh mint leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients. Refrigerate four to six hours. Serve over ice.

Nutrition information: Not a significant source of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber or sodium

Cucumber lemon-lime orange water

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups chilled water

½ lime, cut into thin slices

½ lemon, cut into thin slices

½ orange, cut into thin slices

¼ large cucumber, cut into thin slices

Directions

Combine and refrigerate four to six hours. Serve over ice.

Nutrition information: Not a significant source of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber or sodium

SASS

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups chilled water

3 green tea bags

3 cinnamon sticks

¾ cup 100% Concord grape juice

4 fresh basil leaves, shredded

Zest of one orange

Directions

Combine all ingredients. Allow green tea bags to steep for three to five minutes and then remove. Refrigerate four to six hours. Serve over ice.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 15 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g protein, 3.5 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 0 mg sodium

Cucumber lemon basil water

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups chilled water

1 large cucumber, cut into thin slices

2 lemons, cut into thin slices

4 leaves fresh basil, shredded

Directions

Combine ingredients. Refrigerate four to six hours. Serve over ice.

Nutrition information: Not a significant source of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber or sodium

Brigitte Weymiller is a registered dietitian at Gundersen Health System.

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