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Water: the Overlooked Nutrient

Water: the Overlooked Nutrient

Tagged: Nutrition

We swim in it, we ski on it, and we bathe in it.  Water.  It makes up 60% of our body weight, is essential for our health and wellbeing, but is often overlooked as part of healthy, balanced nutrition.  

Should we really be concerned with our water intake?  Yes, because nearly every system in our body needs water to function properly.  Let’s take a look at several of the ways that water keeps us healthy:  

  1. It helps to regulate our body temperature
  2. It lubricates our joints
  3. It protects our organs and tissue from damage
  4. It helps to keep our kidneys and liver healthy by flushing out waste products
  5. It helps to prevent, and relieve, constipation   
  6. It carries vital nutrients and oxygen to our cells

What happens when our body doesn’t get enough water?  Dehydration may occur and our body may not be able to carry out normal functions.  This can lead to tiredness and a lack of energy.  

Until a few years ago, the standard recommendation for water intake was 64 ounces (eight 8 ounce glasses) daily.  But this recommendation came under fire by the scientific community due to the lack of adequate evidence to support the notion that all healthy adults need this amount.

If the recommendation of “eight 8 ounce glasses” is no longer the norm, how much water do we need?  Surprisingly, the current recommendations from the Institute of Medicine got a bit higher.

Because a certain amount of fluid is lost every day through activities such as breathing and sweating, the Institute of Medicine recommends drinking enough fluids to replace 80% of what is lost.  For the average male, this is a little over 12 cups per day, and 9 cups per day for the average female.  It is expected that the additional 20% of lost fluid will be replaced by the foods we eat. 

Physical activity, heat, and humidity are other factors that increase our fluid losses and increase our need for water above the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations.  

While water should always be the beverage of choice, unsweetened tea and coffee can also help meet daily fluid needs as they do have healthy antioxidants.  And low-fat/skim milk and soy beverages may be included in limited amounts as they provide vitamin D and calcium.

By Sherri Flynt, MPH, RD, LDN
Florida Hospital Center for Nutritional Excellence

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