Drink It In: 5 Common Myths About Water Consumption
More than two thirds of your weight is comprised of water — a simple, yet powerful, liquid essential to human survival. Responsible for fueling temperature regulation, blood flow, joint lubrication, intestinal functioning, spinal cord protection, and beyond, water is as critical to the human body as it is to a house plant. Still, although its health benefits are widely recognized, H2O often falls victim to misconception. Here, we examine five common myths tied to water consumption, so that you can sip smarter.
Myth: Everyone needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
Everybody — and every body — is different.
The age-old standard of drinking water to meet a 64-ounce quota is “a general recommendation — not an absolute,” says Judy Dodd, registered dietitian and assistant professor of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. “Because an ‘adequate’ amount will vary for different people, you have to be cautious saying, ‘This is the right amount for me.’” In fact, several variables — including weight, age, gender, activity level, and medication needs — determine how much water is needed on an individual basis. So, how can you be sure you’re hydrating adequately? The Institute of Medicine suggests that while the eight-glass guideline is a healthy starting point, most people are able to gauge their hydration levels based on how they feel physically. “Without enough water, you may feel tired, hungry, or experience mildly decreased concentration or focus,” explains Amy Crawford-Faucher, M.D., family physician at UPMC’s Department of Family Medicine. These effects, although seemingly harmless, are actually early symptoms of dehydration — a condition that occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. To avoid becoming dehydrated, Crawford-Faucher recommends keeping track of the beverages you consume throughout the day, while limiting both caffeine and alcohol. “It’s amazing how much better one feels when you’re getting just enough liquid that’s not caffeinated or alcoholic,” she notes.
“When [medical professionals] suggest drinking six to eight glasses of water in a day, it doesn’t all have to be water,” says Crawford-Faucher. “Every liquid counts to a degree.” For those who find the idea of sipping plain water unappealing, it may come as a relief that most beverages available to us can contribute to daily water intake. “There are other ways [besides water] to give our bodies fluid,” says Dodd. “We don’t all need to sit around chugging eight glasses of water a day.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that drinks packed with sugar and preservatives are the best alternatives, either. Our experts recommend soda water, decaffeinated coffee and tea, milk, and naturally flavored or infused water as the healthiest substitutes. Aimee Woods Kollinger, certified holistic health coach at Embody Natural Health, encourages her clients to add fruits, vegetables, and even herbs to water for tastier drinking. “Some popular choices are citrus, berries, cucumber, cilantro, basil, and cinnamon,” she says, “but the options are endless.” (Editor’s note: For best results, let the infusion soak overnight before drinking.) In addition to non-water beverages, many foods are also suitable sources of water. According to the Institute of Medicine, approximately 20 percent of your daily liquid intake is derived from the food you eat. Try reaching first for water-heavy foods — soup, yogurt, fruit, and vegetables — which provide both hydration and nutrients. The bottom line: “All liquids count [as water] to a degree, but water should still be the first choice,” says Dodd.
Myth: Drinking more water will lead to weight loss.
Because water provides drinkers with a temporary filling sensation, it can be conducive to dieting. “Some people find that when drinking more water, they’re fuller, and they eat less,” says Woods Kollinger. However, those looking to shed pounds will find little satisfaction from downing excessive amounts of water, and should be wary of advice claiming that over-hydrating will “flush out fat” or speed metabolism. In reality, drinking too much water is not only possible, but extremely dangerous. When the body takes in more water than it needs, its fluids become diluted, causing sodium levels to plunge. This process, known as water intoxication or hyponatremia, can actually lead to neurological damage — and for that reason, dieters should take serious precautions not to over-drink. In the long-term, filling your glass before reaching for a snack is a great way to ensure you’re not ingesting unnecessary calories. “Drinking water is one way to slow down the eating process,” explains Dodd. “It gives you that time to say, ‘Am I really hungry?’”
Myth: Sports drinks should always be consumed after exercising.
Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, have earned reputations as the ultimate post-workout beverages for athletes due to their ability to replenish the electrolytes the body loses through sweat. Unfortunately, though, these sports drinks also contain significant amounts of sugar, carbohydrates, and calories that the average exerciser may not need. “Sports drinks are only beneficial if you’re exercising at high-intensity for more than one hour, especially in hot weather,” says Crawford-Faucher. “For most people, the body does a great job of keeping that [electrolyte] balance.” So, unless you’re running a marathon or half-marathon, biking long distances, or performing similar endurance activities, rehydrating with water is perhaps a simpler — and less expensive — option. Craving the taste of a sports drink, but looking to avoid extra carbs and sugar? Woods Kollinger advises drinking a glass of water with “a pinch of sea salt and a bite of a banana.”
Myth: Extra water consumption leads to clearer skin.
Water helps the body to clear out toxins by means of elimination — but will drinking more water reduce the amount of toxins in the skin, making it clearer, less oily, and less breakout-prone? Not a chance, according to experts. What increased water consumption will do, however, is cause your skin to be more hydrated, less dry, and appear more refreshed. Remember to drink plenty of water, especially in the winter when skin tends to dry out quickly. As for the secret to clear skin? That, for now, remains a mystery. “There’s more to your skin than water,” says Dodd. “Aside from what you’re ingesting internally, [skin quality] is based on your environment, your overall diet, and your genetics.”
Myth: It’s better to drink bottled water than tap water.
Tap water has some stiff competition — mainly, bottled water, basking in its glory of decorative labels, supposedly exotic origins, and vague health claims. As consumers faced with an overabundance of daily nutrition choices, it can be difficult to sway from the appeal of bottled water companies advocating a ‘healthier’ and ‘more sustainable’ product. Still, we wondered: Is there any real advantage to ditching the tap? To find the answer, we went straight to the source — of our water, that is. “You actually have no idea where bottled water comes from,” says Crawford-Faucher, “and, sadly, [bottled water] companies are not required to tell you.” The composition of city water, on the other hand, is detailed in mandatory reports by water authorities, which are made available online for public viewing. (Editor’s note: Recent reports from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) are available at pgh2o.com.) If your preference for bottled water is more taste-based, consider purchasing a filtering system, which can filter out elements that may be changing the taste of your water. Water-filtering for health purposes, though, “is not something I recommend my patients do regularly,” says Crawford-Faucher. At the end of the day, tap water is generally just as healthy as — and much less wasteful than — plastic bottles.
|What to avoid:||What to drink instead:|
|Several cups of caffeinated coffee||1 cup of caffeinated coffee; decaf|
|Sugary soda||Diet soda, but no more than one serving|
|Artificially flavored, sweetened juices||Unsweetened or non-caffeinated tea|
|Sports drinks*, such as Gatorade||Water infused with fruit, vegetables, or herbs|
|*Unless consumed following a high-intensity workout lasting more than one hour|