Staying hydrated is obviously incredibly important. But the idea of needing to drink eight glasses of water a day is not only false, it’s been quoted inaccurately. The recommendation originally came from Dr Fredrick J. Stare in 1974, who advised that you should drink between six and eight glasses of water daily.
Considering that advice is now almost fifty years old, you’d think that the general consensus would have moved with the times. But the idea of drinking eight glasses of water a day is a myth that people continue to cling to.
The Benefits of Water
We all know that drinking water is essential – dehydration can kill. But what are the specific health benefits of water? We’ve listed the main benefits below:
- Prevents dehydration, which can cause headaches and unclear thinking, mood swings, your body to overheat, as well as constipation and kidney stones
- Helps your body maintain a normal temperature
- Gets rid of waste, such as through urination and perspiration
- Lubricates and cushions joints
- Protects sensitive tissues like your spinal cord
Some people claim that a health benefit of water is detoxing your body, leading to glowing skin and more energy. But detox is the role of your kidneys – they separate what you need to retain and what to get rid of. And when it comes to dermatology, while dehydration isn’t good for your skin, as long as you’re reaching your body’s ideal hydration levels, any additional water you drink becomes superfluous.
● Water has numerous health benefits, and can prevent things such as headaches and overheating
● Water is a calorie free drinking option. But a lot of other beverages offer just as much hydration as water
● Our bodies tell us when we’re thirsty – drinking between 6 and 8 glasses of water may be a good guideline, but we can stay hydrated by simply drinking when we feel thirsty
Alternatives to Water
It’s certainly a good idea to drink water over other beverages. A lot of other soft drinks are full of sugar, and therefore have higher calories than water (which doesn’t have any), which can cause people to put on weight. Sugar can also damage your teeth.
When it comes to caffeinated drinks, such as tea and coffee, these are fine to drink as part of a balanced diet. As with all things, it’s about moderation. You should bear in mind though, that caffeinated drinks tend to have a diuretic effect – they can make the body produce urine more quickly. Of course this will depend on how much caffeine you have each day, and some people are more susceptible than others. According to Stuart Galloway, an associate professor in physiology, exercise and nutrition at the University of Stirling, if someone is drinking enough fluids, they should probably be going to the loo “somewhere between five and seven times a day”.
Galloway has also conducted experiments into how well drinks other than water hydrate the body. He found that a litre of beer was just as hydrating as a litre of water, as was a litre of instant coffee, which contained 212mg of caffeine. Surprisingly milk was found to be even more hydrating than water. As mentioned above, such drinks have a higher calorie count, so it’s not advisable to substitute too much. But it’s good to know that other drinks still count as water intake.
The Right Amount of Water
While you can still follow the general guidelines of drinking between six and eight glasses of water (or similar beverages) a day, it’s not essential. Our bodies have a homeostatic system that causes us to feel thirsty when our bodies need more water. And if you do just drink when you’re thirsty, this will maintain your body’s ideal water level within 1-2%. Even for athletes, 1% water loss would have negligible effects on performance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer similar advice. They state that people can meet their daily hydration needs by drinking with meals and drinking when you’re thirsty. Sounds simple enough!