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June 27, 2016

How Much Water Do You Really Need?

by Amanda MacMillan

Google “how much water should I drink each day,” and you get upwards of six million hits -- half of them, probably, telling you to drink eight 8-ounce glasses every day and the other half telling you to ignore that advice. Here’s the good news: Most healthy people drink enough water and other liquids by simply responding to their thirst (which is the first sign of dehydration), says Nancy Copperman, RD, assistant vice president of public health and community partnerships for Northwell Health. Still, Copperman says, people do make a number of common mistakes when it comes to staying hydrated in the heat. Here are her rules for healthy summer drinking:

1. Eight isn’t enough.

The eight-by-eight rule (eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily) may be easy to remember, but the current recommendations for daily fluid intake from the Institute of Medicine are actually even higher: about 13 cups a day for men and 9 cups a day for women. That may sound like a lot, but it becomes less daunting if you spread your liquid refreshment throughout the day -- definitely the best way to do it, says Copperman.

2. Your needs change with the weather (and your altitude…and other factors).

Think of the IOM recommendation as a baseline, but know that you may need to drink extra if you’re exercising, or if you’re in a hot or humid environment. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also get additional fluids, as should anyone at a high altitude. “If you live on Long Island and you’re vacationing in the mountains, you should drink more than you normally would,” says Copperman.

3. Tea and coffee count toward your total...

“We used to think that coffee and tea were dehydrating because caffeine is a diuretic,” says Copperman, “but studies have found it really doesn’t have a major effect.” So it’s fine to drink coffee and tea as part of your daily fluid intake. Just make sure you’re not only drinking caffeinated beverages throughout the day, because that can cause other health issues. And limit milk and sugar, which add calories.

4. …but steer clear of soda.

Yes, soda is a tasty way to rehydrate – but it’s a major source of empty calories. What’s more, studies have shown that a habit of drinking soda or other sweetened beverages raises your risk of diabetes. If you’re engaging in strenuous activity for more than 30 minutes, a sports drink containing electrolytes and a modest amount of sugar can be helpful. In general, though, your best defense against dehydration is water.

5. Tired of drinking? Try eating your water.

Watermelon is about 92% water, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – and cucumber has it beat at 97% water. Even fruits and veggies that are less obviously water-logged, like cauliflower and spinach, can be good sources of H2O. So are liquid-based foods like soups, puddings, and popsicles. Want to get your fluid the trendy way? Coconuts are a hydration gem, says Copperman. She recommends plain coconut water (with no sugar added). Not only does it contain electrolytes like potassium, it has a naturally sweet taste. To your health!