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How much water should you really drink?

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How much water should you really drink?

May 26, 2024, 10:48 PM IST 

Social media is awash with advice on water consumption—recommending specific amounts to drink daily, detailing when and how to drink it, and even touting it as a cure for numerous ailments. My aim with this blog is to address these topics and clarify the confusion created by such claims.

The renowned Mayo Clinic suggests a daily water intake of 2.7 liters for women and 3.7 liters for men. While it’s true that dehydration can lead to health issues, many of the claims about water curing illnesses are exaggerated and lack evidence. I recently spoke with a cancer patient who had increased his water intake to 3 liters per day in hopes of healing. While this hope is not harmful as long as he continues with necessary treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and avoiding angiogenic foods, it’s important to set realistic expectations.

Water is crucial for maintaining various balances within the body, such as pH and mineral levels. Consider a New Yorker who subsists on a diet rich in meat, potatoes, coffee, and alcohol, with little to no water consumption; they might experience health issues that could be somewhat alleviated by drinking more water. However, this doesn’t imply that increasing water intake can cure all individuals suffering from similar ailments. This is a common misconception promoted by many online videos and claims.

By understanding the true benefits and limitations of water consumption, we can approach our health more effectively and avoid falling for unfounded claims.

Benefits of drinking water

– Improves blood volume and viscosity

– Boosts your energy level

– Flushes out toxins and keeps your organs healthier

– Improves skin

– Promotes weight loss

– Enhances muscle contraction

– Improves hormone production

– Reduces joint pain

– Reduces stress hormones

The amount of water you need depends on several factors including your health, activity level, climate and, importantly, your diet—a factor often overlooked in mainstream media.

Water aids in maintaining both alkalinity and sodium levels, suggesting that a diet high in alkaline foods and low in sodium (typically unprocessed) may reduce the need for excessive water to eliminate acidity or salt.

In a climate with temperatures ranging from 15-25 degrees Celsius and dry air (such as an air-conditioned environment), and assuming an activity level of 10,000 steps per day, a useful guideline is to drink 3-5% of your body weight in water. For instance, a person weighing 75 kilograms should consume 2.25-3.75 liters of water daily, equivalent to 9-15 glasses, assuming each glass holds 250 ml. If you’re consuming 1% of your body weight in fresh fruits and 1% in vegetables daily (which are about 85% water), this accounts for approximately 1.7% of the 3-5% hydration needs. Thus, the remaining requirement is reduced to 1.3-3.3%, or 4-10 glasses of water daily.

For those avoiding non-vegetarian and processed foods, I suggest that 6 glasses per day may suffice. Consider drinking two glasses of warm water first thing in the morning, one glass an hour after each meal, and one glass before going to bed. In hotter climates, like in India, it’s advisable to drink a glass of water every time you come back from an outdoor trip. However, it’s possible to drink too much water, which can lead to a loss of mineral balance. A practical way to assess your hydration level is by checking the color of your urine, which should ideally be at level 2 on a scale from 1 (clear) to 5 (dark yellow).

Note that acidic beverages and some types of acidic bottled water do not contribute to your total daily water intake.

Water with meals or not ?

Is it beneficial to drink water with meals? Opinions vary. Some sources recommend drinking warm or room-temperature water during meals to aid digestion, similar to the custom of drinking lukewarm green tea in Chinese and Japanese cultures. Others suggest waiting 45 minutes to an hour after eating before drinking water, claiming that it dilutes stomach acids and impairs digestion—though this lacks substantial scientific backing. The Mayo Clinic states that drinking water does not interfere with digestion.

An often overlooked factor in this debate is the type of food being consumed. For meals consisting of solid foods with low moisture content, drinking water or tea is advisable to aid in digestion. Many baked goods, such as bagels, muffins, cookies, or sweet potatoes, are difficult to swallow without the aid of a liquid. Similarly, most baked animal foods, unlike moisture-rich Indian curries, are low in moisture and may require water with meals.

For those adhering to a diet rich in plant-based whole foods, which includes a substantial amount of fruits and vegetables and retains water and gravy in cooked items, there is less need to drink water during meals. However, I recommend taking one sip of water before starting to eat and a couple of sips at the end of the meal to aid in the functioning of the esophageal sphincter muscles and to facilitate oral hygiene. This aligns with the Hindu practice of taking a little water in your palm and circling it around your plate and swallowing it as a prayer before eating, and rinsing the mouth after meals. If it’s not always feasible to spit the water out, swallowing it is perfectly acceptable, as it contains only the consumed food.

Water can be consumed during the meal if necessary, but it is advisable to drink it before starting and waiting about 45 minutes to an hour after finishing the meal.

Tulsi, Moringa or what?

A common question I encounter is about the practice of consuming various substances with morning water or on an empty stomach. It’s crucial to understand that every plant food offers some benefits, but it’s misleading to consider them in isolation. In India, it’s widespread practice to add certain items as “superfoods,” to your morning water.

Most plant foods contain vitamins and minerals, their presence alone, as highlighted on social media, does not necessarily make them superior. Additionally, there’s a practical issue with the advice to consume something on an empty stomach: how do you decide which should go first?

Once you have consumed one item, your stomach isn’t empty any more.

I’m not opposed to consuming these items, but I advise treating them as part of your regular diet, not as supplements, and especially not outside your normal eating window. Believing they can compensate for deficiencies in your diet or lifestyle is a mistake. Here are some examples I often see: Lemon, Apple cider vinegar, Tulsi, Methi seeds, Moringa, Jeera, Ginger, Garlic, Aamla, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Curry leaves. The list goes on and on.

My recommendation is to incorporate these into your recipes rather than consuming them as supplements, whether first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Consume them during your designated eating times, not during fasting periods.

Tea, coffee or chocolate ?

On the topic of tea, it’s interesting to note that the British introduced tea to India around 180 years ago during their trade conflicts with China. While tea does contain some nutrients, the benefits are often offset when milk and sugar are added. A healthier alternative would be herbal teas, such as hibiscus, ginger, lemon, or cinnamon, which provide more nutrients without the need for additives like milk and sugar.

Coffee, similarly, is not native to India. It was first introduced to the Karnataka hills in the 1670s. The issue with beverages like tea, coffee, and chocolate lies in the caffeine content, which is addictive—similar to other substances like tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, and opium. Addiction can dominate your life, dictating your actions and even basic functions like using the bathroom. Skipping your usual dose can lead to headaches and a general inability to function. Thus, I recommend trying to break free from this dependency. Some people may succeed in quitting cold turkey while others might prefer a gradual approach.

From a health perspective, all three beverages contain nutrients that are beneficial, but not when consumed in the typical way with added milk and sugar, which offset these benefits. If you choose to consume them, it’s best to do so without these additions and in moderation. Consider starting by eliminating milk and sugar from your beverages. Opt for black tea with lemon or cardamom, or try Kashmiri Kahwa, which contains neither sugar nor milk. Green tea is another excellent option.

You might also notice that biscuits or donuts often accompany tea or coffee with milk. Eliminating milk from your tea or coffee can make it easier to stop consuming these snacks as well. I personally quit drinking tea ten years ago. For the first few years I missed the routine of having a hot beverage in the morning but now the idea doesn’t even cross my mind.

What the color of your urine says about your health

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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