All flu­ids be­ing equal, this over­dos­ing on wa­ter is sim­ply a flush-in-the-pan

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - SHARON NA­TOLI

IT’S the end of Jan­uary and your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to drink more wa­ter is wear­ing thin from too many in­con­ve­nient trips to the bath­room. With a closer look at your fluid in­take, it could well be you can rel­e­gate this res­o­lu­tion to the re­cy­cling bin.

A mod­ern mantra is that it’s a healthy habit to drink eight glasses of wa­ter a day — the al­leged ben­e­fits of which seem to range from help­ing with weight loss to de­tox­i­fy­ing the liver and speed­ing up me­tab­o­lism.

While the body cer­tainly needs plenty of flu­ids, none of th­ese claims is true, and the idea that ev­ery­one needs eight glasses of wa­ter a day is based more on av­er­age in­takes than on rig­or­ous sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

When it comes to rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the body’s need for flu­ids, it’s im­por­tant to note that ‘‘ flu­ids’’ cover more than just plain wa­ter. Flu­ids in­clude milk, juice, cor­dial, soft drink, tea, cof­fee and sports drinks as well as plain drink­ing wa­ter. All of th­ese bev­er­ages count to­ward a per­son’s to­tal daily in­take of fluid, mean­ing it’s of­ten un­nec­es­sary to drink eight glasses of plain wa­ter if a variety of other bev­er­ages are part of your usual daily reper­toire.

An­other well-en­trenched myth is the idea that cof­fee is de­hy­drat­ing. In many cases, it’s be­lieved that a glass of wa­ter needs to be con­sumed for each cup of cof­fee drunk to off­set the de­hy­drat­ing ef­fects of the caf­feine. How­ever, to be de­hy­drat­ing, a bev­er­age must lead to more fluid loss than the amount gained, and re­search shows that this does not oc­cur when caf­feine is con­sumed (un­til over about 500mg of caf­feine is in­gested). To put this into per­spec­tive, an av­er­age cup of in­stant cof­fee pro­vides 60-80mg of caf­feine, while a can of cola con­tains around 50mg. So as long as you are hav­ing less than seven cups of cof­fee a day, it will count to­ward your to­tal daily fluid needs.

Drink­ing enough fluid is im­por­tant, as all bio­chem­i­cal re­ac­tions in the body oc­cur in wa­ter. It’s needed to fill the spa­ces be­tween and within cells, and it’s re­quired for di­ges­tion, ab­sorp­tion of nu­tri­ents and for reg­u­la­tion of body tem­per­a­ture. If you don’t drink enough you can ex­pe­ri­ence the signs and symp­toms of de­hy­dra­tion, which range from headaches, fa­tigue and light-head­ed­ness in mild cases, to in­creased heart rate, mus­cle cramp­ing and kid­ney fail­ure in more se­vere cases. Over a life­time, too lit­tle fluid can in­crease the risk of kid­ney stones, uri­nary tract in­fec­tions and blad­der can­cer.

In Aus­tralia, we drink an av­er­age of three glasses of wa­ter a day. This is fol­lowed by cof­fee (two cups a day), tea (one cup a day), milk (one cup), soft drinks and sports drinks (one cup) and juice (half a cup). In to­tal, this adds up to 2.3 litres a day, enough to meet re­quire­ments for good health. So it’s not the to­tal amount of fluid that most peo­ple need to set res­o­lu­tions around, it’s the types of bev­er­ages that may need mod­i­fy­ing.

In­creas­ing wa­ter in­take while re­duc­ing soft drinks, juice and other sweet­ened bev­er­ages will as­sist in shift­ing those un­wanted ki­los — much more so than sim­ply drink­ing more wa­ter. Re­cent re­search shows we are tak­ing steps in the right di­rec­tion and shift­ing away from sugar-sweet­ened car­bon­ated bev­er­ages to more wa­ter-based bev­er­ages, in­clud­ing plain bot­tled wa­ter. Our in­take of sugar from bev­er­ages has de­clined by 12,402 tonnes be­tween 2002 and 2006— a sig­nif­i­cant sav­ing of un­wanted kilo­joules.

So drink plenty of wa­ter, but rest as­sured that if you’re an av­er­age Aussie, it’s likely you’re drink­ing plenty of other bev­er­ages as well and that your cur­rent in­take is meet­ing your needs. By adding eight glasses of wa­ter on top of your usual in­take, it could be that your main achieve­ment in 2008 will be spend­ing more time in the bath­room than you ever did. Sharon Na­toli is an ac­cred­ited prac­tis­ing di­eti­tian and di­rec­tor of Food & Nu­tri­tion Aus­tralia www.food­nut.com.au

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