Fluids for health
Fluids for health: Choosing your everyday drinks wisely
In trying to be healthy, do you find you give your focus on choosing the right foods yet overlook the importance of fluids? Good hydration and understanding the impact of different fluids to your health is as important as your food choices. In this article, I’ll help you make the right choices. Let’s take a closer look.
Coffee and Tea
Tea and coffee do count towards your total fluid count and are not as dehydrating as once thought, but they do have a mild diuretic effect which means you lose water alongside salts (sodium).
If you drink a lot of strong coffee and/or many cups over the course of the day, it can lead to the excretion of too much sodium and the retention of too much potassium. These electrolytes regulate muscle and nerve function in the body. An imbalance of these important electrolytes can lead to the following symptoms: irregular heartbeat, fatigue, shortness of breath or confusion.
Tea and coffee can also interfere with the digestive function, making it harder to digest your meals. The tannins and caffeine they contain can also bind to minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium. So less minerals from your food are available to be absorbed into your bloodstream.
The caffeine in tea and coffee acts as a stimulant. This creates a stress response. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, which puts unnecessary pressure on the body – we have enough stress without creating more from our fluid choices!
There is some good news though! Recent research has shown coffee supports liver health and may help protect against liver cancer. But not in excess.
I do not promote decaffeinated versions as healthier choices. They may lack the caffeine, but they still contain other chemicals used to remove the caffeine and other chemicals like theobromine.
My verdict? Try to limit to two cups of good quality (not instant) a day, at least one hour away from meals and well before bedtime if you feel they disturb your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Squash, Fruit Juice and Fizzy Drinks
The NHS recommends no more than 30g of sugar from all sources each day. We do not require added sugars in the diet, so it goes without saying that sugary drinks can be detrimental to your health. One can of a well known fizzy drink contains 39g sugar alone!
Fruit juices are also high in sugars: 8-12g per standard size glass. As they contain no fibre, they should not be counted as one of your “5 a day”. It is much better to eat the orange than have a glass of its juice.
Dark coloured fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid that can be detrimental to bone health. It can lead to a more acidic blood pH that then leaches calcium from bones. Research has cited phosphoric acid in soft drinks as a risk factor to menopausal women.
My Verdict? Avoid (as much as you can)!
Artificial sweeteners are rife in the food and drink industry. They have been used in recent decades as a healthier alternative to sugar. But how healthy are they? I have two concerns over their use: weight control and gut dysbiosis.
Some research suggest they confuse the brain and do not activate the satiety signals and encourage appetite. Other studies suggest they may encourage the desire for sweet foods. The jury is out over whether they directly increase weight gain or help reduce it.
But my main concern is the impact on gut health and the microbiome. Research has shown a negative change in the composition between beneficial and pathogenic bacteria when sweeteners are consumed. And some of these changes are also linked to obesity!
My Verdict? Avoid (as much as you can)!
Good Hydrating Fluids
It doesn’t have to be just plain water. Yes, water is great, but you can also choose other hydrating fluids like herbal and fruit teas and rooibos tea. There are such a wide variety of herbal teas now there’s a flavour for everyone!
If you find water boring, jazz it up with slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or add mint. If you like it cold keep a jug made up ready in the fridge. Hot water is just as good as cold too.
Occasional plain sparkling water is fine, especially if it’s the naturally sparkling variety. Be careful with too much carbonated fizzy water, as it can create bloating and digestive discomfort in some people. It’s a much better choice than other fizzy drinks, so enjoy in moderation.
How much fluid do I need?
Do you believe that “more is better” when it comes to water intake? This is NOT TRUE and is potentially dangerous. It goes back to those pesky electrolytes that keep your body in balance. Increasing fluid intake – especially if you do this too quickly – upsets sodium and potassium – leading to those symptoms described above.
You need approx. 2L fluid a day – another 0.5-1L maximum depending on your exercise/activity levels. If it’s hot, and you’re sweating or sweating a lot through exercise, add a pinch of Himalayan salts to your water (it helps those electrolytes again).
It’s thought that by the time you feel thirsty, you have become dehydrated. And if you’re not in tune with your body, you may mistake thirst for hunger.
Aim to sip water and herbal teas throughout the day, and enjoy a couple of cups of unsweetened tea and coffee too. Try to avoid all sugary and artificially sweetened drinks. If you take this approach to your fluid intake, you’re giving your body the best support it needs for good health.
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