Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

I see a lot of conflicting information about what we should drink for optimal hydration. How much? What should we choose? What should we avoid? I decided it was time for a fresh look at fluid choices, how to stay hydrated and provide sensible advice you can easily implement into your day to day lives.

Just how much fluid should we drink each day?

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

Despite what you may read, more is definitely not better for your health and has the potential to be really dangerous.

You need about 2L fluid a day. An extra 0.5-1L maximum depending on your exercise/activity levels. 

You should not need 4L of fluid, it’s likely to be too much. It can dilute important electrolyte levels in the blood. Electrolytes regulate muscle and nerve function in the body. An imbalance of these important electrolytes can lead to: irregular heartbeat, fatigue, shortness of breath or confusion. 

If it’s hot and you’re sweating, or you’re sweating from strenuous exercise; and therefore drinking more fluid, consider adding a pinch of Himalayan salts to your water. 

Why Himalayan salts?

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

They provide some additional minerals/electrolytes (such as potassium, calcium, magnesium manganese, sulphur) in addition to common sodium chloride. 

Hydration Signals

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

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. 

Look at your urine. Some supplements and food can change the colour, but typically

(except for the first morning void,) your urine should be the colour of pale straw. A dark colour is a sign of dehydration. 

What counts as a hydrating fluid?

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

Of course, water is hydrating, but it doesn’t have to be just plain water. Herbal and fruit teas and rooibos tea are also hydrating. There are such a wide variety of herbal teas now there’s a flavour for everyone!

Green tea is NOT a herbal tea! Most cafes think it is and offer it as such, but it is not a herb (or spice). It contains some caffeine and a compound called EGCG which can bind to iron inhibiting its absorption. 

If you find water boring, jazz it up with slices of lemon, lime, berries, cucumber or add mint. Prefer your water cold? Keep a jug made up ready in the fridge. If you like hot drinks, choose hot water , it’s just as good as cold.

Occasional plain sparkling water is fine especially if it’s the naturally sparkling variety (from a spring). Be careful with too much carbonated fizzy water as it can create bloating and digestive discomfort in some people. 

If you like fizzy drinks, this makes a better choice so enjoy in moderation.

Squash, Fruit Juice and Fizzy Drinks

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

One of the main concerns with these is the sugar content. Most people’s diets are far too high in sugars (from sweet and starchy foods) so it is not advisable to add extra sugars from fluids.

A can of fizzy drink can contain more than 30g sugar – as much as the NHS advises we should consume from our total food in a day!

Fruit juices can contain 8-12g of sugar per standard size glass. If the juice does not retain the fibre, then it should not count 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 (to make the blood more alkaline). Research has cited phosphoric acid in soft drinks as a risk factor to menopausal women.

Low-Calorie Drinks

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

Many people choose low-calorie drinks as a healthier option but be warned! This month (July 2023) the World Health Organisation (WHO) is about to declare that aspartame- an artificial sweetener commonly found in drinks – to be potentially carcinogenic (cancer causing). 

Other research suggests 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. It is debatable whether they encourage weight gain.

These sweeteners are also thought to detrimentally alter the gut microbiome, reducing beneficial bacteria and allowing more pathogenic bacteria to thrive.

They should have no place in the daily diet. If you love them, keep to an occasional treat- just as you would sweet foods. 

Coffee and Tea

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

The most up to date research includes tea and coffee in the daily fluid allocation. They are not as dehydrating as once thought but do have a mild diuretic effect.

I recommend these drinks are kept to a minimum (a maximum of 3-4 cups a day) for the following reasons.

Tea and coffee can interfere with digestive secretions making it harder to digest your meals. The tannins and caffeine they contain can also bind to minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium, which makes less available to be absorbed into your bloodstream. 

The caffeine in tea and coffee acts as a stimulant creating 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.

Try to limit to two cups of good quality (not instant) coffee (or tea) 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.

In Summary

Top Tips for Optimal Hydration

Aim to get most of your daily fluid from water, herbal and fruit teas with a small amount of good quality coffee or tea (if desired). Avoid artificially sweetened, sugary and fizzy drinks as much as possible since they deliver no nutritional benefit at all. 

Sip 2L (up to 3 if exercising or excess sweating) throughout the day and do check your urine concentration to help determine if you are drinking enough.

Caroline Peyton x

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Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

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