PUBLISHED: 10:45 AM on Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Are you drinking enough water?

  Dr. Sonja Koukel
Recently, I had lunch with a good friend who shared with me her New Year's resolution to drink more water. Lifting her glass of iced water, she stated, "I'm up to four glasses a day from zero. I think that's pretty good!" I agree, that is a good start, and I think my friend deserves kudos for recognizing the link between water and health.

How about you? Are you drinking enough water?

Water is one of the most basic elements of life, but with so many other choices available for quenching thirst, it can be the most neglected. Water constitutes about 60 percent of an adult's body weight and a higher percentage of a child's. This nutrient is not only beneficial but also vital to life - only oxygen is more important to human survival. Water increases both the quality and length of our lives. Water helps to:

• Relieve/Prevent lower back pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, headaches, migraines, asthma, allergies, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, hypertension, cholesterol, hangovers, neck pain, muscle pain, joint pain, bloating, constipation, ulcers, low energy levels, stomach pain, confusion and disorientation.

• Maintain muscle tone, weight loss and clear and healthy skin.

• Regulate body temperature, remove toxins and wastes, cushion and lubricate joints, decrease risk of kidney stones, protect tissues, organs and the spinal cord from shock and damage.

• Assist in the digestion and absorption of food, and in transporting oxygen and nutrients to the cells.

Thirst is the reflex that drives a person to seek water, but it lags behind the body's need. Therefore, to prevent dehydration, maintaining a water balance is critical.

So, how much water is enough? About 80 percent of our water intake comes from drinking water and other beverages, and the other 20 percent comes from food.

The non-active individual needs 1/2 ounce per pound of body weight, per day. For the average American who weighs 160 pounds. that comes to 10 8-ounce glasses per day. However, these numbers will need to be adjusted to account for factors that can increase fluid needs, such as physical activity, heat and humidity.

For those who have decided to lose weight in the New Year, drinking water may be the most important piece to the weight loss puzzle. Water contains no calories, fat, or cholesterol and is low in sodium.

Drinking a glass of water prior to eating a meal is one way to reduce caloric intake by increasing the fullness factor, or satiety.

Additionally, eating foods with high water content can help. Experts have found that when water is added to a bowl of vegetables, as in soup, the soup has greater satiety than when the vegetables are eaten alone with a glass of water. The weight loss benefits of water stem from several facts:

• Foods that incorporate water tend to look larger.

• The higher volume of these foods provides greater oral stimulation.

• When water is bound to food, it slows down absorption and lasts longer in the belly.

To some degree, caloric intake is restricted when dieting. Therefore, the total amount of water available to our bodies is lessened since about 20 percent of the average water intake comes from food. This gives even more reason to raise water intake while dieting. Recommendations for an eating plan for weight loss would include plenty of high-volume foods such as fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, and oatmeal, along with adequate fluids to satisfy thirst.

Simply put, the more fresh water we drink, the healthier we become. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Water is the only drink for a wise man."

Dr. Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.