A new way of thinking about hydration

During these hot days of summer, I offer one small way each of us can conserve more water.

Just doing various, everyday activities, the average person in the United States uses 100 to 123 gallons of water per day, according to the Water Research Foundation. Flushing the toilet uses the most amount of this water.

Water consumption also is high on the list. Are we drinking too much water? Asking that might be a bit lighthearted considering what friends and family are experiencing with fire evacuations around our state. Right now, all of us are at our maximum stress level, so here is one item you no longer need to stress about. Recommendations now are to drink to thirst – that means you should not drink just for the sake of drinking. Instead, you drink an amount of fluid to replace what you lose by doing activities. Yes, at this high elevation and 98-degree temperatures in our semi-arid desert, more liquid than usual is required, but maybe not as much as we thought.

An editorial in the June issue of Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health looked at why we consume so much water. The author, Spero Tsindos, believes that encouraging people to drink more water is driven by vested interests rather than a need for better health.

“Thirty years ago, you didn’t see a plastic water bottle anywhere. Now they appear as fashion accessories. As tokens of instant gratification and symbolism, the very bottle itself is seen as cool and hip,” Tsindos wrote.

What happened to using tap water and glass? There are other ways to satisfy our thirst.

Drinking things like tea and coffee do contribute to a person’s fluid needs and do not lead to dehydration. Also, unprocessed fruits and vegetables can certainly provide a substantial amount of fluid – up to 20 percent of total fluid needs. This is not to say that it is a bad idea to consume 64 ounces of liquid daily, but that recommendation was never scientifically proven. Of course, we need fluids, but do we really need to buy cases of bottled water or carry water with us everywhere?

The bottled water industry and the health culture of drinking more water has become lucrative. Instead of buying those cases of bottled water, try tap water. Numerous studies have found that tap water is safer than bottled water because of government standards and monitoring requirements. Bottled water is governed loosely by the Federal Drug Administration, but water systems must meet EPA restrictions.

More health professionals are recommending drink to thirst (for the average person), though sweetened beverages might not be the beverage of choice. Electrolyte drinks are not recommended and, in fact, are inadvisable because they contain so much sugar and chemicals, which are not as thirst-quenching as you would need. For example, one bottle of a popular “sports drink” contains the equivalent of 12 of 17 teaspoons of sugar in one bottle.

So how much is needed to maintain proper hydration? Monitor the color of your urine throughout the day – it should be pale yellow like lemonade – or try pinching the skin on the back of your hand. If it doesn’t immediately fall back in place, have a drink. With age, the sense of thirst diminishes, so extra attention using these two techniques would be helpful. Another gauge is how often you urinate. Experts say if you are adequately hydrated, you should urinate every two to four hours.

I will do my part to accept drinking less water – which will lead to flushing the toilet less and having more time to do other essential things.

ricekw@co.laplata.co.us or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.