OK, pop quiz time: What is the single most important nutrient you can consume on a daily basis?
Fresh fruits and veggies—lots of vitamins and minerals? Buzz. Wrong.
Protein- the ‘building block’ nutrient? Nope. Try again.
Healthy fats for brain health, metabolic function and good digestion? Important, yes, but most important? No.
The answer: Water.
And, more than likely, you (like most people) are not drinking enough.
As simple as it sounds, time and time again, the more I talk to clients about their nutrition, the more I find that this ONE component is one of the primary lagging factors in their daily diet.
No wonder digestion is off, headaches are common occurrences, allergies flare up, anxiety or depressed mood strike, weight loss or maintenance is difficult, energy is low, and more!
Water regulates ALL functions of the body—it drives all chemical reactions in your body, and is the source of energy for the creation of life and the daily metabolic functions that must occur for optimal function.
There’s no getting around it—you were made to THRIVE off of water.
In fact, if you can think to as far back as life in the womb—water was necessary for cell growth and development of your beautiful fabulous self in your mom’s stomach, as crazy as that sounds (fetuses are about 80% water!).
A cool random fact I learned recently?
Morning sickness, which many new moms experience during the early phases of pregnancy, is actually related to the water needs of the baby itself. Morning sickness is a thirst signal of both the baby and mother (rather than a result of eating too many pickles and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream).
A couple of other cool facts about water (as exciting as that sounds):
- Lack of water has been linked to chronic pain and inflammation (a whole host of issues, such as headaches, allergies and asthma, back and neck pain, high cholesterol, heartburn, indigestion, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, chest pain, stomach ‘issues’, etc.). The next time you experience one of these maladies, first ask yourself how much water you’ve consumed that day, or day(s). Sadly, very few, if any doctors ask you how much water you’ve been drinking, what your nutrition and lifestyle is like (sleep/wake patterns, specific stressors, work-life balance, daily activity/exercise, etc.) when you make an appointment for a health concern. They instead ask you about the symptoms, the onset history and what medications, if any, you are allergic to.
- Often times we can confuse hunger with thirst! The same part of your brain that sends the signal that you are ‘hungry’ (the hypothalamus) also is responsible for your thirst levels. Sometimes a pit in your stomach or sound of a stomach growl can actually mean you need more water.
- Depressed mood, anxiety and other emotional imbalances can be reflections of the brain not having adequate water supply. Dehydration causes a severe depletion of the chemical tryptophan in the brain—an essential amino acid in the human body that helps your body maintain homeostasis (brain function being one of those)
- Water improves digestion hands down. Recently I had a client exclaim, “I drank more water yesterday—twice as much as my usual 2-3 cups, and I noticed my stomach didn’t hurt at all during the day—weird!” Drink water between meals to maintain your stomach acid concentration. Water also prevents tissues from stiffening up in your gut, removes waste and helps fiber work at its best. Without enough water in your diet, you’ll likely feel the digestive side effects. Waste dries out, making it increasingly difficult to relieve yourself, leading to uncomfortable constipation.
So how much water do we need?
Half your bodyweight in ounces is the general rule of thumb—a little more or a little less, depending on your height, your weight, the weather, your climate and your activity levels (more activity=an increased need for water both before, during and post-exercise—at least 16-20 ounces more).
“But what if I am not thirsty? Isn’t thirst the main indicator?” some ask.
Unfortunately, if we rely on the actual feeling of thirst to tell us when we need water—we are missing the mark by a huge margin when it comes to getting the water our bodies need—and crave—on a daily basis for optimal function.
Thirst is actually one of the ‘final straws’ on the path to dehydration, when our body is saying, ‘May day! Pleasssseeeee water me now.’
And if you do get in the recommended amount of water, it’s important to question if your body is absorbing that water (or are you just peeing it out right away?).
The answer?: Electrolytes—the substances that help you retain and use the water you have consumed to the fullest potential.
No not artificial-flavored Gatorade that promote electrolyte ‘power!’ Electrolytes are readily available in the salt you flavor your meals with (sea salt sprinkled on your favorite sautéed greens, or mixed into your meat you cook up on the grill), as well as the fresh fruits and veggies, grown in mineral-rich soil (be aware of where you source your produce and meat).
By adding a little bit of salt in your diet, salt forces some water to keep it company outside the cells (balancing the amount of water both outside and inside the cells, and keeping you well hydrated!).
A rough rule of thumb for your salt intake would be about half a teaspoon for every 8-10 glasses of water (about 2 quarts)—pretty easy to do! A little dab will do you, and keep your effort at increasing your water intake, working like it should.
In short: Drink up some high quality H2O.
And one more tip: Invest in a filtered water bottle to cut out all the grime some water may have, while also ensuring you are “armed and ready” with your water supply for the day.
I love this one.
Be kind to your body, it’s the only place you have to live.