You might not think twice before grabbing a bottle of water, can of soda, or glass of wine. They can all complement a great meal, right? In reality, beverage selection can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
Hydration determines how you move, think, feel, and behave — and it could keep various health issues at bay. Despite this, many of us either fail to drink enough or opt for beverages that don’t truly hydrate.
Yes, water is the healthiest beverage, and there is no doubt about it. To convince you to improve your hydration habits, we’ve compiled a guide on all things hydration: why it matters, how it could change your life, and which beverages are best for quenching your thirst.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF HYDRATION
Over half the human body consists of water, so it stands to reason that hydration is important. If you pay attention to your thirst cues — and if you drink the right beverages — you could gain the following exciting health benefits:
Improved Physical Performance
Athletic activity calls for a high degree of hydration. Whether you hit the basketball court, the softball field, or your local walking path, you’ll quickly find that a lack of water harms your performance, comfort, and mood.
At upper levels, hydration is tied to huge performance gains; hence, the emphasis on water intake among marathoners, professional athletes, and other elite athletes. Hydration is just as important for everyday individuals, however, as it limits muscle fatigue and promotes recovery post-workout. With proper hydration, it’s possible to exercise longer and at a higher level of intensity.
Better Cognitive Function
Looking for a simple way to give your study session a boost? A glass of water might do the trick. A growing body of research indicates that hydration plays an integral role in cognitive function, with studies suggesting that even mild dehydration can have a negative impact on concentration and reaction time.
Hydration can also impact mood, which, in turn, affects cognitive performance. A noteworthy study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry demonstrates that adults who consume two or more cups of plain water daily are less likely to suffer depression or anxiety.
When you picture a ‘typical’ weight loss regimen, you probably imagine strict calorie counting or portion control. While managing food intake is important, it might be worthwhile to shift your focus away from what you cannot consume and toward the hydration your body so desperately needs.
Without sufficient water, you might be tempted to reach for the snacks you’re so determined to avoid. This tendency stems from the mixed signals that the human body receives while thirsty. Many people confuse this urge with a need to eat when what they actually require is water.
Water breaks down food to help the body absorb key nutrients. Proper hydration leads to softer stool and regular bowel movements, thereby dramatically reducing the likelihood of constipation. While previous misconceptions have led some people to believe that drinking water during a meal harms digestion, experts actually believe that the opposite is true: water promotes the proper function of the digestive enzymes secreted by the stomach.
Reduced Risks of Disease
Do you feel like you’re constantly fighting off a cold or flu? These and other illnesses can feel a lot more burdensome when you’re dehydrated. Hydration is essential to keeping the mucus membranes lining the nasal passage moist so they function optimally as part of the body’s first line of defense against airborne pathogens.
Inhaled viruses that cause colds and flu become trapped in the sticky mucus covering the membranes and are prevented from reaching the lungs. When you cough up mucus or blow your nose, viruses and other unwanted microbes are expelled from the body. Water helps your body circulate blood more freely, transporting white blood cells to all parts of your body to fight viral infections. Drinking fluids during a fever helps with dehydration, which can make you feel better and heal faster.
HEALTHIEST BEVERAGES TO DRINK
We’ve touched on the why of hydration, but questions of how and when to hydrate can be just as complicated. While many beverages promise to quench your thirst, some are misleading in these claims — and some are downright damaging to your health. When in doubt, stick with these healthy options:
There’s no denying the importance of water, and yet, it’s common to forget that this is a perfectly acceptable — if not preferable — alternative to alcoholic beverages, soda, and other drinks.
The answer to the question “Is water a beverage?” might seem obvious, but consider how often this is the exclusive accompaniment to your meal. A shocking report published in the peer-reviewed journal Appetite reveals that one in five children do not drink any water on any given day.
Even those who do consume water regularly struggle to drink enough. Sometimes, the main problem is that we don’t know how much water we should actually drink. While cliched advice suggests that we should aim for eight glasses a day, the actual amount needed will vary based on physical activity, diet, and many other factors.
It’s technically possible to consume too much water, but it’s incredibly rare. Instead of trying to consume as much as possible, pay close attention to your body’s cues. If you continuously have a water bottle by your side and take small sips throughout the day when you have an inkling of thirst, you’ll have no trouble staying hydrated.
The type of water you consume can have an impact. In most areas, tap water is perfectly safe to drink, although bottled water can ease fears when you’re traveling. Plain water is generally preferable, but we’ll also discuss ways to punch up your usual glass of H2O.
When you’re craving soda and a glass of plain water just won’t do, sparkling or flavored water could be an acceptable alternative. This bypasses the worst effects of sugar-sweetened beverages but satisfies that fizzy craving.
Our sour receptors are to thank for the slight bite of our favorite sparkling drinks, with the degree of stimulation determining whether we enjoy or dread it. For this reason, the same sparkling beverages that inspire so much passion in some are avoided by others.
Whether carbonated or not, the right flavoring can make water a lot more appealing. However, some flavoring options are much healthier than others. Many are loaded with the very artificial sweeteners we’ve been advised to avoid in diet soda, with some also adding sources of coloring that nutritionists find problematic.
Other sources of flavor, however, are actually quite healthy: a splash of lemon, for example, may provide a quick energy boost, while some people believe that cucumber water reduces bloating. In general, opt for strictly natural sources of flavor whenever possible.
If you need a change from your usual water but don’t want to deal with the negative health outcomes tied to other beverages, your best bet is unsweetened tea. Different types of tea have different benefits, but all can be counted on to provide calorie-free hydration.
What’s more, tea feels soothing on a sore throat, so it’s a natural go-to when you’re battling an illness. Other advantages vary based on the type of tea, as outlined below:
- Green tea. As a mild source of caffeine, green tea is tied to many positive health effects, such as improved mental alertness and reduced blood pressure. Enjoy in lieu of energy drinks for a healthy boost to start your day.
- Ginger tea. Ease digestive issues with a simple cup of ginger tea, which is a proven favorite for dealing with nausea and bloating. This is a healthy alternative to ginger ale and ginger beer.
- Peppermint tea. Another excellent option for dealing with digestive concerns, peppermint tea is highly soothing when you’re ill and can even ease bad breath in a pinch.
- Nettle tea. As an ancient remedy, nettle tea remains popular to this day for its inflammation-easing abilities. Research suggests that this type of tea may also lower blood pressure.
100% Fruit or Vegetable Juice
At first glance, fruit and vegetable juices might seem like a healthy, even important part of your diet. They contain vitamins, hydrate your body, and taste wonderful…what’s not to love?
As it turns out, these juices are nowhere near as healthy as they seem. They may be natural, but they still provide a concentrated dose of sugar with none of the fiber that actual fruits and vegetables have to offer. Worse, they can wreak havoc on your enamel. Enjoy them as an occasional treat, but never in lieu of water.
PROMOTE HEALTHY HYDRATION HABITS WITH A MASTER OF SCIENCE IN NUTRITION
Whether you’re determined to improve your own hydration or make your mark in the community at large, you’ll be amazed at how much there is to learn about the foods and beverages you consume every day. The right degree will prepare you to excel in the nutrition and dietetics field.
At Johnson & Wales, we offer multiple programs that prepare you for success in a highly influential and rewarding profession. These include the Bachelor of Science in Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship, as well as our Master of Science in Nutrition. Get in touch today to learn more about these exciting opportunities.