Monday, December 5, 2011

Water and Weightloss (and so much more), and Why Soda is Just not a Substitute

Water is a great healer of the human body, and also the easiest thing we can do to improve our health...but don't. The benefits of water are simple and keeping your body hydrated is just the beginning. I know that I personally hate drinking water, resist it at all cost, and usually begrudgingly down a glass simply because I know I'll die if I don't do that occasionally. Luckily getting sweaty during my workouts usually encourages me to drink, and when I teach a class to my college students all that talking makes me take sips all day. Here I will discuss the health benefits, some of which will surprise you. Then I will offer some tips on how to increase your ability to drink water.

Water and weightloss
Weightloss - definitely. For one, we often confuse thirst for hunger, so drinking may actually help get rid of your desire to snack. It also helps you feel more full, by taking up space in your stomach. People tend to consume fewer calories per meal when they increase their water intake, and over time that means loosing weight. It also helps with preventing constipation and stored waste (a nice way of saying poop) adds to feelings of sluggishness, decreased ability to absorb nutrients, and, well...the stuff is just heavy. Water also increases your metabolism, and best of all prevents you from drinking other beverages that have calories. Americans now drink 300 calories a day. That may not seem like much but given that 3500 calories makes a pound -over the course of a year (365 days) that's 31 extra pounds!

Water and overall health
Sheesh, what DOESN'T water help with? Well for starters it helps control blood sugars, reduces the impact of high salt consumption on blood pressure, improves the poop problems (see above), keeps your skin healthy which not only makes you look amazing but keeps away infections, regulates metabolism, lubricates joints, helps you maintain your body's ability to regulate temperature, and best of all it flushes out the system. Now, this one is very unappreciated. Hydration flushes out toxins from the lymphatic system through increased blood volume, encourages good kidney function - which means all kinds of flushing of toxins, keeps the immune system working well (and that system removes all kinds of unmentionable things from the body), and generally keeps things running smoothly. Water also helps flush out lactic acid - the thing that makes muscles ache more after a work out. So drink more, feel better!

How much water should you drink?
So we've all heard that 8 glasses a day is the answer, but is that really true? Probably not. The number also includes water that is gained from foods. There is a lot moisture in fruits, veggies, and even some in breads and dairy. Not to mention that every body is different, so we all have a different need. So figure out your set point. Start with an empty milk jug - that's about 16 8oz cups. Pour in 1 cup at a time and mark the height on the outside of the jug. Then start drinking as you normally would in a given day. So you only drank 4 glasses fine. Using the same jug, increase you water intake the next day to 6 and see how you feel. Try 8 or 10. At some point you will look at the jug and think "I just can't drink anymore." See where that point is, and now you can use that jug (or a smaller container) to fill up every day to your set point. Then all you have to do is drink the container and not have to worry about counting or measuring.

Why we don't notice dehydration well
We are actually very bad at this simple task, and depending on where you live it may be even more challenging. If you live in a place where hot summers mean high humidity and lots of sweating, you'll think "gee, I should go drink something." If you live in a place with that pesky "dry heat" (or if you live in a cold climate the drying weather comes from more inside time, more heating appliances and fireplaces also means drier air) then you can easily become the victim of "imperceptible water loss." What does this cool phrase mean? It means that your body loses water through evaporation. That's why I get so thirsty when I'm teaching too! All that talking dries out the moisture in the mouth...imperceptible water loss! So, be sure to check in with that water jug if you notice signs of dehyration or just make a habit of it at the change of seasons!

Signs of mild dehydration
-Dry mouth
-Constipation or irregular bowels
-Sore muscles and joints
-Unclear thinking (just a 2% water loss can impair memory and basic math skills)
-Dry skin
-If you stop sweating or get chills during a work out or on a hot day
-Darker (yellower) urine
-Heart palpitations (racing heart)

Why soda sucks
Now the occasional treat is fine, but I know many of you are soda addicts - drinking one or more a day. If the 31 calories a year wasn't enough to make you want to stop, consider this: soda contains 3 tablespoons of sugar - and totally useless calories. It also gets its sugar solely from high fructose corn syrup, which is NOT the same as sugar. For one it is completely processed, and 33% of products have been found to contain mercury (which is used in this processing). The body metabolizes it differently from sugar as well. For example it produces advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are linked to aging and complications of diabetes. Fructose is more rapidly broken down in the liver then sucrose or glucose so it increases fat storage, fatty-liver, higher triglyceride production, and increased calorie consumption since you will feel hungry sooner. Another problem with soda is the caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee. Increased urination, means it is not a hydrating fluid. Now for those of you who say, but I drink sugar free or caffeine free, studies show that your brain still interacts with it like it has sugar and caffeine. It also still has artificial sweeteners, sodium, and additives. All of which are not nearly as good for your body as water.

So what else can you drink?
Water, water, and water are all good choices. Juice (which usually also contains high fructose corn syrup) is not a good option. You don't get the same nutritional benefits of drinking an apple or orange as you do eating it. Also, sugary beverages
actually encourage your body to urinate more (like soda) -so not a hydrating fluid. Any of the powders you add to water also add all those odd things, and sometimes calories or dyes. But if you hate water as much as I do there are a few things you can do: add a piece of cucumber or citrus fruit to the water. I personally really like to make cold herbal teas (so no caffeine). I love the fruit teas like blueberry, raspberry, and lemon. Another option is to figure out when you naturally drink fluids the most and increase it at those times. As I said, for me I try to drink the most during workout and when I am at work, but I have also learned that if there is water at the table I am more likely to drink it. I also know that temperature matters to me. I don't like very cold water, so I like the water jug out to be room temperature. If you like it ice cold - try getting a water bottle with a freezable center or keeping filled containers in the fridge so you can grab-and-go, and it saves money and waste from buying bottled water. Happy Hydrating!

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