You’ve probably heard you’re supposed to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. That’s almost enough to fill a 2 liter bottle—which even the most diligent water-drinkers may find daunting. But the classic advice is not the end-all-be-all of water intake. In fact, it’s pretty misleading.
“Fluid requirements vary among individuals based on age, sex, activity level, and even where you live,” Jessica Fishman Levinson, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., founder of nutrition counseling company Nutritioulicious tells SELF. Your personal fluid requirements also can vary each day, depending on the other things you’re doing, eating, and drinking.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that women get 2.7 liters—that’s 11 cups—of water per day. Note, they don’t say you need to drink 11 cups of water a day. That includes all sources of water—from a basic glass of tap, to a cup of coffee, to the water content of the foods you eat (which, the IOM estimates, makes up about one-fifth of your daily fluid intake). If you listen to your body—drink when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry—chances are you’re going to get what you need, or pretty close to it. So stop sweating the eight glasses a day hubbub and think about it this way instead:
All fluids count toward your daily intake, not just plain old H20.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the benchmark should really say “eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid,” not water, because drinking things like milk, tea, and juice contribute to your total. “Good options for hydration without added calories are waters infused with fruit and herbs, unsweetened tea, and sparkling water,” Levinson says.
So does the water you get from the foods you eat.
“Your body absorbs water in foods just like it would liquids,” Levinson says. Many fruits and vegetables have high water content. Some good options: watermelon (duh), cucumbers, lettuce, celery, tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, and grapefruit. Even soup, Jell-O, and ice pops count as fluid.
On the flip side, some foods and drinks can increase how much water you need.
“Foods with a diuretic effect, such as alcohol and asparagus, may cause you to excrete more water so you may need more,” Levinson says. If you eat high-sodium foods, your body likely will retain more water, leaving you thirstier. Drinking more fluids will help dilute your system and get fluids moving regularly again.
Since you’re not always keeping track of these “sneaky” sources of fluids, the best way to gauge your intake is by how your body feels.
If you’re thirsty, your body’s telling you that you need more water. “You might already be dehydrated,” Levinson says. Another good way to determine your fluid status is by taking a peek inside the toilet after you pee. “If your urine is light yellow, you’re probably getting enough fluids. If it’s dark or smells strongly, you probably need more water.”
To make sure you’re hydrated, keep a refillable water bottle with you all day so you can constantly sip whenever you want, and make a conscious effort to drink more whenever you’re getting sweaty. For more tips, check out these 12 easy ways to drink more water every day.
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