Add drinking more water to your list of New Year’s resolutions. It’s one of the easiest improvements you can make to your dietary habits, with the greatest payoff. Skeptical? Find out how some simple sipping can help you to lose weight, sidestep health woes—and even look younger.
Anyone who has decided to follow the Atkins Nutritional ApproachTM knows a major contributor to weight-loss success is consuming enough water. Drinking water and losing weight go hand in hand for reasons that vary from flushing toxins out of the body to replenishing lost electrolytes and fluids after physical activity.
It seems simple enough, but for many of us, the so-called “8 x 8” rule—drinking eight 8-ounce glasses a day (that’s two quarts or four 16-ounce bottles)—means drinking a lot more water than we are accustomed to. Add to that the head-spinning decision of which type to drink—spring? filtered? mineral? flavored? seltzer?—and the mere thought of water can make you parched.
A Healthy Habit
Drinking water, which is naturally free of carbs, isn’t just important for weight loss; it’s vital to anyone seeking to slow the aging process and lead a healthier lifestyle. The trouble is, we read and hear it so often that we barely pay attention. So now hear this: Drinking an adequate amount of water is probably one of the most important changes you’ll ever make to your dietary habits. If you’re still not convinced, take a gander at the dozens of testimonials on this site from folks who say that switching from sugary drinks to lots and lots of plain old water was one of the keys to their triumph over excess pounds and other health problems.
“Next to oxygen, water is the most important nutrient that passes through our digestive system,” says Colette Heimowitz, vice president, director of education and research at Atkins Health & Medical Information Services. “Water has profound effects on our health.”
For starters, inadequate hydration is one way our bodies age faster. It causes cells to produce free radicals, which then destroy other cells. Circulation suffers as well, meaning less blood flow to the kidneys. When the kidneys cannot function properly, wastes and toxins accumulate in the body. One way to fight constipation and bad breath is through increased water consumption.
As is spelled out in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, it is vital to drink a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of “pure water” every day. Pure water means either filtered tap water or mineral or spring water. Diet soda, herbal tea and seltzer water are not included. Drinks with caffeine—including the new, caffeinated water—do not count toward those essential eight either, because caffeine can cause unstable blood sugar. Decaffeinated herbal teas, diet soda and seltzer water are acceptable, but drink them in addition to your eight glasses of the pure stuff.
“Drinking water helps you lose weight by detoxifying the body of impurities that have been stored in our fat cells,” says Heimowitz. “During Induction, you temporarily lose some water, so you need to rehydrate your body. Some people confuse thirst with hunger, but if they are well-hydrated, this risk is diminished.”
In other words, you might think you need to eat something when your body is actually craving water. By making sure you get enough water, you won’t find yourself in the mood to snack so often.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
The question of how much water a person should drink hit the newsstands in 2002 after several national news organizations published stories about the possible negative effects of drinking too much water. Citing the common “8 x 8” recommendation, these stories criticized the bottled-water industry for using “8 x 8” to market its product, saying there was no research to prove this much water is necessary. The stories reported that in extreme cases of people who exercised vigorously, such as runners, then gulped down bottles of water, a condition known as hyponatremia could develop in which the body’s sodium levels become dangerously low.
Unfortunately, using thirst as a gauge for knowing how much water you need isn’t the answer. By the time you are thirsty, you are probably already dehydrated.
Next year, the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, D.C., will release a long-awaited report on the issue, which may help clear up the question of how much is enough. As part of its continuing project to develop Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for nutrients, the NAS has been working on DRIs for electrolytes and water since 2001. Electrolytes, essential for normal metabolism and function, are soluble salts such as sodium, potassium and magnesium found in blood, tissue and other cells.
A Body of Water
In the meantime, we must decide for ourselves how much water is enough, based on our activity levels, body weight, age and environment, such as the climate we live in and the air in our workplace.
Our bodies are 70 percent water. Rapid weight loss, sweating, fever, diarrhea and inadequate consumption of water all disrupt the balance of water in our bodies. The average amount of water we lose every day due to ordinary body functions such as perspiration, elimination and even exhaling equals about two and a half quarts. That’s the equivalent of ten 8-ounce glasses of water that must be replenished every 24 hours!
“Of course, the food we eat also contains water, and you probably get about three cups of water a day in your food,” adds Heimowitz. That leaves six to eight cups per day that you’ll need to actually drink. “If you are exercising a lot or losing weight rapidly, you’ll need quite a bit more,” she says. Plus, low carb foods tend to contain less water. For the time being, advises Heimowitz, sticking with the recommended eight-glass minimum is a prudent practice.
What kind of water should you drink? It would seem like a silly question to our parents and grandparents. But the days when the only drinking water came out of the tap are long gone; today, bottled water is big business.
In 2002, Americans drank some 6 billion gallons of bottled water, according to the International Bottled Water Association (IWBA), an industry trade group. IWBA says per capita consumption of water rose to 21.5 gallons in 2002, up 10 percent from 2001. Here’s a brief guide to the bottled-water options out there, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (which regulates bottled water; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates tap water):
Artesian well water: This is water from a deep well that taps an aquifer, a water source contained within layers of porous rock, sand and earth that is under pressure from surrounding upper layers of rock or clay. When tapped, the pressure in the aquifer pushes the water upward, toward the surface. According to the EPA, water from these aquifers may be purer, as the rock and clay block out contaminants. But despite claims by bottlers, the EPA says there is no guarantee that artesian waters are any cleaner than other ground water.
Mineral water: This is water from an underground source that contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids that result from the water flowing over rocks before being collected. Minerals and trace elements must come from the source of the water, rather than being added later. Different brands of mineral water have different amounts of minerals, depending on the source and even the season.
Spring water: This is underground water that flows naturally to the earth’s surface. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a hole that taps into the underground formation feeding the spring.
Well water: This is water from a hole bored or drilled into the ground, which taps into an aquifer.
Sparkling, seltzer, soda and tonic water and club soda: These historically have been considered soft drinks because they may contain sugar or other sweeteners. Today, sugar-free versions are available.
Treated water: Some bottled waters come from municipal sources. In these cases, the water is treated before it is bottled. Some water treatments include:
A Fountain of Benefits
This year, there are countless reasons to make drinking more water a resolution you do your best to keep. In addition to the known health and weight-loss benefits, some nutritional experts promote water alone as a cure for ailments such as high blood pressure, headaches, heartburn, anxiety attacks, muscle pain, hot flashes, even angina. Many Atkins followers say the increase in their water intake helps them fight snack cravings and gives their skin a healthy glow.
Educate yourself regarding your choices, and simply make sure you always have a glass or bottle of water at your fingertips. Choose water over any other beverage you are offered. Eat vegetables such as lettuce, dark leafy greens, cucumbers and tomatoes that are high in water content. In later phases of Atkins, add fruits such as grapefruit and watermelon that are also good dietary sources of fluid. Let water become your new best friend; it won’t leave you high and dry.
* Janet Cappiello Blake is a freelance writer and mother of two girls. She follows the Atkins Nutritional Approach.
Balch, Phyllis A., CNC, Balch, James F., M.D., Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third Edition, (Avery, 2000)
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