Although not a nutrient in the strict sense of the term, water is an often neglected component of our diet. In the human body, water has an important role to play, next to oxygen and is needed in the largest amount – almost twice the amount of the sum total of the nutrients. About 55 per cent to 60 per cent of an adult’s body weight is water but this depends upon how much of storage fat is present within the body. The water balance of the body is precisely maintained as the amount of water ingested is equivalent to the amount of water excreted or lost from the body.
Summer is that season of the year when the scorching sun coupled with high humidity and hot wind makes life uncomfortable for one and all. The high temperature results in sweating which leads to a loss of fluid along with the electrolytes-sodium, potassium and chloride from the body resulting in weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps and ultimately dehydration which is a serious health risk if left untreated. Since our body cannot store water, maintaining adequate hydration is the biggest challenge during summer. Water is the best zero calorie drink that one can have during summer as it does not add calories to the diet as most other beverages do.
Every system of our body depends on water and we need to have an adequate intake to survive, be fit and look good. Water is needed for the processes of digestion, absorption, transport of nutrients, oxygen and maintenance of the electrolyte balance throughout the body and also to regulate body temperature. In the colon, dietary fibre absorbs water and binds the waste materials together, thereby increasing the bulk of the stools. Since the stools are soft and bulky, they are easily eliminated thereby preventing constipation.
It helps fight fatigue, prevents heartburn, lessens back pain and may relieve headaches especially in people who are dehydrated.
In recent years there is an increase in the number of adults as well as children suffering from kidney stones as a result of inadequate fluid intake. Drinking plenty of fluid increases the volume of urine produced and also dilutes the concentration of substances that are likely to crystallise and form stones in the kidney.
Water moisturises the skin cells, flushes out impurities and improves blood circulation, thereby making the skin clear and glowing.
Water lubricates the lining of the respiratory and digestive systems and also the joints during movements thereby preventing friction and joint pain.
Water works as an appetite suppressant. Very often the body confuses thirst with hunger causing one to snack unnecessarily without being actually hungry, leading to an intake of extra calories. When a craving strikes first drink a glass of water and see if it passes. If the hunger pangs do not subside then you are really hungry.
The colour of the urine is the most reliable indicator of a person’s hydration status – lighter the colour of the urine, the better the fluid intake. If your urine is dark coloured and strong smelling it means that you need to increase your water intake.
A slight variation in the daily fluid intake does not seriously affect the water balance of the body. Excessive loss of water from the body can lead to dehydration and can be fatal. In case of rapid loss of water from the body it becomes very essential to quickly replace the water as well as the electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which are also lost along with water. A 10 per cent loss of fluid can be fatal. Deprivation of water can lead to poor absorption of food, delayed elimination of wastes, elevated body temperature, failure of the circulatory system and malfunctioning of the renal system.
Here are some ways to increase your fluid intake
Drink a glass of water on rising before you eat anything else and drink water between meals.
Drink a glass or two of water before leaving the house in the sun. Carry a bottle along with you to quench your thirst when required.
Keep your water bottle visible so that you remember to drink water while at work. Set reminders on your cell phone to remember to drink water every two hours or so, especially if working in an air conditioned environment.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)