Most of us realise that eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day is important for a balanced diet and helps us stay healthy. But how much fluid should you be drinking? And do drinks such as tea, coffee and soft drinks count towards your daily fluid intake? Or is water the only really healthy option to drink?
There’s a lot of confusion about what and how much you should drink each day. But it’s important to drink enough water, as it plays a major part in the way the body functions. Not only does it help to lubricate your joints and your eyes, it’s also good for your digestion, helps to regulate your body temperature, flushes out waste and toxins, helps prevent conditions such as kidney stones and urinary tract infections, plus it keeps your skin healthy. And of course, not drinking enough can also lead to dehydration.
Water fact: According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), water is a major constituent of the human body. It makes up around 70% of the body in newborns, but this amount decreases as you get older (elderly bodies, for instance, are made of approximately 55% water).
How much is enough?
There are several recommendations for how much water you should drink:
- According to the NHS, here in the UK people should drink about 1.2 litres – that’s six to eight glasses of fluid every day to stop them from getting dehydrated. In hotter countries you will need more, as you may lose more water through sweating
- BDA experts recommend a different amount for men and women. According to guidelines, adult males should drink 2 litres of water a day, while adult females should aim for an intake of 1.6 litres
- The European Food Safety Authority advises an intake of 2.5 litres of water for men and 2 litres of water a day for women – though it recognises that only 70-80% of this amount should come from fluids, since 20-30% of our daily water intake comes from food, such as soup, stews, fruits and vegetables
As these recommendations vary you may want to aim for a minimum of 1.2 litres a day, and increase this amount on hotter days and when you’re exercising. Try to always have regular drinks throughout the day, especially whenever you feel thirsty, and check the colour of your urine; if you’re drinking enough, says the BDA, it should be a straw or pale yellow colour (if it’s darker, you need to drink more). Meanwhile, remember that it’s also possible to drink far too much fluid, which in rare cases can be dangerous because it lowers the level of salt in your blood.
What should you drink?
All fluids contain water so they all count towards your daily intake. But some make healthier choices than others. Plain water for instance is often the best thing to drink because it contains no calories or sugars. If you’re not keen on the taste of water, try adding a splash of juice or a slice of lemon or lime.
The following can also count towards your daily fluid intake:
Not only does milk provide water, but it’s also a good source of calcium and protein, as well as other vitamins and minerals. The healthiest types are semi-skimmed or skimmed – though avoid giving these to young children, as they should drink only whole milk until they reach their second birthday. Try to avoid flavoured milks and milkshakes too, as they tend to contain added sugar.
Tea and coffee
The NHS claims it’s fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet – though both contain caffeine, which can make you produce urine more quickly than non-caffeinated drinks, especially if you drink a lot of it. One solution is to choose decaffeinated tea and coffee, or to try fruit and herbal teas.
The healthiest way to drink tea and coffee is to drink them without sugar – plus watch out for flavoured syrups, which are often added to coffee shop drinks, as these are high in sugar. If you must have your tea or coffee sweet, the NHS guidelines state that artificial sweeteners are safe to use.
Many squashes contain a lot of sugar, which is bad news for your teeth and your waistline. If you want to drink squash that contains added sugar, try to dilute it really well to reduce its sugar content. Alternatively, consider trying one of the many no-added-sugar squashes that are available in most supermarkets.
One small glass of fruit juice counts as one of your recommended 5 daily portions of fruit and vegetables. But it’s good to remember that fruit juice is naturally high in sugar, even those labelled as unsweetened. This is why the NHS recommends drinking no more than 150ml of fruit juice each day.
You could also try watering down fruit juice. Try one third juice to two thirds water for a healthier drink. Or dilute juice with sparkling water to make a healthy alternative to fizzy soft drinks, many of which contain both sugar and caffeine.
Looking for the healthy option? Go to our Your health matters website for everything you need to take care of your physical wellbeing. Eat well with nutrition tips and a cook along video. Move more with easy exercise tips and a personal training video. Learn to rest and relax with a simple yoga video.
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