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Hydration and your health

Your body is nearly two-thirds water so it’s really important that you get enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. If you don’t get enough fluid you might feel tired, get headaches and not perform at your best.

How much fluid do I need?

It depends on things like the weather and how much exercise you do, but European recommendations suggest women need about 1.6 litres (2 ¾ pints) fluid per day (8 x 200 ml or 8 x 8 fl oz) and men need about 2.0 litres (3 ½ pints) fluid per day (10 x 200 ml or 8 x 8 fl oz).

This is on top of fluid you get from food – on average we get 20% of our water intake from food! Foods with a high water content include fruits, vegetables, soups and stews.

What counts towards my fluid intake?

The most obvious source of fluid is plain water. Tap or bottled water is a great source of fluids, with no added calories or risk of tooth damage. If you don’t like plain water try adding a slice of lemon or lime, or a small amount of no added sugar squash or fruit juice. You could also try sparkling water. Be careful if choosing flavoured bottled water as many contain added sugar!

Although water is a great option, you can also get fluid from lots of other sources:

1. Tea and coffee

Tea and coffee are good sources of water. Although they contain caffeine this doesn’t affect hydration if you drink them in moderate amounts (about 3-4 mugs per day). Pregnant women should limit their intake to no more than 2 mugs of instant coffee or 2 and a half mugs of tea a day.

If you drink lots of tea or coffee you could try swapping them for de-caffeinated varieties or herbal teas. Also, remember that sugar and syrups add calories (1 teaspoon sugar = about 16 calories) and can cause tooth damage if consumed regularly!

2. Milk

Milk is a good source of water, as well as providing lots of essential nutrients such as calcium, protein and B vitamins. It also won’t damage your teeth. A glass of milk, milk added to cereal and milk in tea or coffee all count towards your fluid intake.

For a healthier choice go for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk to limit your intake of saturated fat. You should also limit your intake of flavoured milks, milkshakes, condensed milk and milk-based energy or malt drinks, which contain added sugar.

Remember, whole milk is recommended for children under 2 years because they might not get the energy they need from lower fat milks. From 2 years semi-skimmed milk can be introduced slowly as long as the child is eating a balanced diet and is growing well.

3. Fruit juices

Fruit juices contain water, as well as various vitamins that are good for your health. A small glass (150 ml or 6 fl oz) counts as 1 portion of your 5 A DAY, but can only ever count as 1 portion however much you drink. This is because juice doesn’t contain the fibre found in whole fruit. Also when fruit is juiced the sugars are released and this can damage your teeth.

Try to stick to 150 ml (6 fl oz) per day of unsweetened fruit juice and watch out for ‘juice drinks’, which often have extra sugar added to them and may not have enough fruit to count as 1 of your 5 A DAY.

4. Soft drinks

Soft drinks include fizzy drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice drinks and flavoured waters. They are a source of water but often contain lots of added sugar as well. Energy drinks (and some sports drinks) have high levels of caffeine too, which can affect hydration levels. Try to limit your intake of these types of drinks and choose low or no calorie versions for a healthier alternative. Sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice is also a good substitute for fizzy drinks.

Did you know? Some fizzy drinks contain more sugar per can than the recommended maximum daily sugar intake!

We’ve got some top tips to help control your sugar intake.

5. Alcoholic drinks

Alcohol increases the amount of water you lose as urine, so drinks with a high alcohol content (i.e. wines and spirits) aren’t a good choice to stay hydrated. Normal strength beers, lagers and ciders (4-5% ABV) are more dilute so do give you a net fluid gain; however it’s still important to keep alcohol intake within the recommended limits:

  • Men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units* of alcohol a week. Ideally, this should be spread evenly over 3 days or more.
  • Drinkers should limit the amount they consume on single occasions, and intersperse drinking alcohol with eating food and drinking water.
  • Pregnant women should avoid drinking altogether.

*Units in some standard drinks:

Pint of lower-strength beer, lager or cider (3.6% ABV) = 2 units

Standard glass of wine (175 ml, 12% ABV) = 2.1 units

Single small shot of spirits (25 ml, 40% ABV) = 1 unit

Tips for staying hydrated

  • Have a drink as soon as you wake up in the morning
  • Take a bottle of water with you if you’re going to be out for a few hours
  • Have a drink with every meal
  • Keep a bottle of water with you at work
  • Drink water after exercising to replace fluid lost as sweat (water is fine for rehydrating after the kind of moderate activity most active people take part in)
  • Remember to drink before you feel thirsty