Is Eight Enough? Part 1

For good health, were supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day, right?
Wrong, according to some leading nutritionists. One is Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor at Penn State who is a nationally-known writer on diet and an expert on the human bodys fluid balance. I dont know where that rule came from, she said. Most people get most of the water they need from their diets, and if they dont, our bodies have an exquisite mechanism to tell us when we need more water. When we do, we get thirsty.

But Tammy Baker, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, doesnt agree. Food contains water, yes, she said. But most people still need about eight glasses a day.

One problem with recommendations like the eight-glasses-a-day rule, Rolls said, is that peoples requirements vary. Most of us are getting a good proportion of the fluid we need from what we eat, she said. Our bodies have a complex set of systems that constantly detect how full of fluid our cells are, or whether our blood volume has decreased. When that happens, we get thirsty.

She said there are exceptions. In elderly people, the thirst-signaling system may not be functioning as well as it used to, and the result can be under-hydration. Older people admitted to hospitals for other reasons are very often seriously dehydrated. Some drugs, including those prescribed for diabetics, upset the fluid balance of the body and increase the need for water.

Rolls is the author of Volumetrics, a best-selling book on diet. She recommends eating foods that are high in water content, fiber or both — vegetables, most fruits, salads, cooked cereals, skimmed milk, cottage cheese, fish, rice, pasta and, of course, soup. They contain fewer calories per gram, and they fill you up without adding unwanted pounds. Energy dense foods like pork chops, bread, cheese, nuts, candy and cake do just the opposite; they deliver a heavy freight of calories before they produce that full feeling. They also contain less water.

Rolls also discounts a frequently-heard corollary to the 8-glasses-a-day rule: that coffee, tea and soft drinks dont count as part of the eight. Soft drinks and sports drinks can be a trap for dieters, though, she said, because they contain sugar, and that makes them a sneaky source of extra calories.

Experts say drinking caffeine can cause you to lose up to one-third of the fluid youve taken in, but the loss is less for people who regularly consume caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and colas. Alcoholic beverages do cause a net loss of fluids, although it usually takes more than one drink to produce that effect.

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