Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Can you drink too much water?


Something that I’ve been hearing a fair amount recently is that you can drink too much water. Ever since the eight cups of water rule-of-thumb was debunked a few years ago it seems that popular opinion is swinging the other way and people are concluding that we should drink less water.

While it’s certainly possible to drink too much water, it’s highly unlikely that the average person will manage to do so in the run of a day. The people dying from hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the body which can be caused by excessive water consumption) are usually athletes who are consuming more water than their bodies have lost and/or not enough accompanying electrolytes. I could also sit at a desk and chug a gallon of water with the same effect, but no one’s ever suggested that this is a good idea.

Okay, so you may not be likely to die from hyponatremia but aren’t you still putting a strain on your kidneys by drinking water throughout the day? Unless you have a medical condition, healthy kidneys can excrete as much as 12 litres of urine a day! (this is according to Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy by Mahan and Escott-Stump). That’s a damn sight more than 8 cups, 2-3 litres, or whichever recommendation you’ve heard. It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to cause damage to your kidneys by drinking water throughout the day and you’re more likely to suffer from dehydration than over-hydration.

Of course, the amount of water each person needs varies. It depends on how much water you’re losing through sweat, your altitude, pregnancy and breastfeeding, health status, etc. According to the Institute of Medicine, the average adult woman needs about 2.2 litres of fluids a day, the average adult man, about 3 litres. Thirst is certainly a great indicator that you should have something to drink. And it’s true that other beverages (yes, even coffee and tea) and foods can contribute to your overall hydration. Water is the most commonly recommended choice as it doesn’t contain any added calories, sugar, or other substances you might wish to avoid. It’s can also be free and is generally easily obtained.

Don’t be scared off by people saying that you can drink too much water. And don’t use it as an excuse to avoid drinking water all day. We are approximately 60% water and we need to consume adequate fluids to maintain healthy body function. Don’t ditch your water bottle!

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Drink up: Water myths

I think we’ve all heard by now that the previously prescribed 8 glasses of water a day is a myth. But other myths about water persist. One such myth is that we shouldn’t drink “too much” water. What exactly “too much” is, I’m not sure. In my mind, the only way you’re really drinking too much water is if you end-up with hyponatremia. Unless you’re an athlete exercising under conditions where you’re not sweating much but you’re consuming lots of water, this would take quite a feat of effort to induce through water consumption. I’m confident that the vast majority of people could quite safely consume considerably more water during the run of a day.

Of course, precise recommendations for water consumption are difficult to provide. On average, men should consume about 3 litres of fluid per day, women about 2.2. However, we get fluid from many beverages and foods than water. Which brings me to another myth: coffee and tea are dehydrating. Coffee and tea both count toward your fluid intake for the day.

I suggest keeping a reusable water bottle with you all day and drinking regularly; especially when thirsty or when sleepy. The majority of your fluid should be consumed in the form of water.

One final myth surrounds the consumption of water and meals. Many people drink a glass of water to fill them up before they eat if they’re trying to lose weight. We often mistake thirst for hunger so it’s a good idea to have a glass of water about 20 minutes before eating to ensure you’re not trying to eat away your thirst. Of course, if you need to gain weight (or if you’re a growing child), it’s best to keep food and fluids separate to ensure maximum food consumption. Others say not to drink water with meals because it will impair digestion. This appears to be another myth. Of course, everyone is different, and if you don’t like to drink water with a meal that’s perfectly fine. However, if you do enjoy a glass of water with your meal, go for it, you can probably use the hydration.

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Do caffeinated beverages cause dehydration?

Myth 35: Drinking tea causes dehydration.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“It’s a popular belief that tea is dehydrating because it has caffeine, but the level of caffeine you get from drinking moderate amounts of tea, even strong tea, doesn’t dehydrate you. Tea is actually 99.5 percent water and counts towards your fluid intake for the day, so it can help keep you hydrated… How or cold, tea is also hydrating and, with no added sugar, is calorie-free and tastes great.”
What I say:
Interesting how this myth centres on tea, no mention of coffee, and Lipton is one of the Nutrition Month sponsors this year. Coincidence? I think not. Anyway… Setting that aside, this statement by DC is all true. It is a common misconception that coffee and tea are dehydrating. Coffee and tea actually both count towards your daily total fluid intake. You can drink up to about 6 cups of coffee before the caffeine is going to have a dehydrating effect on you. Coffee and tea also have numerous health benefits. Coffee may have anti-cancer properties (caffeinated coffee has been linked to reduced rates of liver, colon, breast, and rectal cancers). Coffee may protect men, but not women, against Parkinson’s disease, and it may also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Health Canada has endorsed three health benefits from drinking tea: tea is a source of antioxidants, drinking tea can increase alertness, and tea may help maintain or support cardiovascular health. Health Canada tends to err on the side of caution so there may indeed be more health benefits associated with drinking tea. It’s important to note that these benefits are associated with black coffee and tea with nothing added. While you may still see health benefits from drinking tea or coffee with added milk or milk alternative you’re likely to see more negative health consequences than benefits if you’re drinking tea or coffee loaded with cream and sugar and especially if you’re drinking desserts masquerading as coffee as you see at many coffee shops.