When many people resolve to eating a healthier diet, they mostly focus on the food. That’s no surprise, considering how much we worry about consuming too many calories or grams of fat, sodium, and sugar.
However, an essential element of a healthy diet is water. About 60 percent of the human body is water, and every cell depends on water to carry nutrients and flush out toxins from your organs.
As your body functions, it uses that water, so drinking more fluids helps restore what’s lost through metabolism, breathing, sweating, and—um—using the restroom. Your activity levels will inform how much water you should be drinking. For example, if you spend several hours outside in the hot sun or working up a sweat at the gym, you’ll want to up your water intake.
The key to hydration is drinking water before you’re actually thirsty. It’s pretty common to go about your day without water until you’re feeling parched, but the feeling of thirst is actually the first symptom of dehydration. In fact, some nutritionists believe most people are actually chronically dehydrated, but they can’t tell because they’ve never experienced what it truly feels like to be well-hydrated.
But before you start shooting for eight glasses of water a day, hang on a sec: There is no scientific evidence that eight glasses of water every day will be the magic number for your water intake.
This myth began when the 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommended 2.5 liters of water a day; however, the next sentence clarified that this number includes the water present in our foods (hello, watermelon!). Many people get about 80 percent of their water from liquids and 20 percent from food.
Of course, plain water is the healthiest choice. It’s the only calorie-free way to hydrate without chemicals or flavors (unlike diet soda). If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, try infusing water with fruit. Go beyond a lemon slide and get creative: You can infuse water with anything from fresh strawberries to frozen diced mango. (Here’s an infused water that tastes like sangria!)
Other liquids such as milk, fruit juice, and herbal teas will also help with hydration. However, keep in mind these beverages may be high in sugar or can become high in calories if you drink them multiple times throughout the day.