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The heat and humidity of summer make it prime time for dehydration. And we all know the easiest solution: drink a lot of water. Sounds good, but what if you just don’t like the taste of plain water, and even the thought of carrying around a water bottle is a non-starter for you? You can’t ignore your body’s fluid needs, otherwise you’ll likely experience sleepiness, headaches, dry skin, dizziness or feeling light-headed.
And how much water do you really need to drink? The eight glasses of water a day is myth. Sure, it sounds good, but has no scientific basis. The 64 ounce estimate is okay for some, but too much or too little for others. It might surprise you to know that the best way to monitor your fluid intake is by thirst. But that means being mindful of when you are beginning to get thirsty — and not ignoring those early signals (when you’re parched and super-thirsty, that’s too late).
You want to address your fluid needs before you become dehydrated, and the easiest way is to take a peek in the toilet bowl after you pee! Your urine should be pale yellow, like the color of lemonade. If it’s darker than that, it means you need to boost your fluid intake.
So if you’re not a plain water drinker, how can you meet your body’s fluid needs? It’s easier than you think. And like all parts of a healthy lifestyle, you need to make this a daily habit to keep your body hydrated.
1. Add some sparkle.
Try seltzer or other bubbly water-based drinks.
Remember that clear doesn’t mean calorie free, so read the labels carefully. Save money with a one-time purchase of a seltzer-making machine, often offering a wide range of “bubble” options (lightly carbonated to super bubbly).
2. Flavor it up.
Add a chunk of fruit (fresh or frozen), cucumber, or sprigs of mint to plain or sparkling water.
Squeeze the fruit before plopping it in the glass for a real boost in flavor. Try a reusable bottle with a special slot for “add ins.”
3. Try a splash of 100 percent juice.
You’ll skip the extra sugar and calories by adding a splash or two of your favorite juice to flat or fizzy water. While juice can “count” towards your fluid intake, those calories can go towards a more nutrient-rich choice.
4. Turn to fruits and veggies.
Almost all fruits and veggies are mostly water (except corn, peas and potatoes). Cucumbers have the highest water content of any solid food, at 95 percent. Other top choices are celery, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, dark leafy greens and tomatoes (technically a fruit). You can’t go wrong with all fruits, especially watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwis and oranges. If you’re monitoring calories, include all produce, but swap out more veggies rather than extra fruit. Salads are the perfect all-in-one meal choice for a fluid boost.
5. Think about soup.
Hot or cold, you’ll get the same hydration choosing a clear or vegetable-based soup. Try some gazpacho, often called a “liquid salad." Make your own soup, or try some of the blends of “sipping soups” that are single serve and microwaveable.
6. Tea or coffee count.
Although caffeine is a mild diuretic, for healthy people it’s unlikely that a few cups of coffee or tea will promote dehydration; there’s still way more fluid contributing, than the small water loss caused by caffeine. But if you’re a high consumer, switch to decaf after a few cups, to optimize your fluid intake.
7. Dairy and milk-alternatives.
Don’t forget non- or low-fat milk for a full fluid refresh, along with loads of protein, calcium and vitamin D. And if you can’t drink milk (or choose not to), try a cup of almond, soy or coconut milk to help hydrate; these are all fortified with extra nutrients.
A word about alcohol: Be mindful of your alcohol intake. While it’s a liquid, alcohol is also a diuretic, causing the body to lose water. Drinking in moderation shouldn’t pose a problem, but make sure to make a non-alcoholic choice between cocktails, especially on a hot day.
For most people, boosting fluid intake is the main focus to prevent dehydration any time of year. But it’s both the body’s water and electrolyte (salt) balance that matter most. Make sure, especially when outdoors in the heat or exercising, that you include adequate salts with a sports drink, formulated to both hydrate and restore much-needed electrolytes. Or eat a pickle or two.
Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.