By Marsha N. Woolery
Water makes up 60 to 80 per cent of our bodies. Pure water is free of salt, rock, soil and garbage.
Water is needed to regulate body temperature, lubricate the joints and moisten the tissues of the eyes, mouth and nose. It lessens the work of the kidneys and liver by getting waste products out of the body, carries nutrients and oxygen to the cells and prevents constipation.
When a person has diarrhoea, vomiting, frequent urination (as in persons with high blood sugar levels) and excessive sweating (during exercise and on hot days), water is drawn from the cells of the body and this causes dehydration. Dehydration may cause headache, fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, weakness, rapid heartbeat, flaring up of asthma (as lungs become dry), joint pain (as lubrication decreases) and muscle cramps.
Water should be a part of the daily diet and lifestyle to prevent diseases such as high blood pressure and kidney failure. The drinking of water strengthens the heart by reducing the destruction of blood vessels and thus lowers the risk of heart disease. Water helps the kidneys to get rid of harmful substances in the urine. The cells of an elderly person hold less water and so they are more at risk of dehydration than the young, hence the importance of the older adult drinking water more often or having small amounts throughout the day.
When there is insufficient water in the diet, dry mouth may occur which makes it difficult to moisten food in the chewing process because of a reduction or lack of saliva. Water moistens the waste found in the large intestines or tripe and when there is not enough water in the diet, the faeces gets hard and difficult to expel causing constipation or a condition referred to as 'hard bound'. With the consumption of water, the risk of malnutrition is reduced as water which forms the liquid part of blood carries nutrients to the cells to keep us nourished.
The best sources of water include water (plain or flavoured), fruits, vegetables (and their juices), milk, tea and porridge. The recommendation for water varies from about four to eight cups per day depending on age, activity level, functioning of kidneys, and temperature inside and outside the body. The drinking of water should not depend on thirst, because thirst is a way of the body telling the individual that enough water is not in the cells and one should not wait until he/she is thirsty to drink water.
A tip for increasing water in the diet is to add your favourite fruit or vegetable juice such as lime, cucumber or lemon to plain water.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: email@example.com.