Becky Varner is a registered dietitian who has written columns on healthy eating for The Oklahoman's Wednesday Life section since 2005. Becky's columns will now appear twice a month on Tuesdays and cover healthy living in the kitchen and beyond.
Water is vital for life, and summertime in Oklahoma is when hydration is most critical.
Water is perhaps the most essential nutrient for the body and yet it is often taken for granted. Summer heat makes it essential to emphasize the importance of consuming plenty of water.
Every cell, tissue and organ in the body contains water and almost every life-sustaining process in the body requires water. It is an essential component of every fluid in the body including blood, digestive juices in the stomach, saliva and urine.
Water regulates the body temperature, is necessary for digestion of food and helps move food through the digestive tract. It transports vital nutrients and oxygen to body cells and carries waste products away.
Water keeps many body tissues such as the eyes, nose and mouth moist, helps to lubricate joints and cushions organs and tissues throughout the body. It is the most abundant substance in the human body.
Dehydration can be life-threatening. Your body needs a constant supply of water to keep it functioning properly. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) from the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies set the Adequate Intake (AI) for total water for women ages 19 and older at 2.7 liters a day (pregnant and lactating women is higher) and total water for men ages 19 and older at 3.7 liters a day. These amounts may seem like a lot but the total water amounts include all water contained in food, beverages and drinking water. One liter is about one quart or four cups. The AI for life stage and gender groups is believed to cover the needs of all healthy individuals in the groups.
However, lack of data or uncertainty in the data prevent being able to specify with confidence the percentage of individuals covered by this intake. Individual needs vary from person to person and from one day to another.
Various factors such as climate, physical activity, diet, exposure to very hot or very cold temperatures, strenuous work or exercise, exposure to heated or recirculated air for lengthy periods of time, pregnancy, breast feeding, fever, diarrhea and vomiting can all affect fluid needs.
High fiber diets cause the body to require extra water to process additional roughage and to prevent constipation. It is also possible for some people to drink too much water.
Your physician can give specific recommendations for the amount of fluid you need.
In healthy people, water intake and loss usually stay in balance. If you consume more than you need the kidneys simply eliminate the excess. Insufficient consumption will trigger the sensation of thirst. However, thirst is not always an accurate mechanism to determine the need for water. This may be seen in elderly people, children, during hot weather, illness or strenuous exercise. Waiting to feel thirsty may be too long.
The average adult loses about 2½ quarts (10 or more cups) of water daily through bodily functions like perspiration, urination and breathing. Warm weather and exercise both increase fluid loss as the body tries to cool itself by perspiring.
Jim O. Winham, BSN, RN, NREMT-P, General Manager of Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) identifies some early symptoms of dehydration as dry mouth, headache, dizziness and being less alert. He cautions to focus on preventing dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, and to dress appropriately for the hot weather.