The New Daily

Why we should all be ‘eating’ more water

New claims from experts challenge our basic assumptions about healthy hydration.

man water

Thirsty? Maybe don't reach for that bottle. Photo: Getty

Health experts have long been telling us we don’t need to drink eight glasses of water a day – it’s the health myth “that refuses to die”, in the words of one particularly frustrated doctor.

Now, some experts are saying we should consume more of our water in the food we eat – but for very different reasons.

Last week, Dr Howard Murad, associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, told several media outlets that eating more water-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables is preferable to drinking water — a claim he has written about extensively.

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According to Dr Murad, this is because the body absorbs this water more slowly “because it is trapped in the structure of these foods”, and the water stays in your system for long enough for the body to put it to good use. 

Other experts support his message, but disagree with his reasoning. Murdoch University biochemisty lecturer Dr Garth Maker says he’s not aware of any evidence supporting the longer retention claim.

“Following digestion in the stomach and the small intestine, food is effectively broken down for absorption,” Dr Maker said.

boy watermelon getty

He’s got the right idea. Photo: Getty

“Based on this, I’d expect there to be no difference in rate of absorption between water consumed directly and contained within food.”

But there are still strong reasons to follow Murad’s advice.

Why ‘eating’ water is a good idea

Deakin University diet expert Associate Professor Tim Crowe agrees that it’s better to eat your fluids than drink them, so long as you replace your water bottle with healthy snacks like carrots and apples.

His reasoning is that fruits and vegetables are the foods with the highest water content, and are a more nutritious method of hydration than plain water.

“If you eat those fruits and vegetables you’ll get a lot of water from them, but you’re also getting their other benefits to your health – vitamins and minerals and potentially fibre too.”

The average person gets about a quarter of their daily water intake from the food they eat, and Assoc Prof Crowe says by bumping this up so that foods satisfy closer to half their fluid needs people stand to make themselves much healthier.

Drink responsibly

Assoc Prof Crowe also says people shouldn’t drink large amounts of water in the belief it makes them healthier. In fact, sometimes doing this can be the opposite of healthy.

“There’s no extra health benefit from drinking lots and lots of additional fluid. You can only be hydrated to a certain level, and beyond that you’ll just wee out what you drink straight away.

water glasses

The ‘eight a day’ mantra could be wrong. Photo: Getty

“It’s also possible to overhydrate, to drink so much water that you dilute the sodium in your blood. It’s a condition known as Hyponatremia, where the body doesn’t have enough time to get rid of the excess fluid, and that can potentially be fatal.”

So how much water do you need in a day?

National guidelines say men need to take in 3.4 litres of water every day, and women 2.8 litres.

A quarter of this amount comes from solid foods — even if you’re not consciously trying to “eat” more water as Assoc Prof Crowe and Dr Murad suggest – which means men need to take in 2.6 litres of fluid and women 2.1 litres.

Assoc Prof Crowe says even these recommendations should only be treated as rough guides, given it’s hard to prescribe a fixed figure for how much water our bodies need on a daily basis.

“People’s water needs change depending on the climate, your body weight and how active you are, so it’s extremely variable from person to person: You might need four times that amount if you’re an avid exerciser.

“That’s why they’re called water ‘guidelines’: just because you’ve met the guidelines, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve met your personal needs.”

Assoc Prof Crowe says they most effective way to drink water is throughout the day and in small quantities, rather than all at once.

“Your body can’t store water, but it can absorb more if it doesn’t pass through you as quickly.”

  • Kevin_Loughrey

    There have been studies done by Dr Michael Mosely, investigating whether there is any truth to the assertion that drinking water before a meal diminished the appetite and therefore assists weight loss. In this, water is drunk before a meal. An MRI
    reveals that it is very rapidly absorbed by the stomach. It does little to diminish the appetite and people will feel hungry sooner after the meal if they have not eaten sufficient. If, on the
    hand, you eat a vegetable soup, for some reason the water is not
    absorbed at anything like the same rate by the stomach and, instead,
    there is more absorption by the small and large intestines.

    So, in summary, Dr Murad is absolutely correct.

    The article, without saying it directly, touches on the fact that genetics and gender play a significant role in how much water people need to be healthy. If ever you take mixed gym classes, you will invariably see the men with a large bib of sweat down the front and a equal river-band down the spine whilst the women, doing similar exercises, are nowhere near as sweaty. Hairiness will also, to some extent determine how much water is lost through perspiration as will skin texture and pigmentation; particularly when outdoors.

    It is therefore not possible to formulate “one rule suits all”.

    As one gauge of whether you are taking in enough water, the subject of small and large intestines brings us to faeces. If a person is not getting enough water in food and through drinking, their faeces will be harder. This causes people to damage their colon whilst trying to defecate, leading to Coeliac disease and possibly also contributing to Diverticulitis. If, on the other hand, you are taking sufficient water, you will not be suffering from this problem and that is most probably one of the best indicators as to whether or not you are doing the right thing.

    Once again, unfortunately, there is no simple rule but this is as good a guide as any and, if you can’t seem to get it right, you should see a doctor because, chances are, there may be something else in play which needs to be attended to.

    • Ian

      As the saying goes: “Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow.”

  • edweirdo

    If you are reasonably well and reasonably fit your body will tell you when you need more water. it is called being thirsty, but firstly you have to understand your bodies signals and the difference between hunger and thirst.
    Alcohol affects your perception, especially after recovering from a hangover, you may be dehydrated or just lusting after another beer.

  • Mike at Old Bar

    Nothing more irritating than a lot of young women who have to suck on a water bottle every twenty seconds, seems to be common among checkout operators for some reason, and they tend to look anaemic and have lank rats-tail hair.
    Not sure if they are trying to cure themselves of anaemia and rats-tail hairism or whether the excessive water sucking is causing it.
    I prefer to suck on a stubby.

    • Chris

      I am not sure how you come to the conclusion about the check out operators and their hair -by the way it is a unfair and cheap shot at hard working, lovely young people- but for your information it is more to do with talking to the customers and the mouth drying out plus of course trying to stay hydrated.
      Maybe you should get of the grog and have some water it will help detox your liver and your brain.

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