Wise Up on Water


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Water has got to be one of the most boring beverages there is. Now don’t get me wrong — I love water, and we wouldn’t survive without it. I mean no disrespect. But water is tasteless, colorless, and odorless and, in general, has nothing in it (provided it’s clean, of course). How exciting is that?

Yet as bland as water is, there are some myths and controversies surrounding this innocuous drink. I thought I’d take this week as an opportunity to answer some of the questions that many people have about water and set the record straight.

1. Will drinking water help you lose weight?

Health-care professionals used to snicker at this question. It’s along the lines of ordering a diet soda with the super-sized burger and large fries. But there may actually be some truth to water’s reputed weight-loss abilities. First, some people do find that drinking water can fill them up. And it stands to reason that a full stomach means that you’ll probably eat less. So, if you find that having a glass of water before a meal helps you cut back on your food intake, then, by all means, keep at it! Second, there is some research that actually backs up this claim. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in September, researchers reported that overweight children who drank two cups of cold water had a significant increase in their resting energy expenditure (the number of calories required to maintain typical body functions in a resting state, such as lounging on the couch). While this study was done with children, a previous study showed similar results for adults. So, the answer to this question is a resounding maybe!

2. Will drinking water with a meal affect digestion in any way?

The quick answer to this is “no.” There is no reason why you shouldn’t drink water before, during, or after you eat. Several years ago, an “urban legend” was circulating claiming that drinking cold water while eating a meal would cause the fat in the food to solidify in your digestive tract, slowing down digestion, and causing the fatty sludge to interact with digestive acids which would, in turn, increase the risk of cancer. This isn’t true. Cold water doesn’t solidify fat in the gut. And contrary to popular belief, water doesn’t dilute digestive juices. In fact, drinking water while you eat your meal can actually help your food be digested. Also, many of the foods we eat contain quite a bit of water, especially fruits and vegetables. So we’re already consuming water when we eat these foods. Drinking water can make it easier to swallow food, too.

3. Do you have to drink 8 cups of water every day?

How much water one needs is similar to how much carbohydrate one needs. The answer is: it depends. The Institute of Medicine states that an adequate daily beverage intake for men is about 13 cups per day, and for women, 9 cups per day. This includes all beverages, however, not just water. If you’re an avid exerciser, live at a high altitude, or happen to live in a hot climate, you’ll likely need to drink more water than, say, an elderly, sedentary person living in Alaska. Likewise, if you’re ill, pregnant, or breast-feeding, you need to drink more water than a healthy or nonpregnant person. So, while the guideline to drink 8 cups of water every day isn’t 100% accurate, it’s not bad advice and, in fact, it’s a pretty good goal to aim for.

4. Will drinking water help lower blood glucose levels?

Here’s another reason to aim for those 8 glasses each day: A study of more than 3600 men and women with “normal” blood glucose levels showed that those who drank at least 34 ounces of water every day were 21% less likely to develop high blood glucose levels over the next nine years than those drinking 16 ounces or less of water each day. Researchers can’t exactly say for sure why this is, but it may have to do with a hormone called vasopressin, which regulates water balance in the body. A word of caution: Don’t count on water replacing your diabetes medicine. You still need to take your medicine, as prescribed. Drinking water when your blood glucose is high may help your kidneys flush out some of the extra glucose in your blood and possibly, any ketones in your urine. It can also help prevent dehydration. So, while water isn’t a replacement for insulin or diabetes pills, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to jump on the (water) wagon.

5. Will drinking water hydrate your skin?

Now that the cold weather is here, you may notice that your skin is dry and flaky. It’s important, when you have diabetes, to keep your skin hydrated, as dry skin is more likely to crack, paving the way for infection. However, drinking 8 or more glasses of water every day isn’t necessarily the way to keep your skin smooth and supple. When you drink water, it goes through your digestive tract, just like food. Some of the water is needed to remove wastes and the rest is absorbed into your bloodstream where it’s taken up by cells in the body. Water doesn’t directly go to your skin to hydrate it. Of course, drinking water is essential for health (and your skin needs water). But if your skin is dry, it’s best to treat it with a moisturizer. Also, protecting your skin from the cold and wind will help, too.

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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