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Water is important for your health, but do other beverages count toward meeting your daily fluid needs?
You’ve probably heard the old expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Well, I’ve got plenty of clients who are just like that horse. They know water is important to their health, and they’ve heard the common advice that they should drink about eight glasses of water a day. But as one client said to me recently, “This is going to sound strange, but I just hate water—there’s no way I can choke down eight glasses of plain water a day.” Which leads to the question: Can I drink water alternatives, and do any other beverages count?
In a word, yes—other beverages do count towards your daily liquid consumption. Many people take the water advice a bit too literally and assume that, even if they are drinking other beverages, they still need to drink eight glasses of plain water, too.
Some of the confusion has stemmed from the fact that many commonly consumed beverages contain caffeine, which is considered to be a diuretic. The thinking goes like this: if caffeine makes you urinate, then a caffeinated drink will surely cause you to lose more water than you take in, so a caffeinated drink can’t really be a fluid. Maybe it’s more like a ‘negative fluid.’
It turns out that, for the most part, this simply isn’t true. Here’s the good news for coffee and tea lovers. A review1 on the topic, summarizing numerous studies on the subject conducted over nearly 40 years, reported that taking in a large amount of caffeine at one time (around 300 mg, or what you’d get in 2-3 cups of strong coffee, and not an amount you’d drink all at once) can promote urination—but only in people who haven’t had any caffeine for weeks. Those who are habitual caffeine consumers develop a tolerance to the diuretic effects—much like they develop a tolerance to the stimulating effects. The report also stated that “doses of caffeine equivalent to the amount normally found in standard servings of tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks appear to have no diuretic action.” So, there you go: caffeinated beverages definitely count when it comes to meeting fluid needs.
Actually, all beverages, since they’re primarily water, can contribute to your fluid requirement. That means the likes of coffee, tea, fruit juice, broth, vegetable juice, sports drinks and low-fat milk. If, like my client, you just can’t face drinking water, these water alternatives still count.
Keep in mind that water is the ‘original beverage.’ It was the only option up until the time that tea was first consumed as a beverage some 3,000 years ago. Water’s natural, it’s readily available, and unlike many other beverages, water is calorie-free.
So, water should be your first choice, but plain coffee or tea are fine, too. And sports drinks, broth and vegetable juices are also relatively low in calories. But just because caffeine doesn’t ‘take away’ from your fluid intake, don’t rely on calorie-laden coffee drinks to meet your needs. If you do, you could really pile on the pounds—and meeting your fluid consumption needs will be the least of your problems.
1 Maughan RJ, Griffin J. J Human Nutrition & Dietetics. 2003
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.