Healthy Ways to Stay Hydrated
For those of you that are just ready to have more energy and feel better, I’ve put together a review of the best and worst ways to stay hydrated, improve your metabolism and recover from your workouts. From Vitamin Water to Gatorade, mineral water to alkaline water, the unfounded health claims, misinformation and mega-marketing campaigns abound, leaving most Americans flat out dazed and confused when it comes to hydration. But the good news is that with a little common sense and self-awareness, you can learn what beverages, and how much, is right for you.
Although there is a dizzying array of sports drinks available at every gym, convenience store and supermarket, it is probably no surprise to you that clean, pure water is the cornerstone of good health and is absolutely essential to every function in your body- regardless or your level of activity. Unfortunately, it is access to pure clean water that is the problem. It’s common knowledge that most public water supplies are loaded with what many consider hazardous contaminants, such as disinfection byproducts, fluoride, and pharmaceutical drugs, to name just a few. Nevertheless, you DO need to make water your beverage of choice if you want to be healthy - but it should be purified water. In order to ensure your water is pure, you should use a high quality water filter in your home and workplace. You can narrow down the choices by making sure the product you choose is certified by a reputable independent water certification agency. One of the best, most stringent certification is UL. If a water purifier is certified by UL, the product claims have been verified, the system is structurally sound, and the literature and labeling is not misleading.
Two other less rigorous certifications are Pace Analytical, and The Water Quality Association (WQA). My favorite filter is a reverse/osmosis filter as it will remove virtually all of the pollutants, such as disinfection by products, fluoride, arsenic, lead, drugs in the water supply, rocket fuel, bacteria, viruses, you name, it removes it. Unfortunately the down side is that it also removes minerals that should be in there. Fortunately the solution is quite simply. Add some high quality salt, like Himalayan salt, about 1/4 teaspoon for gallon.
Unfortunately, there is no national regulation of water products. States have their own regulations, which vary greatly state by state. Bottled water represents, by far, the fastest growing segment of the beverage industry with annual sales exceeding $11 billion. How has the bottled water industry created such a demand for a commodity that's available for free? By slick marketing tactics and taking advantage of lax governmental regulations. Playing the message that bottled water is cleaner, and therefore healthier, the bottled water industry has successfully created one of the most incredulous scams of the century.
Here's how you've been duped:
- Studies reveal that about 40 percent of bottled water is actually regular tap water with possibly no additional filtering treatment.
- The EPA standards that apply to public water supplies do NOT apply to bottled water.
- There are no restrictions protecting against a source of bottled water being located near industrial facilities or waste dumps.
- Overall, bottled water is less regulated than tap water.
A recent Environmental Working Group test uncovered 38 contaminants in 10 brands of bottled water, including DBPs, nitrate, caffeine, arsenic, Tylenol, bacteria and industrial chemicals. So what you are paying for is often no different, or even worse, than the water that comes out of your faucet. When you factor in other elements, like the chemicals that can leach from the plastic bottle and its impact on the environment, bottled water becomes a losing proposition no matter how you look at it. According to the Container Recycling Institute, in the U.S. alone, more than 67 million plastic water bottles are discarded each day. Not easily degraded, empty plastic water bottles have become a major contributor to worldwide pollution. The waste issue is not the only problem. According to the Sierra Club, the U.S. alone uses 1.5 million barrels of oil to produce all the water bottles we toss each year. And along with oil, comes unwanted toxins. The processing of plastic water bottle releases toxic compounds such as nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene into the environment.
When drinking bottled water you need to think not only about the water but also about the bottle itself. Plastic is not an inert substance as its manufacturers would like you to believe. It contains chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which mimic hormones in your body.
Anytime you drink from a plastic bottle you risk exposure, but if you leave your bottle of water in a hot car or reuse it, your exposure is magnified because heat and stress increase the amount of chemicals that leach out of the plastic.
So What Should You Drink?
One you realize that many sources of bottled water is:
- No safer than tap water
- Extremely expensive
- Often contaminated by plastics chemicals
- Contributing to massive environmental harm
The choice to stop using it becomes simple. Fortunately, the alternative to having pure water is also simple: filter your own at home. I believe that the best way to protect you and your child against the uncertainty of drinking water outside your home is to pack clean water you trust from home. And, of course, you want pure and clean water in a safe, non-toxic, and reusable container. My personal favorite, and the kind I use myself, is glass. Glass is non-toxic and does not leach any undesirable contaminants.
Is Alkaline Water Healthier To Drink?
Beyond water filtration, there’s also the issue of pH - alkaline versus acidic water. There are quite a few astonishing health claims being made about alkaline water, but are they true?
Most of them are not. The theory behind alkaline water is, in a nutshell, that alkaline (ionized) water is a powerful antioxidant with surplus electrons that can “mop up” the dangerous free radicals you have coursing through your veins. Marketers claim alkaline water can correct excess acidity in your tissues, which can then prevent or reverse cancer, arthritis, and other degenerative diseases. According to Dr. Mercola, the tireless health advocate for the past 25 years and the creator of Mercola.com, the world’s most respected website on health and nutrition, “the scientific justification for these water systems is absent and these consumers have merely fallen under the spell of a skilled marketer who selectively misused pseudoscientific information, and twisted it around to scare them into buying their product.” While there is no lack of testimonials and so-called scientific studies on the Internet claiming alkaline water will cure your every ill, many consumers, struggling to make sense of the scientific jargon, eventually throw up their hands in frustration. “In truth, there are very, very few legitimate scientific studies about the effects of alkaline water on human health” states Dr. Mercola. Complicating matters is the fact that most water ionizers and alkalizers are being marketed by multi-level marketing (MLM) companies with less than stellar ethics. They sell you a very expensive machine, for which you get a good discount if you sign up as a rep, and once you’re part of the MLM, you can’t very well change your mind about its benefits (especially if you’re going to sell the units) - even if you realize that the alkaline water is no longer “working” for you.
Dr. Mercola states “I have no doubts that many people do notice improvements in their health when they initially start drinking alkaline water, but I believe there are other reasons for this, and I am convinced that this is not a healthful strategy in the long run, so it is my strong recommendation to avoid alkaline water ionizers. Some people experience an initial “high” when they start drinking alkaline water. This can easily be attributed to detoxification, and the fact that they are likely just becoming better hydrated. Detoxification is about the only benefit of this type of water, and this benefit is limited to very SHORT TERM USE (no more than a week or two).”
It is my opinion that despite the increased popularity of these water ionizers and alkalizers, many people don’t really understand how complicated the body is and how pH really works. I have been told that many people have gotten kidney stones after drinking alkaline water consistently for two years, showing that alkaline water can create a mineral imbalance in the body. It is far healthier and wiser to change your DIET by eliminating refined sugars, flours, artificial sweeteners and chemicals and replace them with organic whole foods that are designed to balance your body’s pH AND support your total health, then to look for a quick fix to your health problems by buying a very expensive machine based on questionable science that could negatively impact your health.
Aside From Water, What Are My Choices?
If you have read this column for any length of time, you would know what ingredients you should ALWAYS avoid, regardless of where you find them: refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharine (Sweet-n-Low), all artificial colors, all artificial preservatives, and anything else that you can’t pronounce! Needless to say, most bottled beverages, including sports drinks like Gatorade, contain AT LEAST one, if not several, of the aforementioned toxins- regardless of the “healthy” marketing hype that is written all over the bottle. Flavored waters that contain synthetic vitamins and “natural” flavors are not any better for you - if you want the benefit of vitamins and anti-oxidants, eat REAL food! Basically, anything that comes from a vending machine or is sold at a convenience store is loaded with a concoction of sugars, chemicals, or both- including Snapple, Red Bull, Arizona Iced Teas with Ginseng, etc, the list goes on. Not only are they not as “healthy” as their label says, but with huge amounts or sugar, high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and other chemicals, these drinks are one of the fastest ways to pack on the pounds, harm your liver, and put you on the fast track to type 2 diabetes! So don’t fool yourself - these drinks are not one bit healthier for you than regular or diet soda!
So what are your healthy drink choices that can keep you hydrated before, during, or after a workout? It is a well-known fact that we need more than water to stay hydrated- we need electrolytes, but few people know why they are important. Electrolyte is a "medical/scientific" term for salts, specifically ions. The term electrolyte means that this ion is electrically-charged and moves to either a negative (cathode) or positive (anode) electrode: ions that move to the cathode (cations) are positively charged and ions that move to the anode (anions) are negatively charged. Our body fluids -- blood, plasma, interstitial fluid (fluid between cells) -- are like seawater and require a high concentration of properly balanced electrolytes in order for our bodies to function properly. The major electrolytes are: sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), bicarbonate (HCO3-), phosphate (PO42-), and sulfate (SO42-). Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart, muscle) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells. Your kidneys work to keep the electrolyte concentrations in your blood constant despite changes in your body. For example, when you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium. These electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations of your body fluids constant. Because of this, many sports drinks have sodium chloride or potassium chloride added to them, but unfortunately also have tons or sugar and artificial colors and flavors as well.
My solution to replenishing electrolytes without all the junk? Emergen-C. Each portable packet contains not only electrolytes, but 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 7 B vitamins, 24 nutrients and antioxidants- all lightly sweetened with just 5 grams of fructose (fruit sugar), no caffeine, and no artificial anything! Add 2-3 packets to a large bottle of your own filtered water for a delicious soda alternative, immune boost, or post-workout hydration. A box of Emergen-C comes in lots of great flavors such as Super Orange, Pomegranate, Acai Berry, and Strawberry Kiwi, contains 30 packets and costs about $8 a box at Walmart and most grocery stores. Keep a box at work, at home, and in the car for a refreshing, cost effective and truly health-promoting hydration. Another healthy drink option is to brew a box of refreshing fruit tea like Red Zinger or Wild Berry Cherry by Celestial Seasonings and add raw honey and a few shakes of Himalayan or Celtic sea for a natural energy and electrolytes. Enjoy it at home and take a bottle (glass is best) with you to the gym for post workout hydration.
How Much Should I Drink?
While the old standard was 8 glasses a day, my best advice is to learn to pay attention to your body and to drink when you are thirsty. When you eliminate processed and refined foods from your diet and replace them with whole foods that contain more water, vitamins and minerals, as well as good fats, your body becomes more naturally hydrated. Make pure filtered water your first choice and you will feel better throughout you day and you will reap the rewards of healthy hydration.