Thirsty? Knock back a pint of broccoli!

Water is essential to life and healthy hydration means ‘eating’ some 20 per cent of our fluid intake but are we topping up with the right foods?

Everyone knows we should routinely drink around 1.2 litres of water every day – and we know to keep a bottle of water at hand and sip away during work, rest and play. So far, nothing new. Yet, still, many people don’t swallow quite enough. And that brings us to a somewhat left-field approach to upping or, more accurately, optimising our fluid intake … with watery food.

First, a splash of basic biology to set the scene: we lose around 2.5 litres of water a day – that loss is of course increased by factors such as air conditioning, being in a hot car, hot weather and level of activity. In general, we replenish around 1 litre -from water derived from the food we eat, and our body cell chemistry produces some 250 – 500 ml/day; the rest we need to drink to make up the deficit.

We tend, however, to underestimate the role different food-types play in maintaining adequate hydration; yet it has been mooted that eating mainly low-water-content foods may be a commonly under-recognised cause of chronic dehydration.

The trick to remaining healthily hydrated, therefore, is to top up not only by drinking water but, also, to avoid or cut back on low-water foods while maximising intake of the ‘wettest’ and, unsurprisingly, the most natural whole foods come top of the to-eat list.

Know your hydrators from your dehydrators

Increasing your watery food intake is easy because it’s much as you would expect: raw fruits including strawberries and cantaloupe plus vegetables such as broccoli, celery and peppers contain more than 90% water. So, vegetable soups and salads (lettuce 96%) are a great way to top up as are low-fat milk and tofu.

The 65 – 80% water category includes starchy fruit and vegetables, rice, potatoes, beans, baked fish, roast chicken and turkey. Rare beef is here, too, but medium-cooked beef drops into the 50 – 65% slot, alongside pork, fried fish and fried chicken.

Moving on down, fried chips, hamburgers, white bread, butter and cheddar cheese contain only 30 – 60% water, while cakes, jams and dried fruits lie dryly around the 15 – 30% mark. And drier, still, are crisps, chocolate, nuts and peanut butter – considered actively dehydrating with less than 15% water; driest of all are white sugar, salt and oil – less than 1%, don’t go there.

Written by Dr. Noel Duncan