Imagine you’re in the market for a new pair of sneakers. You are interested in a high quality pair of sneakers that have good traction for both indoors and out, strong laces, and are not too heavy. Now imagine that you found that the hands-down best pair was the least expensive. That would be pretty incredible, right? You would likely head straight for the checkout with your money in hand and use the rest of your day to congratulate yourself on your excellent buy.
You could get that same feeling every day when you choose water over other beverages. Water, readily available at a price far below most other drinks, is the clear winner for a number of reasons. Just as you have certain criteria in mind when you are looking for sneakers, you are likely looking for specific qualities when selecting a drink. A good beverage quenches thirst and hydrates your body in the healthiest way possible. It should also taste great.
Water fits the bill. Believe it or not, once you get accustomed to the taste and feel of water, nothing quenches thirst like it. A 2014 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences linked drinking water when thirsty and pleasure using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans taken of participants’ brains as they drank water to quench their thirst. When drinking water after an hour of exercise, participants’ brains lit up with activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex — regions that play a role in emotional decision-making and pleasure.
For hydration, one might claim that sports drinks hydrate better. And they do. But that hydration comes with a cost: calories. And those calories can add up to pounds over years. There are two categories of people who are likely to need the oral rehydration power of a sports drink: those working out for an hour or more at a level of moderate or greater intensity and those who are ill with conditions that cause diarrhea and vomiting. For those of us who are healthy and exercising for less than an hour, water does the trick, without the unnecessary calories.
Like sports drinks, any beverage that contains sugar should be regarded with caution. The list of scientific studies that link sugary drinks to weight gain and undesirable health consequences is a mile long. Even diet soda, which contains no actual sugar, can be dangerous. Well reported in national media, including Time magazine, Prevention magazine, and many others, scientist suspect that diet drinks may cause your body to crave more sweetness and may cause you to ultimately eat more calories over time or that they affect the gut bacteria working to help us keep our weight in check.
Water, on the other hand, provides all of the thirst-quenching benefits without any of the drawbacks. In fact, one 2013 study even linked drinking water with improved performance on cognitive tests and reaction time!
I can hear you now. “But I don’t like the taste of water.” Good news: taste is learnable. It’s just like your mother always said; over time, you can teach yourself to like new tastes. In the meantime, try adding fruit (like berries or orange slices, for instance) or vegetables (like cucumbers or celery) to your water to make it more interesting. Or try seltzer water (also known as bubble water, sparkling water, or club soda). It is carbonated, which can provide a little excitement, but it has no sugar or calories—so it is perfectly healthy.
As silly as it may sound, what drink you choose can be really important. In the short term, water can fight dehydration, which can cause low energy, headaches, fatigue, and muscle weakness. Drinking water contributes to healthy skin, enables a healthy digestive system, and flushes toxins. Over the long term, water can help us fight obesity and all of the health complications that come with it. By choosing water, you are being a smart and resourceful consumer. And that is something you can be proud of.
Kristin Irace RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. For more stories like this one, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.