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Most of us know we should drink plenty of water each day to keep our body running in high gear. Water regulates our body's thermostat, cushions our joints, shuttles oxygen and nutrients to cells, flushes toxins from organs and hydrates our skin. Drinking more water might also improve your mood, sharpen your mental focus and help you lose weight.

You know you should imbibe, but do you? And if you do, how much?

If you don't like water, if you power through your work day drinking only a latte, you're probably somewhat dehydrated. And that's even more likely if you don't eat many fruits and vegetables.

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While drinking too little water during a sedentary (air-conditioned) work day won't bring on symptoms of severe dehydration – e.g., flushed skin, light-headedness, rapid heart rate, irritability, loss of appetite, dark-coloured urine – its effects can still impair your performance.

A 2011 study conducted at the University of Connecticut's Human Performance Laboratory found that mild dehydration – defined as a 1.5-per-cent loss of normal water volume in the body – triggered headaches, caused fatigue, worsened mood and impaired concentration in young men and women. Mild dehydration can also cause constipation.

The most recent guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, published in 2004, advise healthy adults living in temperate climates consume 12 to 13 cups (men) and 9 cups (women) of water each day. Pregnant women need 10 cups of water each day and women who breastfeed should drink 13 cups. (The U.S.-based Institute of Medicine establishes nutrient intake recommendations for Americans and Canadians.)

If you exercise or engage in any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to replace what you've lost. How much more you need depends on how much you sweat and the duration and type of exercise.

Hot, humid weather also drives up the body's need for water. And you need to drink more water during air travel, too. Low humidity on airplanes increases fluid loss through the skin.

All beverages – excluding alcoholic drinks, which cause your body to lose water – count toward your daily water requirement. In addition to plain water, milk, fruit juice, coffee, tea and even soft drinks hydrate you. (Even so, I don't recommend you quench your thirst with sugary beverages.)

If you’re struggling to meet your daily water quota, try these 9 tips to up your hydration game

  1. Sip on a berry smoothie: Start your day by hydrating your body with an antioxidant-packed smoothie. But it’s not just the milk (whether dairy or non-dairy) that adds water to smoothies (cow’s milk is 91 per cent water). Berries also contain large amounts of water in proportion to their weight, with strawberries leading the pack (92 per cent water) followed by raspberries (87 per cent), blueberries (85 per cent) and cherries (81 per cent).
  2. Start with a ‘water appetizer’: Make a habit of drinking 500 millilitres of water before each meal. Doing so will put a big dent in your daily water requirement and it can help you feel full – and, as a result, help prevent you from overeating. A randomized trial published in the journal Obesity in 2010 found that among overweight middle-aged and older adults following a 1,500-calorie diet, those who were told to drink 16 ounces of water before each meal lost an additional five pounds over three months compared with the non-water group.
  3. Eat your water: Roughly 20 per cent of our daily water comes from food. Hydrate with water-packed seasonal summer fruit such as watermelon (92 per cent water), cantaloupe (90 per cent), peaches (88 per cent) and plums (85 per cent). Vegetables are good sources of water, too. Snack on crudités consisting of sliced cucumber (96 per cent), celery (95 per cent), zucchini strips (95 per cent), radish (95 per cent) and cherry tomatoes (94 per cent). (All in season in the summer.)
  4. Take an iced coffee break: Cool off and hydrate with an unsweetened iced coffee with a splash of milk. A Grande at Starbucks provides 16 ounces of fluid for only 25 calories. While older studies suggested caffeine had a weak diuretic effect, more recent studies do not. If you regularly consume moderate amounts of caffeine, it does not cause your body to lose more water than you ingest.
  5. Flavour it: If you find plain water boring, flavour it with lime and basil leaves, raspberries and fresh mint, mango and pineapple chunks or honeydew and cucumber slices. To infuse more flavour, allow the water to chill for a few hours in the fridge. Or chill plain water with naturally flavoured ice cubes. When filling ice cube trays with water, add a few blueberries, a strawberry, mint leaves or crushed lemongrass before freezing. Many natural food stores and some grocery stores carry True Citrus, a line of natural citrus flavours to add to water (no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no preservatives).
  6. Fizz it: If you prefer bubbly water over still, it still counts, whether it’s club soda, Pellegrino or water from your SodaStream sparkling-water maker. (And, contrary to popular belief, carbonated water does not leach calcium from your bones.)
  7. Curb after-dinner cravings: Beat your evening snacking habit – and achieve your daily water goal – by sipping on herbal tea, flavoured black tea or a dried fruit blend (available in tea shops).
  8. Make it convenient: Out of sight, out of mind. Keep a filled bottle or glass of water on your desk at work and on your kitchen counter at home. Take a water bottle with you to the gym and carry one when exercising outdoors.
  9. Use an app: If you need accountability – and a constant reminder of your daily goal – keep track of your water intake using an app on your smartphone such as Daily Water, Waterlogged or Water Alert.

Leslie Beck is a registered dietitian in Toronto.

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