Do not be taken in by healthy sounding ingredients added to soft drinks. Water will always be the liquid of life.
Triggered in part by our insatiable appetite for all things sweet, many of us tend to quench our thirst with sugary soft drinks, washing down our food with a liquid which may contain so much sugar that children would exceed their recommended sugar intake for a day with just one serving.
With growing public concern about the effects of obesity on health and quality of life, there is a growing demand for healthier, more natural beverages with less artificial additives, sugars and food colourings. Manufacturers, hoping to increase drink sales have come up with new healthier sounding soft drinks and fruit juices with reduced sugar content and added vitamins and minerals, to appeal to consumer sensibilities. The soft drinks industry clearly wants consumers to believe that all beverages, including sweetened juices, sports drinks and carbonated soft drinks, can be part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
How healthy are soft drinks?
Research carried out by a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, appears to show that drinking more than one soft drink daily may be associated with an increased risk of developing what is known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These disorders include excess waist circumference, high blood pressure, low levels of what is known as 'good cholesterol' and high glucose levels. The research revealed that individuals consuming one or more soft drinks a day, had a 48 percent increased chance of developing cardiovascular problems or diabetes, compared to those consuming less than one soft drink daily. Experts agree that whether it is the added calories and resulting weight gain that have a direct influence on the development of heart disease or a possible direct influence on blood pressure and insulin resistance, sugar intake has to be controlled and limited.
Concerns have also been raised about the potential harmful effects of the preservative E211, known as sodium benzoate, which is often used in carbonated drinks to prevent mould. When mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, sodium benzoate causes benzene, a carcinogenic substance.
Low calorie drinks which do not contain sugar or corn syrup are not free from controversy. Some studies do suggest a link between aspartame, which is the sweetener commonly used in low calorie or diet drinks and depression and some forms of cancer. Not everybody agrees with this connection. In a draft opinion of its Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS Panel) published on 8 January 2013 the European Food Safety Authority said that:
"aspartame does not pose a safety concern at current levels of exposure."
It is clear however, that if our health is dear to us we will only drink soft drinks in a social context and not use them to quench our thirst on a daily basis. Water has always been, and always will be, the healthiest way of satiating our need for fluids.
Benefits of water
Water is essential to good health. Every system in our body depends on water. It is our body's main chemical component, making up, on average, 60 percent of our body weight. It flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to our cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues.
But how can you make sure you're getting enough water for optimal health?
We lose water through a variety of ways, including through our breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. Our body must recover the lost fluids by consuming water and foods that contain liquid. Fluid needs can vary, depending on your activity level, the weather, environmental conditions and even the medications you may be taking.
Knowing which situations are likely to increase your need for water can help you stay sufficiently hydrated. Lack of water can lead to dehydration. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired.
So how much water should a healthy adult living in a temperate climate drink every day?
On average, an adult excretes about 1.5 litres of urine a day. You lose close to an additional litre of water a day through breathing, sweating and bowel movement. Food usually accounts for 20 percent of your total fluid intake, so if you consume 2 litres a day of water in addition to a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, you will typically replace the lost fluids.
Take note of the colour of your urine and always make sure that it is clear.
2. Eight glasses of water a day
Another approach to water intake is the "8 x 8 rule" — drink eight glasses of water a day. Though the approach isn't supported by scientific evidence, many people use this basic rule as a guideline for how much water and other fluids to drink.
You may need to modify your total fluid intake depending on how active you are, the climate you live in and on your health status. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need additional fluids to stay hydrated. Furthermore, dehydration may cause early contractions, so make sure you are always adequately hydrated.
If you exercise or engage in any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to compensate for the fluid loss. An extra 400 to 600 milliliters of water should suffice for short bouts of exercise, but intense exercise lasting more than an hour (for example, running a marathon) requires more fluid intake. How much additional fluid you need depends on how much you sweat during exercise, the duration of your exercise and the type of activity you're engaged in.
Hot or humid weather can make you sweat and requires additional intake of fluid. Heated indoor air also can cause your skin to lose moisture during wintertime. Further, altitudes greater than 2,500 metres may trigger increased urination and more rapid breathing, which use up more of your fluid reserves.
5. Illnesses or health conditions
Signs of illnesses, such as fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, cause your body to lose additional fluids. In these cases you should drink more water. Also, you may need increased fluid intake if you develop certain conditions, including bladder infections or urinary tract stones. On the other hand, some conditions such as heart failure and some types of kidney, liver and adrenal diseases may impair excretion of water and even require that you limit your fluid intake.
Though uncommon, it is possible to drink too much water. When your kidneys are unable to excrete the excess water, the electrolyte (mineral) content of the blood is diluted, resulting in low sodium levels in the blood, a condition called hyponatremia. Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, who drink large amounts of water are at higher risk of hyponatremia. In general, though, drinking too much water is rare in healthy adults who consume an average diet.
If you're concerned about your fluid intake, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can help you determine the amount of water that's best for you.