Trying to get healthy isn’t easy considering there is a lot to learn and a lot of strange and conflicting information out there about it. Take water, for example. This simple, yet essential, substance is the center of a number of quizzical rules, myths and misconceptions. Not enough is unhealthy, but how much is enough? What happens if you get too much?
Myth #1: You need six to eight glasses of water per day.
Reality: Sort of, but it depends on your definition of “glasses.”
If you read my Sept. 6 article about nutrition labels, you know that one of my complaints is that serving sizes are inconsistent from brand to brand, or even depending upon the size of the container it comes in. Water is one of those guilty parties — yes, water — and the old adage of drinking six to eight glasses is sort of correct, but misleading.
Some bottles of water claim that 12 or 16 ounces is a serving because that’s the size of the bottle it comes in, but most experts agree that a serving of water is 8 ounces. A few decades ago, this was the standard size of glasses in your cupboard, but not anymore. As Americans, we always think bigger is better, so our dishes have grown in size over the years. Take a look at old-fashioned juice glasses from the 1950s. They look tiny, don’t they? So were plates, coffee cups, even cocktail glasses. This is why your 4-cup coffee maker only fills two of your coffee mugs.
The standard drinking glass in anybody’s cupboard today holds anywhere from 12 to 16 ounces. So if you’re drinking six to eight glasses of water per day, you could be consuming as much as 16 servings of water — twice as much as you should be.
Something else to bear in mind is that everyone is different. The water your body needs every day depends upon a number of factors, some of which can change from day to day: how hot it is outside, how much or little you are sweating, height, weight, muscle mass. Even your daily diet affects the quantity of fluids you need; food can provide a large amount of the water you need on any given day.
The easiest way to judge how hydrated you are or are not is to just pay attention to your body. If you’re going to the bathroom a lot and your urine is very clear, you’re drinking too much water. If you don’t go very often and it’s very dark, you’re dehydrated.
Myth #2: Too much water can make you sick.
Reality: Yes. Too much of anything can make you sick, and water is no exception. Too much water can even kill you.
Usually, this is a result of marathon runners or someone else who is doing an intense workout who accidentally chugs too much water, but occasionally some idiot out there gets the bright idea, from either a friend or the Internet, that chugging a lot of water is a “safe” way to get high, because it’s just water. In either case, the result is the same: hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication or water poisoning.
Too much water causes sodium levels in the blood to drop and your cells to swell, including the ones in your brain. Brain swelling is a very bad thing. It can lead to seizures, coma and even death. If you’re exercising a lot, be careful not to overdo it and never chug any fluid to excess.
Myth #3: Bottled water is always more pure and, therefore, better for you than tap water.
Reality: Many brands of bottled water are from municipal sources — meaning tap water — and water from natural springs can contain all sorts of impurities, including some you may not want to be drinking.
My favorite example is Fiji Water, a popular and overpriced brand, even among already overpriced bottled water. In 2007, they ran a series of magazine ads claiming, “The Label Says Fiji Because It’s Not Bottled in Cleveland.” The city government of Cleveland was not amused and hired specialists to run tests on the city’s water versus Fiji’s. The results showed that Fiji water contains 6.3 micrograms of arsenic — which is poisonous to humans — per liter. Cleveland’s city water supply is arsenic-free and infinitely cheaper. Checkmate.
Karen Sarita Ingram is a senior in English. Please send comments to email@example.com.