This nutrient can be found just about everywhere; in fact, it’s so ubiquitous, most of us don’t even think about it* and yet, most of us don’t get enough of it in our daily diet.
What is this mystery nutrient?
That’s right. Water.
Why the body needs water
You’re probably already familiar with the statistic that approximately 60% of our bodies is water – and for babies? That number is even higher, nearly 80%! But did you know that our lungs are about 83% water? And that our brains and hearts are 73% water? Even our bones contain 30% water. The cells in our body are filled with water. We are, quite literally, made of water. Given that, it’s no surprise that water is essential to our survival and health.
But what exactly does water do for us?
Water helps regulate our body temperature. It lubricates, cushions, and protects our joints and spinal cord. It also plays a vital role in the elimination of waste from the body via perspiration, urination, and bowel movements.
Why the gut needs water
Water is an integral part of every step of the body’s digestive process.
Digestion begins from the moment we put food in our mouth. Our saliva, of which water is a significant percentage, makes food easier to chew and swallow and it contains enzymes that begin the breaking down of fats and carbohydrates. Once in the stomach, gastric juices continue the digestive process while mucus coating the inside of our stomach protects it from those gastric juices – and water is used by the body to make both the juices and the mucus. Water is also part of the secretions in the small intestine as well as our blood – which is the vehicle that carries nutrients to the entire body – and of course, it’s water that allows us to gently and easily remove waste from the body.
Without water? There is no digestion. (Oh, and there’s no truth to the old myth about drinking during meals diluting digestive juices, so go ahead and drink while eating!)
Water’s Effect on the Gut
Not only does the gut need water, water can change the gut!
A recent study discovered that the water we drink can affect our gut microbiome. The study included both US and UK participants, and the research found that different types of water – tap, well, filtered, or bottled – changed the makeup of the bacteria in the gut. Those who drank well water had the greatest diversity in their fecal microbiota, which is a sign of good gut health.
Now, most of us don’t have the option of changing our water source to well water. But the good news is that this same study also showed that, regardless of the type of water, the amount of water we drink can also change the gut. Those in the study who regularly consumed water had different fecal microbiota than those who consumed less water, including lower populations of Campylobacter bacteria, which is suspected to contribute to gastrointestinal infection.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Staying hydrated is essential to our health. Even the mildest dehydration can make us feel unwell, headachy, and tired, affect cognitive function, and make us constipated.
Good old “plain” water is always best when it comes to what we drink, but for those who don’t like the taste, there are many products out there now that can help. Seltzers and other “essence” carbonated waters contain no sugar, and can help those who dislike the taste of plain water and/or who would normally reach for soda. Fresh fruits and veggies also contain a lot of water and contribute to hydration – and don’t forget soups and stews!
Even caffeinated drinks count as hydration, though one rule of thumb is to only count it as half its volume. So, for example, a 16oz caffeinated drink would only count as 8oz of actual hydration. The one beverage that doesn’t count as hydration is alcohol. In fact, alcohol does the opposite – it dehydrates the body (which contributes to the awful hangovers that can accompany over-indulging in alcohol).
Do your gut a favor and grab a glass of water!
*Not having to think about where our water comes from and whether it’s safe or not is an incredible privilege. More than 884 million people worldwide don’t have safe water to drink, and nearly 3 billion don’t have the ability to safely wash their hands at home!