Water is vital to life. You won’t find many who dispute this. Most people let their thirst dictate their hydration habits, but is it enough? A survey found that on average, Americans drank the recommended 8 glasses a day, but also consumed 4 or 5 dehydrating beverages. Effectively, this leads to chronic, low-level dehydration.

Making sure you’re getting enough water is important for everyone, not just athletes. Drinking water isn’t everyone’s cup-of-tea, but drinking just anything to hydrate could be doing the opposite.

Dehydrating beverages

Dehydrating beverages don’t cause the type of dehydration seen when someone is without water for days. They disrupt the delicate fluid/electrolyte balance. As little as 1% causes physiologic changes. It can lead to decreased kidney function, kidney stoneshypertensionurinary tract infectionsintestinal failure, and dementia if it occurs for an extended period of time.

The major culprits sugar, sodium, caffeine, and alcohol. Soda is one of the most common dehydrator. Loaded with sugar and sodium, its not only dehydrating but also bad for your bones and teeth.

Other sugary drinks that aren’t as obvious are things like lemonade, sweet tea, hot cocoa, flavored milks, and even fruit smoothies. While eating fruit is a good way to get water and nutrients, fruit drinks pack more in than you’d think. A small glass of apple juice could have up to 6 apples!

To anyone whose had a few to many, it’s no surprise that alcohol is a dehydrating beverage. To absorb and process alcohol, water is used from our cells. The stronger the alcohol content, the greater the effect. Mixed drinks have both strong alcohol and sugar from sodas or fruit. So remember to drink in moderation and responsibly.

Caffeine is a diuretic substance. That means it makes you pee more. While most minds go to a cup of coffee, caffeine is present in many things. Sodas, tea, and energy drinks contain many things like sugars, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and other substances. These can be a recipe for dehydration if you drink these excessively.

Hydrating without plain H₂O

While water is the best hydrator, it’s not for everyone. But there are other drinks and you can even hydrate with food! Making sure your diet has a variety of fruits and vegetables can reduce your need to drink extra water.

Other drinks that will be good to hydrate with avoid excess sugar, caffeine, and have more water. For example, fruit infused water is better than fruit juices or lemonade because it does not have any added sugar. Unsweetened versions of nut milks, almond milk, tea [caffeine-free], and coconut water can also hydrate you and provide some other nutrients.

Sports drinks may be beneficial for athletes, but be careful. The sugar and electrolytes may be overkill for someone who is not as active. Athletes will use the sugar for fuel and replacing electrolytes lost through sweating. Others, not so much.

Testing your hydration

The easiest way to make sure you’re getting enough water is to look at your urine. Gross! But useful.

Urine color chart

Each individual has different water needs. But we can make some general rules.

  • Drink water or other hydrating beverages throughout the day.
  • If you drink something dehydrating, drink an additional glass of water.
  • Watch your urine. If it’s too dark, you’re already dehydrated.

Hydration is vital to life, so make sure you talk with your health care provider about making sure you’re getting enough water.