Food for Thought

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Water is unique

‘Most beverages can support hydration, but water is unique in its capacity to do this without adding sugars or many other compounds to the diet,’ write Prof. Barry Popkin and Melissa Daniels in a recent systematic review looking at the impact of water on energy intake and weight. They point out that in the average diet the proportion of water has diminished as people have shifted to other beverages containing one or many of the following – sugar, caffeine, natural and artificial flavourings, non-nutritive sweeteners and carbonation. For more on water, hydration, health and weight, check out the following articles by Prof Barry Popkin published in Nutrition Reviews:

Barry Popkin

Barry Popkin

Meantime, here’s an extract from Barry Popkin’s book, The World Is Fat, on why water is so good and why bottled water is OK. Barry is Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina.

‘Water is the basis of life for all mammals. Aside from breast milk, water was all we drank for hundreds of thousands of years. Before we developed agriculture, water was rarely contaminated. Beginning with agriculture and throughout subsequent urbanisation, feces (animal and human) and other contaminants began to create health problems related to water consumption. Pathogens periodically led to outbreaks of cholera and dysentery; more recently, toxic chemicals have caused problems.

The World Is Fat

When I lived in India, I knew I would become sick if I drank the water – and I did, often. When I could I’d drink a Coca-cola, which was omnipresent and easy to find on any street corner. This is why Mexicans drink so many canned and bottled beverages – they are safe. You don’t get the bacteria in Coke, Pepsi or any other bottled beverage that you do in unsafe water; bottled water is also popular in such a setting and has been the savior in countries where public sources of water are contaminated. Elsewhere, the rise of designer bottled waters has been a steady and healthful trend.

We all have an intuitive understanding of why we drink. We need a certain amount of water daily to survive. Blood is mostly water, and our muscles, lungs and brain all contain a lot of water. Our bodies need water to transport nutrients to our organs, to transport oxygen to our cells, to remove waste and to protect our organs. We’ll die if we go more than four or five days without water.

A former student of mine is dedicated to studying water and its effects on human health. Research we’ve done together on water and dieting in women shows that increased water intake is linked with reduced energy intake, weight, risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems. I’m also involved in three random controlled trials involving children and adults: we want to know if the link between water and health is robust. My sense is that we’ll not only show that water is important for replacing caloric beverages, but that there are additional health benefits to water as well.

Drinking water, whether it comes from a faucet or bottle, is an easy step we can all take toward better health. Bottled water should not be pitted against tap water, however. This is a false choice. We should talk about the essential need we all have to consume more water. And of course we should push for the complete recycling of bottles and other containers.’