Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
Try drinking like a Stone Ager for a week: no milk, fruit juice, fruit drinks, sodas, coffee, tea, Kool-Aid, lemonade, soy milk, wine, beer, sports drink — not even a healthy-looking vegetable juice. That's hard to imagine for most of us but it's what life was like until just a few thousand years ago. What's more, our bodies don't even tolerate some of those beverages very well and a few of them contribute to serious chronic disease.
Water, water everywhere was all they had to drink and to which their bodies had become perfectly adapted. All other beverages — except for milk — are human inventions that are unavailable to animals in the wild.
Milk was a child's beverage of choice (with a strong push from Mom) until the 1970s. That's when the soft drink habit took over. Before that time, children drank twice as much milk as soda. It is now just the reverse and nutritionists worry that the combination of decreased milk intake and less physical activity are setting the stage for a massive increase in osteoporosis when today's children enter late middle age.
Conscientious moms encourage their kids to drink fruit juice but having more than 8 ounces a day isn't such a great idea. Like all liquid foods, the calories in juice or soft drinks don't trigger our satiety mechanism, the appetite control system that swings into action when we've taken in enough nourishment for the moment. The calories that we don't even notice raise blood sugar and eventually end up in our fat deposits. Those extra 100-plus calories in 8 ounces of juice will add a pound a month if they aren't burned off with exercise or play.
Plain water is boring and it doesn't satisfy our natural desire for sweets. It's no wonder that we've gotten so used to water substitutes that about half of pre-schoolers in some Western countries never drink plain water. Fructose-sweetened drinks are so common that we think that they are a normal part of our diet. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition determined that when adolescent girls drink 12 ounces of soda a day it "is not excessive if they are physically active." However, the study, which was funded by the National Soft Drink Association, failed to point out that their actual intake averages 18 ounces per day and that physical activity among adolescent girls is well below what they require at that age.
How much water is enough? There is no standard formula because there are so many variables that include age, activity levels, ambient temperature, humidity and diet. The quality of your urine is the best practical guide: dark urine with a noticeable odor means that you aren't getting enough water. Don't make that a regular habit or you'll be putting yourself at risk of kidney stones.
Make it convenient for your family to drink more water by keeping a pitcher in the refrigerator. Keep a tray of mint- or lemon-flavored ice cubes in the freezer. Finally, make soft drinks less available by not having them in the refrigerator.
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.