Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
Water doesn't appear to be Americans' favorite beverage but until just a few thousand years ago it was almost the only drink available to humans. The exceptions included breastmilk for infants and the blood of freshly killed animals for older persons. The Agricultural Revolution brought us milk, beer and wine. Fruit juice, fruit drinks and soda are very modern innovations and have displaced water as the beverage of choice for humans. That is one of the roots of the healthcare crisis that we face today.
In truth, it isn't necessary to drink plain water as long as other fluids are available but these almost always contain some form of sugar. They don't trigger our appetite control mechanism so it's easy to sip the 400 calories in that quart-sized Big Gulp and still put away a hefty meal.
If plain water is just too boring for you there are lots of ways to make it less so without a high sugar load. Although an artificially flavored soft drink is the usual first choice there are plenty of less expensive alternatives. Keep a few lemon wedges or a bottle of lemon juice in the refrigerator and add a few drops to a glass of water. A crushed mint leaf in cool water is a really inexpensive pick-me-up. Mint is easy to grow, even in a small planter on the kitchen window ledge. Make ice cubes from cranberry, grape or pomegranate juice. They provide some antioxidants as well as flavor.
We tend to drink when we get thirsty but as we age the thirst mechanism doesn't work well and it's common for older persons to become chronically dehydrated. The often-suggested 8 glasses of water a day is not a reliable guide. High temperature, low humidity, increased physical activity and body size increase our need for water. The best rule of thumb for figuring out how much water to drink is the character of the urine. It should be pale yellow with only a mild odor. Dark, strong-smelling urine indicates inadequate fluid intake and is a risk factor for kidney stones.
Tea and coffee are perfectly good substitutes for plain water. Green tea has some proven health benefits although not in the small quantities consumed by Americans. Coffee does not deserve the bad rap that some have given to it. A couple of cups a day won't give you the jitters and, like tea, it has some healthy antioxidants.
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.