What to Drink – And Not to Drink – When You're Dehydrated

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As heatwaves bake the world, here's a quick primer on keeping hydrated.

I was going to write about a new study, the headlines about which go something like this: We're Going to Die in Record Numbers as Heatwaves Bake The World, First Global Study Shows.

Good times! But hey, we're all going to die anyway, so why not focus on at least keeping hydrated in the meantime?

Consumer Reports to the rescue. The magazine reminds us that staying hydrated helps to regulate body temperature (handy when living in a baking world), allows the heart to do its thing more efficiently, prevents headaches and muscle fatigue, aids digestion, and thank goodness, also boosts your mood (also handy when living in a baking world).

Now of course, beverage manufacturers are also privy to this knowledge, and may do their best to seduce the hot and thirsty masses with their potions – but not all hydrators were created equally. Consumer Reports' nutri­tion­ists took a look at the types of hydration drinks on the market and here's what they have concluded.

(These are in addition to the best hydrator of all, of course, good ol' plain water.)

Sports drinks

Running a marathon? Then right on, be like a sweaty superstar in the ads and triumphantly grab a Gatorade. This is the kind of thing sports drinks were created for; for hard-core athletes to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat, like sodium and potassium, plus carbs for fuel. That said: “The average exerciser needs to replace water, not electrolytes,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a CR nutritionist.

Meanwhile, 100 calories of sports drink is 100 calories that can add up quickly. Plus, sugar. Plus, low-calories sports drinks means artificial sweeteners. Plus, those vivid hues are not coming from natural ingredients.

Water with added vitamins

We are a people obsessed with vitamins, even though there is ample evidence concluding that they don't do much for us. Nonetheless, the appeal of water with a boost is hard to resist. According to Consumer Reports, however, there's this:

"There’s no need to replenish vitamins just because it’s hot out or you went for a run. And if you drink a lot of these, you run the risk of overloading on vitamins, especially if you take a multivitamin and/or eat vitamin-fortified foods, such as certain cereals. Also, read labels; some products are full of sugars."

Plant waters

Trendy plant waters come in coconut, maple, cactus, and other flavors – many of which boast superior hydrating power. There’s not much truth to the hydration claims, says Consumer Reports, but they are lower in sugars. "Coconut water has about 40 to 65 calories and 9 to 14 grams of sugars in 8 ounces; cactus and maple have about 25 calories and 5 grams of sugars in 8 ounces." (Note: I feel like homemade watermelon juice and coconut water have been a savior for me when training for marathons – don't count them out during bouts of endurance.)

Ice tea

Tea is a magical juice chockfull of antioxidants that appear to help heart health and lower the risk of cognitive decline and type 2 diabetes. Yay! But alas: Bottled versions can easily have as much added sugar as soda, plus other added ingredients. Diet ice tea may have synthetic sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.

So look for unsweetened or minimally sweetened. Also, a good tip: “You can add a teaspoon of sugar or agave syrup and get far less sugars than in many presweetened versions,” Keating says.

Brewing ice tea at home promises more antioxidants – even though those antioxidants decrease over time, about 10 percent per day. So the best bet is to make just enough for a day or two.

Ice coffee

I'm adding this one to the list, because although it has long been held that caffeine is dehydrating, there is increasing research concluding that it is not. The thinking is that the negligible diuretic effect does not counteract all the liquid that is consumed. Ice coffee is a refreshing afternoon hydrator, just make sure it is not an iced coffee milkshake thing or bottled version that is loaded with sugar and calories.

Homemade alternatives

Lemon slices in the water were a hallmark of fancy restaurants in the 1980s – now it is not at all unusual to find lemon in water wherever one goes. This is a great way to perk up the tap water at home, and no need to stop with just lemons. Cucumbers are great, as is really any kind of fruit. Peach water, yum. Add in some herbs, and you'll never miss that strangely very vivid blue sports drink.

I am also very fond of not-so-sweet but fun and flavorful homemade sodas.

Finally, please note that dehydration is a potentially dangerous condition.

Via Consumer Reports