If you're like many Americans, staying hydrated is a constant struggle. Hydration has become a whole industry — from expensive water bottles with alarms that remind you to take a drink to specialty beverages that claim to hydrate better than water to water bottle filling stations in every office building, airport, and train station.
But is water the best beverage for hydration? Can drinking tea count as water intake? How much water do you actually need to be considered hydrated?
How many glasses of water should you drink daily?
For years, there's been debate over how many glasses of water we really need every day, but it's not the same for everyone. You're considered hydrated when the amount of fluid leaving your body is the same as the amount going in. Your body differs from everyone else's, so the amount of fluid you need won't be the same as your friend, your spouse, or anyone else. The best way to know whether you're hydrated is to check your urine. Light yellow or clear indicates that you're adequately hydrated, while dark yellow means you need additional fluids.
Drinking plain water isn't your only option for hydration. Milk, juice, and other beverages all contribute to your body's overall fluid intake, and so do "juicy" foods. Fruits, vegetables, and even beans and legumes help keep you hydrated. Many health practitioners recommend water because it doesn't contain any additives or sweeteners.
Do caffeinated beverages dehydrate you?
Conventional wisdom says that beverages with caffeine, like coffee and tea, can't hydrate you because caffeine is a type of diuretic, a chemical that removes water and salts from the human body. New research suggests that caffeinated beverages may have a small diuretic effect, but only when consumed in large quantities.
Adults can generally consume about 400 milligrams of caffeine per day without any ill effects. This is four or five cups of black coffee and eight or nine cups of black tea. If you consume more than this amount of caffeine, you may start to see the diuretic effect. These beverages do still provide hydration, but they shouldn't be your only sources of hydration.
Being a frequent coffee or tea drinker helps with potential dehydration. Your body can adjust to large amounts of caffeine over a prolonged period, decreasing the diuretic effect.
Can tea replace water as a source of hydration?
In short: no.
In the water-versus-tea battle, water still wins. Because water doesn't contain caffeine, sugar, or other additives, it's the purest form of hydration. If you're a regular tea drinker, you can continue drinking tea and it will contribute to your overall hydration level. It shouldn't replace water, though, especially if you're drinking more than six or seven cups of black tea per day. It's important to incorporate some water into your daily fluid intake.
Green tea is also caffeinated, but it contains less caffeine than black tea, decreasing the diuretic effect. It also has additional benefits, like antioxidants that fight and can even prevent cell damage. It's also been proven to lower cholesterol, improve blood flow, and help with some heart-related conditions. Black tea shares some of these benefits, but adding green tea to your daily tea regimen may be better for your health.
Herbal tea is especially good for hydration, so if you're not a fan of water, consider switching a few of those cups of tea to something herbal. Chamomile is excellent before bed, as are hibiscus and cinnamon. Switching to herbal tea in the afternoon can also help your sleep by reducing nighttime anxiety and jitters, which can be aftereffects of drinking caffeinated tea.
It's important to stay hydrated. It helps your hair, skin, mood, level of alertness, and just about every bodily function. Other types of fluids, like juice, milk, and tea, can contribute to your overall hydration, but you shouldn't replace water with tea. Drink both, and you'll keep your body happy.
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Mayo Clinic: "Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more."
National Cancer Institute: "Diuretic."