Wealth In Water
Why clean and safe trumps fortified hydration options
Among all the necessities for survival, water is the most indispensable. It accounts for nearly 60 per cent of an adult human’s body weight and is key to keeping every cell and organ in the body functional. But despite its critical importance to our health, most of us fail to drink enough water through the day, which means chronic dehydration is a common wellness issue faced by both adults and children. Inadequate water intake alters the body’s chemistry and metabolism, causes toxins to build up and leads to poor skin vitality, fatigue, laboured breathing, impaired cognition as well as a host of other problems.
While a small section of the affluent population can splurge on fancy potable water, for the rest of India, getting access to safe drinking water is a top concern. Tap water might be okay to drink in some developed countries, but in India water processed for drinking can contain a range of harmful substances, such as microplastic compounds and heavy metals.
There are many ways to purify water for drinking. Reverse Osmosis (RO) is a popular method, but for every litre of RO-purified water, nearly three to four litres of water is wasted. UV lamps, chlorine or iodine addition and boiling and straining to kill pathogens and remove settled impurities are other time-tested methods. Advances in membrane technology and ultra-filtration techniques are also effective.
Assuming sufficient access to potable water, most of us still don’t drink enough of it. According to the 2020 Recommended Dietary Allowance released by the National Institute of Nutrition, the minimum water requirement for adult men and women ranges between 32 to 58 ml and 27 to 52 ml per kg in body weight respectively. How much water you require depends on your age, activity levels and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity.
The other reason for inadequate water consumption is a general perception that water is boring. An easy way to induce one to drink more is by infusing it with flavourful fruits and herbs. The bottled water market has effectively cashed in on the hype around such ‘nutrient waters infusions’ with all kinds of special waters—alkaline, fortified, spring, volcanic. Indian Red Wood, an infusion prepared by soaking red wood (pathimugam) in water, is customarily offered at Kerala’s Ayurvedic centres, prescribed for its digestive properties among other health benefits. Black Water, containing over 70 minerals claims to detoxify better, hydrate the cells faster and increase metabolic rate of the body (read weight loss) and improving alertness.
Many claim that water alkalinity can boost immunity or that water with a pH of above 8 is effective in combating the coronavirus. But such infusions are rarely necessary or even helpful. In the words of famed ecologist and science writer Loren Eiseley, “If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water.” So, do we really need to fiddle with this magical potion by adding more nutrients to it? Experts in the field of medicine and nutrition are unconvinced. The tall claims related to alkalinity and other commonly added components like humic and fulvic acid remain unsupported by robust studies.
Finally, let’s address a simple but important question: Is thirst a good enough indicator for maintaining water balance in the body? Thirst and satiety are surely indicators, but not reliable ones. Some elderly people may fail to perceive the sensation of thirst. A good indicator of hydration levels is the colour of urine—a pale straw colour means the body is adequately hydrated.
Neelanjana Singh is a nutrition therapist with over 30 years of experience in the field. She is on the National Executive of the Indian Dietetic Association and is the author of Our Kid Eats Everything and Why Should I Eat Healthy