8 cups of water a day keeps the doctor away…or do we need more than that? We’ve all likely heard how important it is to stay hydrated far too many times.
With the recent bloom of Hydroflasks and Stanley cups, many of us have become much more in tune as to how much water we’re drinking each day. From plain water to fun beverages, hydration has become a key pillar of our overall health and wellness, with many of us feeling a much-deserved sense of accomplishment when we hit our hydration goal of the day. Water doesso much more than just prevent us from being dehydrated; from our skin to our digestive system, keeping our bodies hydrated truly helps us feel our best from the inside out.
The human body is made up of 60% water, so it’s only natural that water would be vital for just about every bodily function - like breathing, brain activity, circulation, and digestion. And while we’ve touched on focusing on fiber and moving our bodies being important for digestion, water deserves a shoutout, too.
Keep reading to learn about the science-based benefits of adequate hydration and how exactly our gut health is directly impacted by hydration levels, discover other hydrating options (because, we get it, water can get boring!), and learn about the connection between electrolytes and the digestive system.
Why is Water So Important for Our Gut Health?
Whether we enjoy a thirst-quenching ice cold glass or opt for a warm peppermint tea or a bloat latte, staying hydrated is one of the most important facts in improving digestion and maintaining a healthy gut. Water moves nutrients around the body, aids in waste removal, and helps to flush out other toxins.
When we digest food, our body uses water to help food move through the stomach, intestines, and colon. Water is absorbed into the body by the colon, or large intestine; in order to form stool, our body pulls water back into our intestines to move everything through and help keep our bowel movements regular. If there isn’t enough water to keep everything flowing, food and stool can slow down or get completely stuck, leading to constipation and bloating.
Helps Facilitate Nutrient Absorption
Our body uses saliva, gastric acid, various acids, and enzymes to help us break down and absorb all of the beneficial macro and micronutrients. Without water, these helpful acids and enzymes would not be able to reach the food particles in our digestive system, causing major backup and leading to nutrient deficiencies. Fluids also help our stomach to mix food and later on aid our small intestine in absorbing nutrients. Water mixes with fibers in the gut, creating a gel-like substance with soluble fiber and binding to insoluble fibers to eliminate waste.
Reduces Inflammation in the Gut
Dehydration makes it difficult for food and digested waste to pass through our digestive system. Later on, in the large intestine, stool is formed and is later excreted. Without water, this stool becomes very hard and difficult to pass, creating irritation, and thus inflammation, in the colon.
Decreases the Risk of a Permeable Gut
Some of us may have heard of “leaky gut syndrome”, which is used to describe gut permeability. We need the junctions of the intestinal walls to remain tight to prevent harmful substances, like toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles, from flowing into our bloodstream. Inflammation and irritation can lead to a more permeable gut. When we’re hydrated, we reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to a reduced risk of gut permeability.
So, What’s the Best Way to Maintain a Hydrated Gut?
Fewer things will quench our thirst and benefit our gut more than a big glass of water. However, we always have other options in case water gets boring (we’ve all been there), and we’re looking to spice things up without sacrificing our digestive health. Fluid intake is made up of the intake of fluids through liquidsandthrough foods. Water-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, contribute significantly to daily fluid intake and provide a gut-healthy punch of nutrients and fiber.
It’s important to note that not all fluids are created equal; for example, alcohol and sugar sweetened beverages have the reverse effect, specifically on the gut. So, we want to keep an eye out on our consumption of these. When we’re out enjoying a boozy beverage, we need to keep an extra close eye on incorporating one or two glasses of water with every cocktail we have. While everything is good in moderation, it’s better to think of water as the more, the better to help us reach our fluid goals.
Our Top Hydrating Foods that are Also Great for the Gut
Cucumbers: Made up of 96% water, cucumbers are one of the most hydrating foods out there. They contain a good amount of fiber and vitamin K. Try a fresh Greek salad with chopped cucumbers for your next meal or side.
Celery: Celery is adjacent to cucumber - made up of almost 95% water and also a good source of fiber and vitamin K. This may be why celery juice became so popular; just make sure to juice your own to get its full benefits.
Watermelon: Watermelon is packed with vitamins A and C, making it the perfect sweet summer treat that’s also hydrating! Try making a frozen watermelon smoothie or pairing it with some feta, basil, and balsamic vinegar for a fun summer salad.
Strawberries: Strawberries are high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants and pack up to 92% water. Use them in smoothies, on yogurt bowls, or dipped in chocolate for a fancy, low effort dessert.
Oranges: Need another excuse to drink freshly squeezed OJ? Oranges are about 88% water and are high in vitamin C, giving us extra immune support. Squeeze fresh orange juice, or enjoy an orange as a hydrating snack.
Dark Leafy Greens: Depending on the type, lettuce contains 95% water, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Use them in big chopped salads, in pasta dishes, or cooked into soups.
Zucchini: Ever wonder why zucchini bread comes out so moist? Zucchini is made up of 95% water and is a great source of vitamins A and C, fiber, and potassium. Zucchini noodles just became your new favorite hydrating dinner.
Electrolytes and the Digestive System
When discussing hydration, electrolytes often come to mind. While water often is enough, some days call for an extra hydrating hand – that’s where electrolytes come in. Electrolytes are chemicals and minerals that enter the body through food, supplements, and even the medications we take. The most common are calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Sound familiar? These are present in almost every health-promoting food out there and have recently gained traction on socials.
Electrolytes are broken down during digestion and are used to regulate the flow of water into our cells – including the ones in the intestinal wall, keep us hydrated, rebuild tissue, and send nerve impulses to signal the body to perform various functions. Electrolytes perform so many different roles within the body, meaning that an imbalance normally causes noticeable changes in how we feel. When we experience an electrolyte imbalance (either too high or too low), we can expect to feel anxious, need extra hydration, have a fever, have headaches, and have digestive problems like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or constipation.
Electrolytes are so important in keeping our digestive muscles moving properly. Check back for a blog post all about electrolytes, coming soon!
Tips for Staying Hydrated
Carry a Water Bottle: Wherever you are, your water bottle should be! With the rise of “emotional support” water bottles, it’s gotten easier to remember to pack water on the go. Research shows that having water readily available, specifically in a reusable bottle with a straw, increases the amount of water we drink.
Eat Your Water: Use the above fruits and veggies to help you meet your hydration needs. However, it’s important to note that drinking water is still necessary; it’s very challenging to meet hydration needs through food alone.
Limit Other Beverages: Limiting the amount of caffeine and alcohol we drink can prevent us from feeling dehydrated. That’s not to say that we can’t enjoy our morning cup of Joe or a cocktail when we’re out; it’s just a reminder that when we do drink these, we need to try extra hard to drink water, too.
Make it a Habit: Remembering to drink water every morning when we wake, before and after meals, and right before bed will become a habit over time. This helps us to create a routine and can be a great habit stacking activity, too.
Change Up the Flavor: Not everyone is a fan of plain water, and that’s okay! Try adding in fresh fruits, like strawberries, or vegetables, like cucumbers, to give water a spa-like feel.
So, there we have it! Drink up for a healthy gut – water is key for overall health, especially digestive health. You can always come back to this post if you need an extra reminder of our favorite hydrating tips and tricks.