If you’re like the majority of Americans, you struggle with meeting your daily fluid needs. You’re either too busy, forgetful or are simply bored with the taste of water. That being said, proper hydration is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle — and water just happens to be the best way to stay hydrated.
From keeping bowels functioning properly to boosting skin health and regulating body temperature, there’s an abundance of reasons why drinking more water should be at the very top of your to-do list. “Every single cell in your body requires water to function,” says Registered Dietitian Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, Deputy Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab. “From preventing infections to optimizing your metabolic rate, the benefits of staying hydrated are vast and can even improve sleep quality and mood.”
An estimated 75% of Americans are dehydrated, and even mild dehydration can negatively impact energy levels, mood and cognitive performance. But how much water do you need? Eight cups per day is a good rule of thumb, but your needs will vary greatly depending on age, activity level, weight, health status and the climate that you live in. For example, if you exercise on a regular basis, you’ll need to up your water intake. On the other hand, if you’re at risk for certain medical conditions, like chronic kidney disease, drinking a gallon of water a day could be dangerous, so you’ll want to follow your doctor’s orders.
If you do determine that you need to increase the amount of H20 you’re imbibing every day, but you strongly dislike the taste of water, here’s the secret to staying hydrated: Keep things interesting! Plain water isn’t the only way to meet your daily needs. Nutrition experts recommend adding these top healthy drinks to your daily routine, too.
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Flavored Sparkling Water
Water, but make it bubbly! Flavored sparkling water is just as hydrating as plain water — and it’s healthy, too. “The best water alternatives are low in sugar or are sugar-free,” says Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins. Davis adds that some varieties also are fortified with prebiotics, which can help fuel the good bacteria in your gut. If you’re looking to cut back on soda or alcohol, try making a fizzy mocktail drink with flavored seltzer water or club soda.
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Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with water, tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. It’s naturally packed with probiotics, which help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut. When you drink kombucha, you’re consuming healthy microbes that support your digestion and overall gut health. “While kombucha is by no means a magical elixir, it’s still an excellent alternative to alcoholic beverages that can count towards your hydration needs,” says Nicole Rodriguez, RDN. You’ll want to avoid kombucha products featuring artificial flavors and excessive added sugars; instead look for phrases like “naturally fermented” to be sure you’re getting kombucha that’s minimally processed.
“Green tea is a great choice for its vitality benefits and may even aid in blood sugar regulation and metabolic health,” says Davis. It also contains compounds like antioxidant catechins, a class of flavonoids which help protect the body from free radicals and play a role in slowing down the aging process.
If you are looking for an alternative to coffee, this might be your best bet. Green tea contains a lower dose of caffeine than coffee and helps you avoid side effects like jitters or headaches, but can still keep your energy levels stable.
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If you’re always on-the-go, having a smoothie on hand can help keep you hydrated and nourished. These thick, creamy beverages can be made by blending together your favorite fruits and veggies with healthy sources of protein and fiber.
“When putting together a smoothie, think protein, fat, fiber and flavor,” says Rodriguez. In addition to carbohydrates in the form of fruit or vegetables, muscle-building protein should serve as the base of your smoothie, whether it be yogurt, milk, cottage cheese or whey protein. Then add a plant-based source of fat and fiber, like nut butter and chia seeds, plus a flavorful ingredient like cocoa powder to make a delicious, nutrient-dense smoothie.
RELATED: The Best Healthy Smoothie Recipes to Start Your Morning.
Hibiscus tea is made from the leaves of the hibiscus flower with its bright pinkish, red color and tangy, yet refreshing flavor. Rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids, this tea can help ward off disease and support immunity. In fact, drinking just one cup every day may lower blood pressure, according to one study.
To make, pick up some dried hibiscus flowers on your next grocery run, pour boiling water over the dried flowers and steep for five minutes. Then, strain, sweeten and enjoy. Always speak to your doctor if you’re breastfeeding, pregnant or taking medications before incorporating herbal teas into your diet.
Coconut water is a popular hydration option that has a sweet nutty taste. Plus, it is packed with electrolytes like potassium, sodium and magnesium that help to maintain fluid balance. “This is a great beverage choice for a post-workout boost,” says Davis, who recommends choosing brands that are “100% coconut water” and being mindful of added sugars and flavoring agents.
Sassos adds that if you don’t love the taste of coconut water on its own, try incorporating it into smoothies or mixed with sparkling water.
Low-fat and fat-free milk
Low-fat and fat-free milk are both budget-friendly and nutritionally complete beverages. In fact, milk is one of the best sources of calcium, which your body needs to support bone health. It’s also packed with key nutrients like B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium and vitamin K. “Low-fat and fat-free milk are both sources of 13 essential nutrients and provide a balance of protein and carbohydrates,” says Rodriguez. If milk typically upsets your stomach, keep an eye out in the dairy aisle for lactose-free versions of these hydrating superstars.
Apart from drinking it straight, you can make your own hot cocoa with milk. Cocoa provides energy-boosting caffeine, increases “feel good” hormones and contains antioxidant-packed polyphenols. To make, add a spoon of cocoa powder to your favorite warm milk, sprinkle in cinnamon and sweetener of your choice to taste, stir and enjoy!
Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a tart, creamy taste and texture similar to a drinkable yogurt. It is richer in probiotics compared to many other fermented dairy products and is a source of key nutrients like vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, all of which support healthy bones and a healthy heart. Sassos says that given its probiotic-rich nature, kefir has been shown to support a healthy immune system and even modulate the immune system to suppress viral infections.
Thanks to a protein content of ten grams per one cup, you’ll be on your way to feeling satiated after drinking kefir. If you have a lactose intolerance, this is a great milk alternative, since it’s low in lactose. To enjoy kefir, pour a glass and drink on its own or use it as a base in your breakfast parfait. It also makes a great homemade salad dressing!
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