Foods That Hydrate

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español / em Português

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Images of food high in water content and the percentage of water each food provides.

The soaring temperatures have been extreme lately even for summer in the south. The temperature plus humidity can easily send the heat index into dangerous levels and make staying cool very difficult.

As our bodies perspire, the fluid that is excreted through the skin acts as a cooling agent to regulate body temperature to within normal, healthy ranges. Even though our body has a natural way of cooling itself, it can do this only if we provide the fluid needed. When too little fluid is consumed and/or too much is lost, fluid levels fall below normal, resulting in dehydration. Some symptoms of dehydration, such as increased body temperature and pulse rate, can occur without our being totally aware of them. We may even brush off a slight headache or fatigue without connecting it to dehydration. By the time we experience other symptoms like dizziness and weakness, we could be in real trouble.

Water aids the body in performing numerous vital functions. In addition to regulating body temperature, water helps with digestion and absorption of nutrients, flushes out waste, improves respiration, and lubricates joints. Water makes up 75 percent of your brain, 75 percent of your muscles, and 83 percent of your blood. So when the body becomes dehydrated, it affects how you feel and your ability to move and think. Confusion or feeling disoriented is a common symptom of dehydration.

Heat-induced illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and the more severe heat stroke. Heat cramps are usually the result of hard physical labor in a hot environment, often resulting from an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. Heat exhaustion is a result of the combination of excessive heat and dehydration, and left untreated, can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most serious disorder associated with heat stress. It occurs when the body’s temperature regulation fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. It is a medical emergency that can lead to death.

Anyone can be at risk of experiencing dehydration or heat-related illness. Age, weight, degree of physical fitness, metabolism, use of alcohol or medications, and a variety of medical conditions all affect a person’s sensitivity to heat. Babies and children younger than 4 have underdeveloped body systems and can’t regulate body temperature as efficiently. Adults over 65 may not be able to regulate temperature as well because of medications, illness, or other factors. Medications used to treat high blood pressure, heart problems, allergies, depression, and other conditions can affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and efficiently cool itself. Excess weight raises your core body temperature and makes it harder for your body to regulate your temperature.

Drinking water and consuming foods with high water content are the best ways to stay hydrated. People get about 80 percent of their necessary water intake from beverages. The other 20 percent comes from food. Fruits, in general, have high water content with melons, peaches, pineapple, berries, apples, and oranges topping the list. Vegetables such as squash, corn, celery, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes are great sources of water as well. Foods that we make by adding water or milk count too, like Jell-o, popsicles, and cereal. Summer may be too hot for your favorite soup, but cold soups can be refreshing and hydrating. A chilled peach soup or a cold vegetable soup like Gazpacho are delicious and nutritious ways to increase water intake.

There are three basic steps to preventing heat-related illness. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that allows good air flow. Avoid outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day when possible. Stay hydrated by taking in plenty of fluids from non-caffeinated beverages and cool, light foods.