Having more sweet drinks while stuck at home? It might lead to dehydration
Our sugar consumption might be higher during the “circuit breaker” period, which makes us thirstier. Here’s why you shouldn’t forget to drink water.
Minus the brief moments you’re out buying food or exercising, you’re home most of the time. The air-conditioning or fan is probably cranked up to fight Singapore’s perennial heat so you’re likely to be perspiring less than usual. So you shouldn’t be worrying about being dehydrated right?
That’s not quite the case. For one, compared to being conscious about your water intake while in the office, you might actually be lulled into complacency since you’re at home.
But more importantly, being home-bound might also mean you’re drinking more sweet drinks – by experimenting with Dalgona coffee or homemade bubble tea, or simply chugging more soft drinks and other sweetened beverages you’ve got stocked up in the fridge.
All that sweet stuff means your sugar intake is higher than usual. And this can even make you thirstier than usual – which, in turn, has an effect on your body’s hydration levels.
It has to do with a spike in your blood sugar levels, explained Caroline Apovian, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine’s department of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Nutrition & Weight Management.
When sugar or glucose floods your blood, your body tries to restore balance by drawing water from the other cells. As your cells lose water, they signal to your brain that they need more H2O, so within five to 10 minutes of drinking that sweet drink, you’ll feel thirsty, she explained.
Meanwhile, your kidneys are working hard to manage the glucose flood. “Our kidneys use the glucose they need for immediate energy, reabsorb the remaining sugar and put it back into the blood to conserve it,” said Jennifer Shim, a dietitian from Parkway East Hospital.
“However, with an excessive sugar intake, the glucose spills into urine, and exposing our kidneys to high levels of glucose repeatedly can damage them.”
WATER EXTENDED LIFESPAN OF SUGAR-FED FRUIT FLIES
As it turns out, fruit flies are pretty much like us in this aspect. That was one of the discoveries published by Imperial College London researchers in the journal Cell Metabolism this March. Like us when we’ve had too much sugar, the flies exhibited worse kidney function and higher purine levels in their blood.
Purines aren’t something you want accumulating in your body as they break down into uric acid that lead to a whole host of issues such as kidney stones, gout, arthritis and heart disease.
But there’s more to flies high on sugar. When the researchers focused on the flies’ increased thirst in the presence of more sugar, they found that the more water the flies drank, the longer they lived despite the negative effects from sugar.
"Water is vital for our health, yet its importance is often overlooked in metabolic studies,” said Dr Helena Cocheme, the principal investigator of the study. “We were surprised that flies fed a high-sugar diet did not show a reduced lifespan, simply by providing them with an extra source of water to drink.”
However, this doesn’t give you a free pass to drink all the sugary drinks you want as long as you chase them down with plain water. “Drinking water can help to keep us hydrated and help our kidney to flush out waste products, but it will not flush the sugar out any faster,” said Shim.
WHAT ABOUT ‘HEALTHY’ BEVERAGES LIKE SPORTS DRINKS AND COCONUT JUICE?
In an ideal world, water would be all that we drink. But it isn’t an ideal world. “Often times, we use sugar or sweets as a reward just because it tastes good; for example, having a sugary snack after a light lunch or after completing a challenging exercise,” said Shim. “This creates a pattern and reinforces the habit of eating sugary food which may lead to sugar addiction.”
Can you compromise with “healthy” drinks such as sports beverages and coconut water? They aren’t as sugar-loaded as Coke or BBT, and they supposedly hydrate you better, right? For starters, you should not be consuming more than 40g to 55g – or eight to 11 teaspoons – of sugar every day, according to the Health Promotion Board.
This limit encompasses all the sugar you consume, including in your cooking, coffee, and snacks such as cakes, sweets and ice cream, said Shim.
Furthermore, you may not need the “extra help” of these drinks. For instance, sports drinks typically contain carbohydrates for fast fuel, and small amounts of sodium to enhance water absorption and retention, said Shim.
But if you’re working out in the cool comfort of your home for less than an hour, water would work well for you, she said.
And for non-athletes, which many of us are, “sports drinks are just another sugary drink” that will contribute to weight gain – even though they contain less sugar than soft drinks, said Shim.
What about natural coconut water? “Although it has a similar nutrient composition as sports drinks, coconut water differs in significant ways,” said Shim. It has less carbohydrates and sodium, which are the key nutrients required for long workouts. "Flavoured coconut water may have similar nutrient composition to sports drinks but it still has less sodium."
HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD YOU DRINK?
While it is recommended to drink six to eight glasses of water per day, the quota also includes fluids from food such as soup, porridge, vegetables and fruits. But the figure isn't set in stone because your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, activity level and environment, said Shim.
As a rule of thumb, drink enough water so that you urinate several times a day. "Your urine should be pale and odour-free. If it is dark and smells, that’s an indication that you need to drink more," she added.
If you're not a fan of boring, plain water, try infusing your water with fruits such as lemon, or frozen fruits such as grapes, blueberries or strawberries. "You may add herbs such as lemongrass, mint or spearmint in your water to make your six to eight glasses of water low calorie and interesting," said Shim.