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Dehydration linked to winter blues?

24th February 2010 Print

Headaches, fatigue and feeling physically and mentally sluggish are common symptoms of the winter blues but, according to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), you can help shake off the cobwebs and bounce back out of the gloom simply by drinking more fluid.

Compiled with the help of an expert panel, a new guide to healthy hydration, published today by the BNF, shows you the best ways to stay hydrated.

Bridget Benelam, Senior Nutrition Scientist at the BNF says: “It’s not just hot weather that puts people at risk of dehydration. When it’s cold, people may drink less. This may be due to a reduced thirst response or simply because we don’t feel like chilled drinks in cold weather. So, it’s helpful to be aware of how much fluid you’re consuming each day. Plain water is a great choice, but water in the diet can come from many sources, some of which people may find surprising. We hope that the guide will dispel some common misconceptions, as well as helping people to stay hydrated.”

Hidden calories in drinks

Drinking the right type of fluids can be important to overall health and weight management, especially when you consider that there are often hidden calories in drinks, as well as in food. Also, calorie rich drinks usually do not give you the same feeling of fullness as foods do, so you may well be consuming many more calories than you imagine when you’re drinking.

Benelam says: “Drinks that contain sugar, fat or alcohol also contain calories, and drinks such as sports drinks, juices, smoothies, cappuccino-style coffees and alcoholic drinks can contribute significant amounts of calories to the diet. For example, a large coffee, made with whole milk, syrup and cream can be over 500 calories, which is about a quarter of the daily guideline amount of calories.”

Sara Stanner, Science Programme Manager at the BNF says: “There are so many mixed messages about hydration that people may either feel that they need to drink excessive amounts of water or that they don’t need to drink water at all. The evidence shows that a variety of drinks can contribute to hydration, but, with obesity levels increasing, people do need to be aware of the calorie content of their drinks.”

Be careful when you brush your teeth!

It’s widely known that the sugar content and acidity of drinks can have a detrimental impact on dental health and that regular tooth brushing is important. But, it isn’t widely known that you should be careful about when you brush your teeth.

According to the BNF, brushing teeth straight after drinking acidic drinks can actually do more damage than good because some of the softened enamel is literally brushed away. The BNF’s advice is to wait at least one hour after consuming acidic foods or drinks before brushing.

Professor Angus Walls of University of Newcastle offers some practical advice for protecting your teeth: “Using a straw may lessen the contact of acidic drinks with your teeth. This is great for children and adults can try it too. Ideally you should consume sugary or acidic foods and drinks no more than 4-5 times per day. Obviously, this includes your normal meals and sweetened tea and coffee count as well”.

Tea and coffee count

Everyone should know that drinking water is a good way to stay hydrated but, according to the new BNF guide to hydration, tea and coffee can be a major contributor to fluid intake too. This will come as a surprise to many people who believe that drinks containing caffeine actively dehydrate the body and, therefore, negate any hydrating benefit the water in the drink may have.

Stanner, says: “Although caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, drinking some caffeinated drinks – such as 4 mugs of instant coffee or 5 mugs of tea a day - does not cause any extra urine production. The only group of people who need to be careful to limit their caffeine intake are pregnant women*.”

Fluids in food

It might not be obvious but food also provides water in the diet – a valuable 20% of our fluid intake in fact, or the equivalent of 2 extra glasses of water on average. The water content of foods varies widely from over 90% in some fruits and vegetables to less than 5% in savoury snacks and confectionery. Foods like soups and stews where a lot of water is added during cooking are great for helping to keep the body hydrated. Benelam says: “The rich water content of fruits and vegetables means that eating the recommended ‘5 a day’ also contributes to keeping hydrated and having more energy for life.”

For more advice on fluid in the diet and how to stay hydrated, visit:

Benelam concludes: “The BNF guide is based on scientific evidence and designed to help people choose a balance of drinks that is right for them. This will, in turn, help them to control body weight and protect their teeth.”

* Pregnant women are advised to consume no more than 200mg of caffeine per day (two mugs of instant coffee, two and a half mugs of tea or about five cans of cola)