Water An Essential Nutrient

What does water do in your body? Far more than satisfy your thirst! Thirst is actually more like a warning light that's flashing on the dashboard of your car. This physical sensation signals to you that your body needs more fluid to perform its many functions. To satisfy thirst, you drink fluids.

Water itself is a simple substance, containing just one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen. It supplies no calories. Yet every body cell, tissue, and organ, and almost every life-sustaining body process, needs water to function. In fact, water is the nutrient your body needs in the greatest amount.

Whether inside or surrounding your cells, nearly every function of the human body takes place in a watery medium. Water regulates your body temperature, keeping it constant at about 98.6° F. Many body processes produce heat, including any physical activity. Through perspiration, heat escapes from your body as water evaporates on your skin.

Water transports nutrients and oxygen to your body cells and carries waste products away. It moistens body tissues such as those in your mouth, eyes, and nose. Water is the main part of every body fluid, including blood, gastric (stomach) juice, saliva, amniotic fluid (for a developing fetus), and urine. By softening stools, water helps prevent constipation. It helps lubricate joints and cushion organs and tissues.

To keep your body functioning normally and to avoid dehydration, your body needs an ongoing water supply. During a strenuous workout, losing water weight is common, especially on a hot, humid day. Losing just one or two pounds of your body's water weight can trigger a feeling of thirst. With a little more fluid loss, the body loses strength and endurance; even mild dehydration can interfere with physical performance. With even more water loss and prolonged exposure to high temperatures, a person may suffer from heat exhaustion or risk heat stroke. With a 20 percent drop in water weight, a person can barely survive.

Of all the nutrients in your diet, water is most abundant. Drinking water and other beverages are the main sources. But you "eat" quite a bit of water in solid foods, too—perhaps more than you think. Juicy fruits and vegetables such as celery, lettuce, tomatoes, and watermelons contain more than 90 percent water. Even dry foods, such as bread, supply some water. Checkthe chart "Food: A Water Source" on page 157.

Your body has still another water source. About 15 percent of your body's total water supply forms in your body cells when energy is produced from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Along with energy, water is an end product of your body's metabolism.

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