Staying hydrated is an often-overlooked aspect of health. While many people recognize they could benefit from drinking more water, it can be a difficult goal to achieve. Vegans in particular may benefit from proper hydration.
This page covers:
- What Does Hydration Mean?
- What Fluids Do in the Body: Health Benefits of Staying Hydrated
- Why Hydration is Essential for Vegans
- Daily Intake Recommendations for Fluids
- Fluid Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
- How to Stay Hydrated as a Vegan: Consuming Enough Fluids
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What Does Hydration Mean?
When talking about hydration or staying hydrated, people generally mean having enough fluid in the body. Every cell in the body requires adequate amounts of fluid to function properly.
The body is constantly losing fluid through the skin (sweat), urine, feces and the breath. This fluid needs to be replaced to maintain proper bodily functions.
Water is an essential nutrient that’s easy to overlook when talking about nutrition. While people typically focus on water or beverage intake when talking about hydration, water is present in many foods as well.
This is why I often say “fluid” intake instead of using the word water. When saying water, people typically think of a glass of water, whereas the word fluid makes it easier to remember that hydration can come from other sources, including food.
What Fluids Do in the Body: Health Benefits of Staying Hydrated
- Body temperature regulation: Sweat (a type of fluid) maintains internal temperatures and cools the body.
- Maintenance of physical performance: Dehydration can cause negative impacts on physical performance including reduced endurance, increased fatigue, increased perceived effort and reduced motivation.
- Cognitive performance: Adequate hydration is essential for proper brain function. Mild dehydration can lead to problems with concentration, alertness and short-term memory, although this effect is highly variable among people. More severe dehydration can lead to delirium.
- Gastrointestinal function: Dehydration could lead to concerns with constipation; although research shows that additional fluids don’t seem to help with constipation in people who are properly hydrated.
- Kidney function: Water is needed for kidneys to filter waste out of the body (i.e. production of urine).
- Mood: Dehydration can lead to changes in perceived mood including fatigue, confusion, anger and vigor.
- Blood pressure: Blood pressure is dependent on the volume of blood (among other factors). While blood volume is tightly regulated by the kidneys, drinking water can help to maintain blood pressure.
- Headaches: Dehydration may trigger migraines and some observational research suggests dehydration may lead to development of a headache (but more research is needed).
- Skin health: Adequate hydration is needed to maintain proper hydration of the skin. However, people who are adequately hydrated likely won’t see an improvement if increasing fluid intake.
- Cushioning Organs: The major organs in the torso and throughout the body are cushioned by body fluid.
Additionally, some research suggests adequate hydration could lower risk for kidney or bladder stones, exercise related asthma and high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes 2. There’s also evidence to suggest hydration could lower risk for fatal heart disease, stroke, urinary tract infections and dental diseases 2.
Why Hydration is Essential for Vegans
Transitioning to a vegan diet could be beneficial for health, however some people note “side effects” during this transition. One common concern is changes to digestion and bowel movements.
Sometimes this is for the better, but some people run into issues. One reason that could explain unpleasant digestive changes is the increase in fiber intake that typically happens when someone starts eating more plants.
Whenever people increase their fiber intake, fluid intake needs to increase too. The reason for this is that a certain type of fiber (soluble fiber) holds onto water in the digestive track. This can be great to help with regularity in bowel movements, but if there isn’t enough water present, constipation, bloating or gas could result.
Vegans can reap the same health benefits of hydration as anyone else, but ensuring proper hydration is even more critical for those prone to digestive concerns.
Additionally, some people experience diarrhea during a dietary transition. With diarrhea, the body loses more fluid than usual therefore extra fluid intake is critical. Fiber could also be a culprit in experiencing diarrhea after a dietary change, but always speak to your doctor if you have concerns or symptoms lasting more than a few days (or symptoms that are severe/ impacting your daily life).
Daily Intake Recommendations for Fluids
Research on fluid intake requirements is shockingly inadequate. Most recommendations are based on less-than-ideal methods 2. The body tightly regulates water balance so deciding if someone is hydrated or not can be tricky to define.
There are many guidelines about hydration and several are not based on excellent science.
As a general rule, women need about 2.2 L of fluid per day and men need about 3 L 1. Fluid needs vary based on age, body size and activity level so this needs to be customized to an individual 1. Additionally, this particular recommendation is for total fluid; so water from food (which is hard to measure) goes toward this total.
Another general guideline is that fluid requirements can be matched to calorie intake. For example, if someone eats about 2000 kcal per day, this would translate to needing 2000 mL (or 2 L) of water per day. Where I live, this was a generally accepted rule of thumb for dietitians to use. However, like most fluid recommendations, this is a just a general rule and there isn’t a ton of good science to back it up.
Athletes should consult an expert (dietitian) to determine appropriate hydration during exercise as it varies based on many training factors (duration, intensity, weather etc.).
Fluid Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
There are many signs and symptoms of dehydration including: 4
- Urine that is darker than normal
- Little to no urine
- Thirst (especially if it’s extreme thirst)
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness or light-headedness
Always consult a doctor if you have any concerns about your health; many of the signs and symptoms above could be indicative of different medical conditions that require attention.
Certain people are more prone to dehydration including anyone outside in hot/humid weather, elderly, children, pregnant/ breastfeeding women, people following certain diets/ with certain dietary restrictions, or people with some medical conditions (including being sick with symptoms like fever, vomiting, diarrhea) 4.
It’s generally best to prevent dehydration by staying hydrated.
How to Stay Hydrated as a Vegan: Consuming Enough Fluids
The key to avoiding dehydration as a vegan is to consume adequate fluids. Fluids come from beverages as well as foods.
The best way to hydrate is with water. I’ve seen many headlines over the years with titles like “the best drink for hydration, and it isn’t water” or something to that affect. But this is largely just for clicks and is not backed by the best science (or any science, sometimes). Much of these articles are promoting either electrolyte drinks or some other expensive alternative to water. Save your money and drink free tap water or filtered water (if it’s safe to drink tap water where you live).
If you’re not a huge fan of water, or generally struggle to drink enough water through the day, here are a few tips:
- Keep a full water bottle with you at all times.
- Have a glass of water on your bed-side table to sip through the night or to drink first thing in the morning (people are commonly dehydrated in the morning).
- Flavor water by adding different fresh fruits/ vegetables/ herbs (ex. cucumber with blueberries; mint with lime etc.); you can eat the fruits/ vegetables after to minimize food waste.
- If you struggle to remember to drink water, consider setting reminders on your phone or schedule it into your day.
Fluid intake can also add up through the day from the foods we eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide water (in varying amounts). Sauces, soups and frozen foods (ex. popsicles, ice cream) also provide fluids. Other beverages (besides water) provide fluids but they could also be a source of sugar so it can be helpful to pay attention to your choices.
Summary: Hydration for Vegans
Hydration is important for everyone, but may be particularly important for people consuming lots of fiber, such as many vegans. Increasing fluid intake can pose health benefits, especially for people who are chronically dehydrated or at higher risk of dehydration. Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated for most people. Fluid is present in other foods and this can add up to help meet fluid intake recommendations.
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- Guidelines for Drinking Fluids to Stay Hydrated
- Water, Hydration and Health
- Dehydration – Mayo Clinic
- Hydration: Why It’s So Important
Please note that this is a curated list of references for the topics above and is not intended to be comprehensive.
Disclaimer: always speak with a doctor before changing your diet. Please read our full website disclaimer.