How Much Water Should You Drink in the Tropics?

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One of the most common causes of tiredness or fatigue when living in the tropics is dehydration. That’s because we perspire more in hot, humid weather and this causes our bodies to become dehydrated. We’ve all heard of the advice that everyone should drink 8 glasses of water a day but is that good advice when you are living in a tropical climate?

Even the ‘8 glasses a day’ advice is quite misleading for temperate climates because there are many other factors that come into play when calculating the quantity of liquids that should be consumed each day to stay healthy and stave off dehydration (and most importantly to avoid damage to the body’s urinary system).

The most important of those factors is your gender and body weight. The Mayo Clinic reports that the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicines (NASEM) has calculated that men need 15.5 cups of liquid a day and women 11.5 cups. But that’s for people of average body height and weight. For people lighter or heavier, those recommendations will vary.

Whether it’s the widely publicised ‘8 glasses a day’ rule or the NASEM 11-15 cups recommendation, that still sounds like a lot of liquid to drink in one day, especially when you remember that those figures exclude any alcoholic drinks because they have a dehydrating effect. Although coffee and tea have mild diuretic effects, they can contribute to achieving daily liquid requirements.

But the good news is that most people obtain about 20 percent of their daily fluids requirements from foods such as soups, fruits and vegetables, and other foods with high water content. The bad news is that most people don’t drink enough liquids to make up the other 80 percent, and in the tropics the recommended consumption figures are higher because of the climate.

So how do we work out the quantity of fluids we need to drink and what are the ways to make it easy? Most people know that drinking fruit juices and sodas is a bad way to make up the liquids requirements because your sugar intake would be way above what’s recommended by nutritionists – and that would also be decidedly dangerous for anyone suffering from diabetes.

There are lots of health websites with hydration calculators where you can enter in details of your gender, height, weight and other factors and the calculator works out your daily fluids requirements, but when we tried out more than a dozen of them, we found the results extremely variable. We entered in the details for a male person, 70 kg in weight and 177 cm in height, and discovered that the results varied from 1.9 litres to 4.1 litres. That’s a big variance and suggests that many of the online hydration calculators are unreliable.

We found almost the same variance in phone app hydration calculators too but noted that most of those were targeted towards people wanting to calculate the amount of liquid to drink to make up for perspiration lost during a period of exercise. What we were interested in were apps that calculated your daily requirements living in the tropics, and we found none because the phone apps didn’t have provision for entering in climate or location.

What we were looking for was a calculator that accounted for individual factors including health, body mass, gender, activity level and duration, weather and humidity as well as foods consumed. The closest we could find was the Rehydrate Pro Hydration Calculator.

This hydration calculator is on a commercial website owned by a U.S. company selling decorative drinking water bottles, but it was better than any we could find on any health sites. Not only does it ask the basic questions of gender, weight and activity levels, but it asks about the climate where you live and the altitude at which you live. The result for our 70kg/177cm ‘test subject’ in a humid climate was 3.3 litres. That was fairly close to the average of all the calculators we tested.

We also entered in the same details for a subject in a temperate climate to see how much extra fluid intake is required in a tropical climate, and that gave a result of 2.8 litres, suggesting that in the tropics you need to drink 500 ml more liquids during the day than in temperate climates.  That was not as much as we thought it would be, but it was the same difference as given by a hydration calculator on an Indian website which also offered the provision to enter different climatic locations and produced similar results.

That was the MED India Daily Water Intake Calculator which gave a result of 3.4 litres for our test subject if living in a tropical climate, 2.9 litres if living in a temperate climate, and 3.1 litres if living in a cold climate. The only other calculator we could find that took account of location was the Hydration for Health Calculator but this hydration calculator doesn’t tell you how much you need to drink – it tells you how much more you need to drink based on the data you input on your normal drinking habits.

Although the Hydration for Health Calculator does ask for your country of residence, it only uses that information to vary slightly the estimated amount of liquid that is obtained from food. It doesn’t show any difference between hot or cold countries in the amount of water lost each day. So we don’t consider this to be a very reliable counter.

One other counter that you might want to take a look at is the GIGA Daily Water Intake Calculator. This calculator is not recommended for calculating your daily fluids intake because there is no data input relating to climate or location, but the page does have a useful chart showing the water content of many common foods. You may be surprised at how high the water content is of some foods that you regularly eat, so these may help to make up any shortfall in your liquids intake.

Alternatives to water

Drinking a lot of water (and anything more than three litres a day is hard for a lot of people) is not easy because, let’s be frank, water is a pretty boring beverage. Cold sodas are easy to gulp down in hot weather, but we know they are not good for our health – especially our teeth and waistlines.  So what alternatives are there to water to increase our daily fluid intake?

In the tropics we are lucky enough to have easy access to the best water alternative in the world – the humble coconut. Most people living in the tropics know about the health benefits of coconut water. It is full of nutrients, vitamins and electrolytes aside from being one of the best hydration fluids on the planet. However, don’t overdo the coconut water because too much at one time can cause an upset stomach in some people.

In many tropical Asian countries, locals keep their fluid intake up by drinking green tea all day, keeping the tea in a thermos flask and topping it up with hot water whenever it gets low. A good quality green tea (using the proper leaves and not tea bags) will stay flavourful all day. Another option is to make two or three litres of iced green tea in the morning and keep it in the fridge for topping up a drink bottle throughout the day.

Most people who drink warm green tea all day do so without sugar but iced green tea may require a little sweetening to make it more palatable. Coconut sugar or a local honey are better alternatives to regular sugar.

Another alternative is to make a ginger and lime drink. Harvest some fresh ginger and tropical limes from the garden (or buy from the market if you don’t have any growing) and peel the ginger. Chop the ginger into small pieces and place in a blender with a small amount of water ensuring that the blender blades are fully covered. Blend for a few minutes (the longer the better) and then drain the blended ginger through a sieve into a container.

Use the back of a tablespoon to press what is left of the ginger through the sieve and then scrape what won’t go through the sieve back into the blender and blend again with a little more water. Keep doing that until there is more flavour left in the fibres that remain in the sieve. Squeeze the limes (the quantity will depend on whether you want the drink to have more ginger or lime flavour) and add the lime juice to the mixture.

Dilute according to taste and add a small quantity of coconut sugar or honey to sweeten. Try to keep the amount of sweetener to the lowest level that you can. Often people can reduce the amount of sweetener over time to almost nil. That ensures you are not consuming too much sugar during the course of the day. This drink can be consumed warm, cold or iced according to personal taste.

If you don’t have time to prepare green tea or ginger and lime drinks, then just keep a pitcher of water handy in the fridge with some lemon slices and mint leaves. The subtle flavour of the lemon and mint will make the water more palatable to drink than water straight from a tap or a bottle.

Header image: © Puhhha

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