Stay Hydrated with these Real Foods

This is a guest post by Beth Warren, MS, RD, CDN.

It is 4 pm. You wait outside, sipping iced coffee, with your feet up on the porch railing. A slight, heated breeze hits your face and you say, “Ahhh,” basking in the relaxation and cooling off from the summer heat…until you hear the roaring of a school bus coming your way. The doors open and you are ready to greet your son after a long day at summer camp.

You wave your hands as he comes down the stairs of the bus and your big smile turns into an anxious frown.  Instead of a happy, peach-colored boy, you have a sweaty, red-hot son, dragging his knapsack sulkily behind him, looking wiped out.

How can we avoid the summer heat exhaustion and dehydration?

The obvious way is to drink water all-day. And it is true. Your body is made up of 50-65% water, and although there are different opinions as to how much you should be drinking, depending on factors including urination and sweat, on average it is about 8 cups per day, more in high temperatures.

Water, however, is only one way our body gets hydrated. It may come as a surprise that 75% of our fluid comes from the foods we eat. Fruits and vegetables have the highest water content of any foods. Even better than drinking water, they act like a two-in-one meal and drink, providing the mineral salts, natural sugars, amino acids and vitamins that are lost through sweat.

I am always happy to hear summer camps randomly serve sliced watermelon to children, because they top the hydration list for fruits. Watermelons are 92 percent water, eight percent sugar and contain essential rehydration salts calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. It is also rich in Vitamin C , as well as beta-carotene and lycopene, which will give the body protection from UV light: a double-whammy for basking in the summertime sun. And a University of Naples study found that plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin – found in fruit such as watermelon and papaya – help boost hydration even further.

Due to its 96 per cent water content and mineral balance, a cucumber can produce similar hydration levels to twice the volume of water. It also contains almost ideal levels of calcium and magnesium, along with potassium, sodium and other minerals.

Celery is another great hydrating choice because mineral-rich sticks replenish levels of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. These salts help carry the 96 per cent water in which they are dissolved around the body.

Watery fruit and vegetables often contain levels of minerals and sugar that mirror your body’s natural composition, so they can hydrate you more effectively than water alone. While you may be loading your child’s backpack with an ice-cold water bottle, consider jamming in some fresh fruit and vegetables.


Aside from cooling you down in the summer heat, hydration plays an important role in weight management. Because the brain’s hypothalamus controls the signals for hunger and thirst, sometimes we may eat to placate our thirst. One study showed individuals responded “appropriately” by consuming water in response to thirst, in the absence of hunger, only 2% of the time. They responded “inappropriately” (i.e., thirsty and hungry but did not drink or eat; not thirsty and not hungry but drank and/or ate; not thirsty but hungry and drank but did not eat; thirsty but not hungry and did not drink but ate) 62% of the time.[i]

We should therefore, make it a habit to drink fluids, ideally in the form of simple H20, to help control dehydration and the risk of trying to appease our thirst with food when we are not hungry. Using data from a national health survey of more than 12,000 Americans, researchers found that people who drank more plain water tended to eat more fiber, less sugar and fewer high-calorie foods.[ii]

I recommend carrying a water bottle on hand at all times. If it is not constantly with you, you will not drink it. If you are in an office setting, take the opportunity to move-it by getting up to refill cups of water, killing two “healthy” birds with one stone. Here are some other tips on how to drink more water:

Add a wedge or slices of fresh fruits or vegetables like a lemon, lime, orange, tangerine or grapefruit, sliced cucumber and or melon, seasonings like fresh mint leaves, a cinnamon stick, fresh grated ginger root or fresh grated zest from an organic citrus rind, or freeze 100% juice and bits of real fruit like berries in ice cube trays to add color and flavor.


Sometimes, a patient sneakily covers their cup of coffee as they sit down at my desk and others may guiltily admit they drink it, waiting for my disapproval. Believe it or not, coffee can count towards your fluid requirement. Although many think it acts only as a diuretic, which would dehydrate you, it actually does not cause you to expel more urine than you normally would, but may have you running to the bathroom a little faster than usual. Also, a cup of coffee is mostly water, so the water being consumed in the process of drinking the coffee may offset the diuretic effects. And be sure to remember that any diuretic effect is due to the caffeine in the coffee, so any caffeinated beverage like soda or tea and even a food like chocolate will have the same result.

Coffee, about 1-3 cups per day, can be used on our path towards better health and weight-loss. Some of the most interesting studies show coffee lowers the risk of developing kidney stones, gallstones, type 2 diabetes and fewer suicides – most likely due to coffee’s ability to act as a mild anti-depressant[i].

Coffee becomes an issue if you have adverse side effects to caffeine including shaking, irritability and insomnia, or a morning headache if you miss your cup o’ joe, so be sure to note any symptoms. I also find in my clinical experience that people may use coffee to mask their hunger and sip it constantly throughout the day – which would not be so much of a problem if it did not pretty much guarantee you will overeat at your next chow-down time – not recommended. Is coffee essential? No. But if you need a cup or two to get through your day, stop feeling guilty about it!

Many of the benefits to the caffeine in coffee can be applied to the caffeinated teas as well. More than that, each herbal tea has its own health properties. I strongly urge you to drink teas that aid digestion and may leave you with a flatter tummy like fennel, ginger, mint (or referred to as “Nana” in the Moroccan circles made with real mint leaves) and chamomile along with green tea. Green tea is unique as it has a marvelous antioxidant called Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is linked with anti-cancer[ii] and anti-inflammatory properties and helps manage weight[iii].


Although each person’s fluid needs vary, I stamp my approval on drinking a goal of 8 cups of water per day, as a general guide on meeting your fluid needs and an overall healthy habit.  Be sure to include a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer season to add to your body’s higher demand for hydration.

Beth Warren, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and a certified dietitian-nutritionist with a Masters of Science degree in Nutrition. She runs a private practice in Brooklyn, NY where she works as a freelance writer, consultant of businesses and counsels adult and pediatric clients with various medical conditions and weight management.Visit her website for more information.

[i] McKiernan, F et. al. “Relationships between human thirst, hunger, drinking, and feeding.” 2008. Physiol Behav. 94 (5): 700-08.
[iii] Willet, W.C. et al. “Coffee Consumption and Coronary Heart Disease in Women. A Ten-Year Follow-up.” JAMA 275 (1996): 458-62.
[iv] Leone M, Zhai D, Sareth S, Kitada S, Reed JC, Pellecchia M (December 2003). “Cancer prevention by tea polyphenols is linked to their direct inhibition of antiapoptotic Bcl-2-family proteins”. Cancer Research 63 (23): 8118–21.
[v] Hill AM, et al. “Can EGCG Reduce Abdominal Fat in Obese Subjects?” J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Aug;26(4):396S-402S


  • marion

    Wonderful article……..I will pass it along to my friends…..thanks for writing it.

    • Beth

      Thanks Marion! Happy you enjoyed! -Beth

  • Richard

    Thank you. Apples seem to help my 9 year old in this Texas heat during soccer season and summer.

  • Stacey

    I’ve been pureeing melon and adding it to iced green tea with mint. Yum!

  • Shawn

    Awesome article, yes I heard the water in plant foods is superior!

    Shawn – Kangen Water Advocate –