Your body needs water or other fluids to work properly and to avoid dehydration.
This article explains how much we need to drink, how to spot the signs of dehydration and how to choose healthier non-alcoholic drinks. For advice on alcohol, see our Alcohol section.
Water makes up about two-thirds of the weight of a healthy body.
Most of the chemical reactions that happen in our cells need water in order to take place. We also need water so that our blood can carry nutrients around the body and get rid of waste.
How much should we drink?
To stay healthy, it’s important to replace the fluid we lose when we breathe, sweat or urinate.
We get some fluid from our food but most comes from drinks.
The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women should drink about 1.6 litres of fluid and men should drink about 2.0 litres of fluid per day. That’s about eight glasses of 200ml each for a woman, and 10 glasses of 200ml each for a man.
However, the amount a person needs to drink to avoid getting dehydrated will vary depending on a range of factors, including their size, the temperature and how active they are. So, for example, if you’re exercising hard in hot weather you’ll need to drink more.
All drinks count, including hot drinks such as tea and coffee, but water, milk and fruit juices are the healthiest. It is best to avoid alcoholic drinks.
Try to avoid sugary, soft and fizzy drinks that can be high in added sugars. These can be high in calories and bad for teeth.
Signs of dehydration
When our bodies don’t have enough water, we are said to be dehydrated.
One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty.
If you think you may not be getting enough fluids, check whether you have any of these other common signs of dehydration:
- dark urine and not passing much urine when you go to the toilet
- lack of energy
- feeling lightheaded
See Dehydration for more information.
See Dehydration for more information.
Types of drinks
Try to choose healthier drinks as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Many soft drinks are high in sugar. Food and drinks that are high in sugar are often high in calories, and having too many calories can make you more likely to gain weight.
Some energy drinks are high in both sugar and caffeine.
Checking the nutrition labels on soft drinks, such as fruit juices and fizzy drinks, can help you make healthier choices. For more information, see Food labels.
Drink plenty of water
Water is the healthiest choice for quenching your thirst at any time. It has no calories and contains no sugars that can damage teeth.
If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try sparkling water or add a slice of lemon or lime. You could also add some no-added-sugar or reduced-sugar squash or fruit juice for flavour.
Drink semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk
Milk is a good source of calcium, a mineral that helps build and maintain healthy bones.
For a healthier choice, choose semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk. Limit your intake of flavoured milks, milkshakes, condensed milk and milk-based energy or malt drinks because these contain added sugar, which is bad for teeth.
Milk is especially important for young children. They should drink whole milk until they are two years old, because they may not get the calories they need from lower-fat milks.
However, cow’s milk should not be given as a drink until a baby is one year old, because it doesn’t contain the balance of nutrients a baby needs. From the age of two, children can gradually move to semi-skimmed milk as a main drink, as long as they are eating a varied and balanced diet and growing well.
For more information, see Drinks and cups for children.
Juices, smoothies and 5 A DAY
Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies contain a variety of vitamins that are good for our health.
A glass (150ml) of fruit juice counts as one of your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. However, juice can only ever count as one portion a day, no matter how much you drink. This is because it doesn’t contain the fibre found in whole fruits and vegetables.
Fruit juice also contains sugar that can damage teeth. It’s best to drink it with a meal because this can help protect teeth.
The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugar is contained within the structure of the fruit. When fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth, especially if juice is drunk frequently. Even unsweetened fruit juice is sugary, so try to drink no more than one glass (about 150ml) of fruit juice each day.
When you buy fruit juice, check the labels carefully and choose 100% fruit juice with no added sugar, which counts as one of your 5 A DAY. Watch out for “juice drinks”, which can contain as little as 5% fruit juice and a lot of added sugar, and do not count as one of your 5 A DAY.
Smoothies that are 100% fruit or vegetable can count as up to two portions towards your 5 A DAY when they contain all of the edible pulped fruit or vegetable. This depends on the quantity of fruits or vegetables or the juice used, as well as how the smoothie has been made. However, juices drunk in addition to the smoothie don’t count as any more 5 A DAY portions in one day. This is mainly because juice contains less fibre than whole fruits and vegetables.