Staying hydrated is incredibly important for human function, and dehydrating food and drink can make that more difficult. It’s crucial to know which foods and drinks have a dehydrating effect so you can ensure you combat that with hydrating food and drink!
What are the Symptoms of Dehydration?
The first sign of dehydration is actually feeling thirsty.1 When you notice you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated, so sipping on fluid and eating hydrating foods throughout the day to avoid ever feeling thirsty is the best way to avoid dehydration altogether.
Other symptoms include dark-coloured or strong-smelling urine, dry mouth and lips, feeling lethargic, tired or dizzy and peeing less often than usual.2
How Does Dehydration Affect the Body?
Urinary tract infections are a common long-term effect of dehydration. They can become recurring and cause damage to the body if the problem of dehydration is not dealt with.3
Seizures can occur if your electrolytes are out of balance, which can occur when you are dehydrated. Dehydration can cause there to be less blood in the body which causes strain on the heart. This can cause a seizure as the body goes into shock.4
Hypovolemic shock is potentially life-threatening, and a long-term effect of dehydration. It happens when low blood volume causes your blood pressure to drop, as well as a drop in the amount of oxygen within the body.5
Dehydration can also cause your organs to shut down, as every part of the body needs to be hydrated to function properly. Although this won’t happen if you are dehydrated for a short period of time, long-term dehydration or serious dehydration can lead to organ failure.6
Hydration is also incredibly vital to the digestive tract and gut microbiome. For our food to be digested, it needs fluid to move through the digestive system. If there is not enough fluid, it can cause excess gas, constipation, bloating, pain and discomfort.
What are the Top 5 Most Dehydrating Foods?
Surprisingly, the vegetable asparagus is one of the least hydrating foods. This is because it is a diuretic, meaning you need to wee more, making you lose the fluid that you consume. Diuretics help your body to get rid of salt and water, so are useful for the body, but should be consumed in moderation.7
The best-known dehydrating food is salty snacks - with pork scratchings being up there with the saltiest snacks. Too much salt wreaks havoc on the kidneys, so limiting salt intake is important for overall health.
Bread, although not terribly high in salt per slice, is one of the leading reasons that people eat too much salt in their diet. Bread is often used at all mealtimes and even for snacks, so all that bread together can add up to a high salt intake. Limiting the amount of bread you eat will help reduce the sneaky salt that you didn’t know you were consuming.8
Cured meats are often heavily coated in salt, with gammon being a big offender. Make sure to drink plenty of water if you have cured meats! The kidneys overcompensate for salt being in the bloodstream, and pull water from elsewhere in the body, leading to dehydration.9
Sugar, sugar, sugar. The list goes on for why we should limit sugar intake! When you consume sugar, the kidneys react similarly to when they encounter salt and pull water from other parts of the body, as the kidneys don’t want sugar in your bloodstream.9
What are the Top 5 Least Hydrating Drinks?
Sugary Fizzy Drinks
Caffeine is naturally dehydrating, meaning high caffeine drinks even mixed with water can end up dehydrating you or neutralising the hydration from the water content. Fizzy drinks often contain caffeine as well as high sugar content, making them one of the least hydrating options.10
Alcohol is dehydrating - the higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating the drink. Alcohol removes water from the tissues in your body, which it’s common to feel like a shrivelled up prune after a night of drinking.
Drinking spirits straight is the most dehydrating alcohol, with low-alcoholic beer being perhaps the best option to stop dehydration.10
Hot chocolate can be very dehydrating due to its high sugar content. Often, they are packed with more sugar than fizzy drinks and sometimes combined with high-fat milk for flavour. Opting for low sugar and water-based hot chocolate is better to keep hydrated.10
Energy drinks are often packed with caffeine - which is a great tool to boost energy levels, but not so great for hydration. (10) The hugely increased caffeine content along with often a lot of sugar makes energy drinks dehydrating.
Smoothies aren’t great for hydration, even though the fruit and veg content is often full of water.10 When you combine lots of fruit and veg and blend it, the sugars are released making it far less hydrating. When the sugar is contained within the fruit or veg, it can digest through your body more slowly.
So, now we know which foods are dehydrating, we can make more conscious choices about what we consume, particularly on hot days. As we sweat, we lose lots of fluid meaning that must be replenished by what we eat and drink.
So remember, if you want to eat some of these dehydrating foods, make sure to up your fluid intake to combat the effects of dehydration!