A while ago I wrote about beverage choices in Nicaragua. Today I am revisiting that topic with a focus on water. Whenever I have volunteered in health clinics in Latin America the issue of dehydration comes up with surprising frequency. Of all the frustrating and difficult health conditions one sees in these clinics I never anticipated that dehydration could rank so highly as a major concern. Dehydration worsens dozens of common health problems and was almost single-handedly responsible for the numerous daily cases of urinary tract infections and kidney problems (including kidney failure) that walked through the Nicaraguan clinics I volunteered at.
Even more interesting is that when I talk to patients about staying hydrated they say the exact same thing that people in the States say: “I don’t like the taste of water.” How can we lose our taste for water? Our species drank water, and only water, for hundreds of thousands of years. Three quarters of our body weight is water. All animals on earth, indeed almost every living organism, consumes water. We are the blue planet; if the Earth had a flag there would be water on it. If we had a sports team it would be called The Flood, if we had a mascot it would be…well you get the point.
I trace water’s fall in popularity to the three “Cs”:
1) Competition – It is a challenge for water’s simple taste to compete with wide variety of highly sweetened and processed beverages available. The complex tastes, textures, colors, and smells make water seem lackluster by comparison.
2) Contamination – our water supplies include many elements that alter water’s taste (the chart below contains a few common examples but there are thousands..), this is true even in Nicaragua where both natural (volcanic soil) and man-made (agricultural run-off and factory waste) elements influence water’s taste.
3) Containers – water picks up the taste of plastic, metal, and some ceramics. Glass containers solve this problem well.
In addition to keeping the urinary tract and kidneys healthy, staying hydrated also helps with reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. The signals for thirst and hunger are similar and often get confused with the result being that often when people think they are hungry, they are actually dehydrated. Staying hydrated decreases overall calorie consumption.
|Pollutant||Effect of water flavor|
|Chlorine||the taste and smell of disinfectant, for most people it brings to mind a swimming pool|
|Decay of organic material or non-harmful bacteria||Musty, moldy, or woody smell|
|Hydrogen sulfide gas and or sulfate reducing bacteria||Rotten egg odor|
|Chlorides||Salty or brackish taste|
|Sulfates||Salty or brackish taste|
|Phenol||An industrial waste. Can cause an objectionable taste in chlorinated water due to the formation of chlorophenols.|
|Zinc||From corrosion of plumbing|