Ask the Nutritionist: Tips for Staying Hydrated in Summer
by Marilyn Walls, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator
Q: Does my child need to drink more water during summer?
A: Summer is the perfect time for kids to run and play outdoors. With heat and sweat taking fluids from their active bodies, extra water is needed to keep them hydrated. Water, which makes up about 60 percent of our body, is essential to the functioning of every bodily system. It carries nutrients to all our organs, transports oxygen, helps us process our food, nourishes our skin and regulates body temperature. Water can be especially busy in a child’s body during summer.
However, there is no hard evidence about how much water a child (or adult, for that matter) needs. There is no water RDA handed down by scientists and doctors. Health, weight, climate and activity levels affect a child’s hydration needs. “Eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day,” is the recommendation most quoted. Pediatricians often suggest water intake based on a child’s weight. Both ½ and 1⁄3 of a child’s weight have been said to be the number of ounces a child needs per day. (That would mean a 60-pound child needs between 20 and 30 ounces, or about 4 cups, of water daily.) Another study recommends 5 to 8 cups of water per day for children. In light of these contradictory rations, parents would do well to make sure their child drinks water regularly.
Your child needs to drink before and then every 20 minutes during exercise. Watch for signs of dehydration, such as fatigue, headache, muscle weakness or low energy. Thirst follows dehydration, not visa versa; thus by the time your child gets thirsty, dehydration has already begun. Dark yellow urine is another sign your child is not getting enough water. If a child shows signs of dehydration, move into the shade and patiently offer water. Cool water may be more popular with some children. Often children are more receptive to drinking small amounts at a time.
There are many ways to get children to drink more water. Mixing organic juices with sparkling water contributes fizz and taste. Give your child organic juices with no added sugar. Add gentle flavoring to a pitcher of water by infusing it with slices of organic fruit. Depending on your child’s taste buds, oranges or pineapple may be refreshing on a hot day. Berries or melon provide a dash of color along with a pinch of sweetness.
While carbonated sodas would not be counted as fluid intake for a child, other alternatives offer variety. Coconut water, high in potassium and electrolytes, not only hydrates but restores an active body. An iced herbal tea, like peppermint or chamomile, becomes a pleasant vehicle for getting more water into your child. Chamomile and lavender herbs have been used for centuries to relax and soothe fussy children.
And don’t forget the water content of fruits and vegetables. Most parents recognize that watermelon is high in water, over 90 percent to be exact. But think of other fruits, the juice dripping on your fingers as you savor the nutrients. Blueberries, apricots, oranges and raspberries are over 85 percent water; strawberries and cantaloupe have over 90 percent water. A red tomato and sweet peppers also contain over 90 percent water. Yet another of many reasons to love organic fruits and vegetables!
Kids also love to have their very own water bottle. They come in a variety of colors and sustainable materials and help children fend off thirst, whether in the car or visiting friends. When I was a child I would visit my grandmother’s farm during hot Mississippi summers. My grandma would fill a mason jar with ice water, tighten the lid and send my sisters and I out to imagine brave adventures. We drank every drop of that water. Without it our playtime could have ended in thirsty irritation.
As every parent knows, nothing influences a child more than example. If your child sees you drinking water during the day, snacking on blueberries and eating a salad, there may be less contentiousness about making healthy choices. So drink up and enjoy the bounties of the warm summer season.
About Marilyn Walls
Marilyn Walls, M.S., is a graduate of Bastyr University, where she subsequently taught for three years. She has been a long-time staffer at PCC, where she has created healthy recipes and shared her knowledge about vitamins, supplements, herbs and essential oils. She loves to read, and has written articles for local publications. Marilyn is currently writing a book on Alzheimer’s disease and brain health.