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Published on June 06, 2016

Thirsting to improve your diet?Thirsting to improve your diet?

Want to reduce your intake of sugar, salt and saturated fat? Drink more water.

A study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that simply by drinking one to three cups of plain water a day, participants consumed 68-205 fewer calories, and dropped 5-18 grams of sugar, 78-235 grams of sodium (salt) and 7-21 grams of cholesterol from their diet.

Researchers led by Professor Ruopeng An of the University of Illinois looked at the diet of 18,311 American adults over two non-consecutive days. The study participants’ averaged a daily intake of 2,157 calories, including 125 calories from sweetened drinks and 432 calories from nonessential foods, such as desserts and pastries, according to a Medical News Today article on the study. After adding more water to their diets, the participants consumed less of these drinks and foods.

“The study is interesting,” said Alicia Zonenshine, a clinical inpatient dietitian at Falmouth Hospital. If the research had been done over a longer time period, the results would be stronger, she added.

However, drinking more water is generally a good idea she said.

“If you’re replacing a 20-ounce Coca-Cola, and instead of that, drinking water,” you can eliminate the 65 grams of sugar and 240 calories it contains, Zonenshine said.

By replacing soda, or even juice drinks with water you can cut your caloric intake, she said.

When your stomach doesn’t feel full, water can help fill you up so that you don’t overeat, she said.

“You might just need a glass of water.”

The study also found that adding water to their diet to reduce consumption of sugar, sodium and saturated fat made a greater difference for men than women participants, and for younger and middle-age adults than for older adults.

Children and seniors are two groups that may not be consuming enough water, according to Zonenshine. Children, because they are active, require more, she said. Some elderly avoid drinking much water because of medications or frailty.

“It’s not easy for them to get up to go to the bathroom,” she said, so they may choose to drink less to limit bathroom trips.

Other than helping to fill you up to avoid overeating, or as a zero-calorie replacement for high-calorie drinks, water benefits your body in many ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, water:

  • Helps maintain normal body temperature.
  • Protects your spine cord.
  • Keeps your joints lubricated
  • Aids in digestion of food and elimination of wastes through urine and bowel movements.

In 2007, the CDC analyzed a National Cancer Institute survey of 3,397 adults and their food attitudes and behaviors. The researchers noted that dehydration is associated with health problems including headaches and urinary stones, and that some diet-related ills, including cavities and obesity, decrease when people drink more water and fewer sweetened drinks.

The analysis found that 7 percent of survey respondents reported drinking no water daily and almost 50 percent said they drank less than 4 cups a day.  The researchers concluded that not drinking enough water is common and associated with known unhealthy behaviors, such as low consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Older respondents were also likely to drink less water, despite the greater risk of dehydration from chronic diseases and taking multiple medications, CDC researchers said. They cited a decrease in thirst as a major reason for this behavior, and said earlier studies also indicate that water consumption dwindles with age.