The days are getting colder and greyer, and we’re starting to load up on cups of tea and coffee to help keep us warm and energized throughout the day.
But, while we tend to up our hot drink intake in winter, most of us let the number of glasses of water we’re drinking slip. So, do hot drinks count towards our recommended daily water intake? And how can we prevent dehydration this winter?
How much water should I be drinking?
Tea NHS Eatwell Guide suggests what we should be consuming overall to achieve a healthy, balanced diet – and water is a big part of this.
It outlines that we should be drinking six to eight cups or glasses of fluid every day, with water the best way to quench your thirst without any calories or sugars.
While it may seem obvious that drinking enough water is important, you might not be aware just how many bodily functions it helps with. This includes preventing sores or ulcers and maintaining good skin, removing waste products and toxins through the kidneys, preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs), aiding brain function and concentration and blood pressure and heart health, maintaining muscle and joint movement, allowing medications to work properly and preventing falls from dizziness.
These benefits are vital all year round. And while water can also help prevent dehydration causing heat exhaustion and heat stroke, avoiding dehydration is still important in colder temperatures.
While he too recommends the Eatwell Guide, Dr Tim Bond from the Tea Advisory Panelsays, “This is a general guideline and does not specifically break this down by season, physical activity level etc. We should bear in mind that – while we know warm weather in summer can affect hydration status – central heating in winter can also create potentially dehydrating conditions.”
You might also want to consider how much exercise you do day-to-day.
“The more physically active we are the more fluids we need to consume,” adds Bond. “Just a 2% reduction in hydration status can impact on both physical and mental performance. By the time we are feeling thirsty we are already dehydrated so it’s important to consume fluids regularly throughout the day.”
Do tea and coffee count towards my daily water intake?
Good news, both tea and coffee do count towards your daily six-eight glasses of fluid a day, as well as lower-fat milk and sugar-free drinks (as long as you’re not adding anything too counter-intuitive.)
“Fundamentally yes this is OK. Like with food types we should be looking to drink a number of different drinks for the benefits they bring,” Bond confirms.
While water is the most obviously ‘healthy’, plain tea, fruit tea and coffee without added sugar can also be healthy, according to the NHS.
And some alternatives to water might even have multiple benefits. For example, Bond points out that while water is hydrating, research shows tea offers the same hydrating properties as water, while offering other health benefits such as reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
“According to research we have undertaken at the tea advisory panel, 40% of the UK populations daily fluid intake is tea and research from numerous studies shows that whilst tea is hydrating from the first sip the other potent health benefits that tea delivers such as reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes seem to optimize with three-five cups of tea a day helping us to our six-eight servings recommended by the NHS,” he says.
Of course, the caffeine in tea and coffee is a stimulant, which can make you feel more alert or drowsy for periods of time, affecting some more than others, and also depending on how much you consume. Pregnant women should limit the amount of caffeinated drinks they have, while they are unsuitable for toddlers and young children.
While it’s okay to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet, it’s important to remember that they can make the body produce urine more quickly for some, which might not be wise if you have urinary incontinence. If you’re drinking hot drinks to stay hydrated, you should also stay sugar and syrup free, to avoid damaging your teeth and adding unneeded calories to your diet.
Read more: 20 things you didn’t know about tea drinking
How can I stay hydrated in winter?
So, it really is as simple as making sure you’re ticking off your six-eight glasses or cups of fluids a day, which includes tea and coffee, depending on your drink of choice.
Just make sure you’re using lower-fat milk, with the healthier choice being semi-skimmed, 1%, skimmed, or alternative milks without added sugars, and your hot beverages are sugar-free as advised. Or, as another drink to help you keep warm, you can have hot water with a slice of lemon for added flavor.
If you’re wondering how much you can have of each within the recommended amount, Bond claims, for example, that research has shown that six-eight servings of tea are equally hydrating as water, “but people may wish to vary their sources of fluid intake based on personal preferences.”
And practically speaking, for example, drinking eight cups of coffee a day isn’t going to be great for you for obvious reasons, so it’s wise to still incorporate plain water into your daily intake.
Watch: Five ways to up your water intake