We all know that water consumption is imperative for maintaining hydration, but most of us still find this a struggle. When it comes to the optimum amount of water to drink each day, everyone seems to have a different opinion. Should we be drinking 6-8 glasses, two litres, or even more? Do other liquids besides water count? And what are the warning signs that you're drinking too little water?

When we stop and think about it more than two thirds of our body is water, it's obvious how important it is to stay well hydrated. Hydration is needed for digestion, for our heart and circulation, for temperature control and for our brain to work well. Water is, without doubt, the single most essential component of the human body.

Research suggests that losing as little as 1% of your body weight in fluid may reduce mental performance, as well as potentially inducing fatigue and headache. This mild level of dehydration can easily occur over the course of a normal day’s activities, which highlights how important drinking little and often is for your health.

Being dehydrated can also affect our mood and mental well-being, with studies suggesting that energy levels, cognition and emotions may all be affected.

If you exercise, some studies suggest that as little as a 2% loss in your body’s water content may impact how well you perform physically. Dehydration may compromise your body’s ability to control its temperature, increase feelings of tiredness and unsurprisingly, make exercise more difficult. However, research in this area is conflicting. One small study which kept athletes in the dark about their hydration status showed that dehydration made no difference to their performance. Clearly other factors besides temperature, climate and endurance also play an important role.

Thirst and passing dark-coloured urine are key signs that you may be dehydrated, as well as feeling lethargic, dizzy or having a dry mouth and lips. Checking the colour of your urine is widely considered to be the easiest and most practical way to assess your hydration needs – aim to pass urine which is light yellow to clear in colour.

Each individual's needs are unique to them and depend on their health, age, size and weight as well as activity levels, the type of job they do and the climate they live in. Drinking little and often is the best way to stay hydrated. In the UK, the Eatwell Guide suggests you should aim for 6-8 glasses of water and other liquids each day to replace normal water loss – around 1.2 to 1.5 litres. Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, all count.

(PDF version of the Eatwell Guide Plate)

In March 2010, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a report suggesting an adequate total daily intake of 2 litres of fluids for women and 2.5 litres for men. This quantity includes drinking water, drinks of all kinds and the moisture available from the food we eat. On average our food is thought to contribute about 20% of our fluid intake which, therefore, suggests a woman should aim to drink about 1.6 litres and a man should aim for 2 litres.

(EFSA report on Water)

Water, milk, sugar-free drinks and tea and coffee all count but remember that caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee can make the body produce urine more quickly.

Many of the foods we eat contribute to our fluid intake – for example, dishes like soup, ice cream and jelly, as well as fruit and veg with a high-water content, such as melon, courgette or cucumber. This doesn’t mean you can out and over consume these foods.

It is possible to go the other way and drink too much, although for most people with healthy kidneys this will be managed by urinating more frequently. Hyponatraemia is a condition caused by too much water which causes sodium levels to fall dangerously low. Athletes who participate in endurance events and take on too much fluid may be at risk of this condition.

Below are 10 reasons to drink more water: 1. Increases Energy & Relieves Fatigue: Since your brain is mostly water, drinking it helps you think, focus and concentrate better and be more alert. As an added bonus, your energy levels are also boosted!

2. Promotes Weight Loss: Removes by-products of fat, reduces eating intake (by filling up your tummy if consumed prior to meals), reduces hunger (hello natural appetite suppressant!), raises your metabolism and has zero calories!

3. Flushes Out Toxins: Gets rid of waste through sweat and urination which reduces the risk of kidney stones and UTI’s (urinary tract infections).

4. Improves Skin Complexion: Moisturises your skin, keeps it fresh, soft, glowing and smooth. Gets rid of wrinkles, it’s the best anti-aging treatment around!

5. Maintains Regularity: Aids in digestion, water is essential to digest your food and prevents constipation.

6. Boosts Immune System: A water guzzler is less likely to get sick. And who wouldn’t rather feel healthy the majority of the time? Drinking plenty of water helps fight against flu, cancer and other ailments like heart attacks.

7. Natural Headache Remedy: Helps relieve and prevent headaches (migraines & back pains too!) which are commonly caused by dehydration.

8. Prevents Cramps & Sprains: Proper hydration helps keep joints lubricated and muscles more elastic so joint pain is less likely.

9. Puts You in A Good Mood: When the body is functioning at its best, you will feel great and be happy!

10. Save Money: Water is FREE! Even if you choose bottled/filtered water, it’s STILL cheaper than that high sugar and fat-filled latte!

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