Water and drinks

Your body needs water or other fluids to work properly and to avoid dehydration.

This article explains how much we need to drink, how to spot the signs of dehydration and how to choose healthier non-alcoholic drinks. For advice on alcohol, see our Alcohol section.

Water makes up about two-thirds of the weight of a healthy body.

Most of the chemical reactions that happen in our cells need water in order to take place. We also need water so that our blood can carry nutrients around the body and get rid of waste.

How much should we drink?

To stay healthy, it's important to replace the fluid we lose when we breathe, sweat or urinate.

We get some fluid from our food but most comes from drinks.

The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women should drink about 1.6 litres of fluid and men should drink about 2.0 litres of fluid per day. That's about eight glasses of 200ml each for a woman, and 10 glasses of 200ml each for a man. 

However, the amount a person needs to drink to avoid getting dehydrated will vary depending on a range of factors, including their size, the temperature and how active they are. So, for example, if you're exercising hard in hot weather you'll need to drink more.

All drinks count, including hot drinks such as tea and coffee, but water, milk and fruit juices are the healthiest. It is best to avoid alcoholic drinks.

Try to avoid sugary, soft and fizzy drinks that can be high in added sugars. These can be high in calories and bad for teeth.

Signs of dehydration

When our bodies don't have enough water, we are said to be dehydrated.

One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty.

If you think you may not be getting enough fluids, check whether you have any of these other common signs of dehydration:

  • dark urine and not passing much urine when you go to the toilet
  • headaches
  • lack of energy 
  • feeling lightheaded 

See Dehydration for more information.

Types of drinks

Try to choose healthier drinks as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Many soft drinks are high in sugar. Food and drinks that are high in sugar are often high in calories, and having too many calories can make you more likely to gain weight.

Some energy drinks are high in both sugar and caffeine.

Checking the nutrition labels on soft drinks, such as fruit juices and fizzy drinks, can help you make healthier choices. For more information, see Food labels.

Drink plenty of water

Water is the healthiest choice for quenching your thirst at any time. It has no calories and contains no sugars that can damage teeth.

If you don't like the taste of plain water, try sparkling water or add a slice of lemon or lime. You could also add some no-added-sugar or reduced-sugar squash or fruit juice for flavour.

Drink semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk

Milk is a good source of calcium, a mineral that helps build and maintain healthy bones.

It also contains vitamins and other minerals, and doesn't cause tooth decay.

For a healthier choice, choose semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk. Limit your intake of flavoured milks, milkshakes, condensed milk and milk-based energy or malt drinks because these contain added sugar, which is bad for teeth.

Milk is especially important for young children. They should drink whole milk until they are two years old, because they may not get the calories they need from lower-fat milks.

However, cow's milk should not be given as a drink until a baby is one year old, because it doesn't contain the balance of nutrients a baby needs. From the age of two, children can gradually move to semi-skimmed milk as a main drink, as long as they are eating a varied and balanced diet and growing well.

For more information, see Drinks and cups for children.

Juices, smoothies and 5 A DAY

Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies contain a variety of vitamins that are good for our health.

A glass (150ml) of fruit juice counts as one of your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. However, juice can only ever count as one portion a day, no matter how much you drink. This is because it doesn't contain the fibre found in whole fruits and vegetables.

Fruit juice also contains sugar that can damage teeth. It's best to drink it with a meal because this can help protect teeth.

The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugar is contained within the structure of the fruit. When fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth, especially if juice is drunk frequently.

When you buy fruit juice, check the labels carefully and choose 100% fruit juice with no added sugar, which counts as one of your 5 A DAY. Watch out for "juice drinks", which can contain as little as 5% fruit juice and a lot of added sugar, and do not count as one of your 5 A DAY.

Smoothies that are 100% fruit or vegetable can count as up to two portions towards your 5 A DAY when they contain all of the edible pulped fruit or vegetable. This depends on the quantity of fruits or vegetables or the juice used, as well as how the smoothie has been made. However, juices drunk in addition to the smoothie don't count as any more 5 A DAY portions in one day. This is mainly because juice contains less fibre than whole fruits and vegetables.

Learn more about 5 A DAY and what counts as a 5 A DAY portion.

Fizzy drinks and squashes

Fizzy drinks, squashes and juice drinks contain lots of sugar and very few nutrients, so keep them to a minimum.

Their high sugar content means they are high in calories, and foods that are high in calories can contribute towards becoming overweight. Cutting down on these drinks is a good way of reducing the number of calories you consume, while not missing out on any nutrients.

Likewise, getting children to drink fewer sugary drinks is a good way of limiting the amount of sugar they consume. Children who drink a lot of sugary drinks are more likely to become overweight.

The added sugar in these drinks also means they can damage teeth. If you do have sugary or fizzy drinks, drinking them with meals can help reduce the damage to teeth.

The best drinks to give children are water, milk and milkshakes without added sugar.

If you or your children like fizzy drinks, try diluting fruit juice with sparkling water instead. Remember to dilute squashes well to reduce the sugar content in the drink.

Diet versions of fizzy drinks also contain very few nutrients, so milk or water are much healthier choices, especially for children.

Tea, coffee and caffeine

Tea and coffee contain caffeine, which is a stimulant. This means caffeine can temporarily make us feel more alert or less drowsy. Caffeine affects some people more than others, and the effect can depend on how much caffeine you normally consume.

It's fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet. But it's important that tea, coffee or other drinks containing caffeine are not your only source of fluid.

Pregnant women should limit their intake of tea or coffee due to their caffeine content (see below). Neither tea nor coffee are suitable drinks for toddlers and young children.

Caffeinated drinks can also make the body produce more urine. Some people are more susceptible to this than others, but it also depends on how much caffeine you have and how often you have it.

Energy drinks and caffeine

Energy drinks often contain high levels of caffeine and are often high in sugar. They may also contain other stimulants and sometimes vitamins and minerals or herbal substances.

The caffeine levels in these drinks vary, but there is often around 80mg of caffeine in a small 250ml can. This is the same as two cans of cola or a small mug of coffee.

People who are sensitive to caffeine should consume high-caffeine food and drinks only in moderation.

Energy drinks are not suitable for babies or children.

Caffeine during pregnancy

Pregnant women should have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. One mug of instant coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine.

High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. High levels of caffeine might also cause miscarriage. Check the labels of energy drinks as they often say that the drink is not suitable for children or pregnant women.

For more detail on how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy, see Foods to avoid when pregnant.

Sports drinks

Sports drinks can be useful when you're doing high-level endurance sports and need an energy boost.

However, they are no different to any other sugary soft drinks, which means they are high in calories and contribute to tooth decay.

Unless you're taking part in high-level endurance sports, water is the healthier choice and the best way to replace fluids lost through exercise.

Page last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

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Comments

The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Henrietta80 said on 01 July 2014

Thanks a million for this link! I got poor results for this healthy-eating habits test offered on the site, thus am looking forward for personal improvement if not in every and each point of entry, though still by those possible.

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DietitianFife said on 28 May 2014

At what age can children have milky, unsweetened tea?

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gonzalmm said on 30 March 2014

"If you don't like the taste of plain water, try sparkling water or add a slice of lemon or lime. You could also add some no-added-sugar or reduced-sugar squash or fruit juice for flavour."

This will cause acid erosion/tooth decay, just to be clear!

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Next review due: 25/10/2015