Eat Well to Be Well: Hydration still important during cold weather

Just because cold temperatures have arrived doesn’t mean keeping hydrated should be an afterthought. In fact, hydration is just as important in cold winter months as it is during hot, humid summer days. Likely you’re not breaking out in a noticeable sweat on a frosty winter day, but drinking a sufficient amount of water still matters.

Since you do not store or make water, your body’s water needs must be replaced each day. The main sources of water losses from the body are urine and sweat, but water is also lost through bowel movements, and respiration and perspiration.  You likely could go for weeks without eating food but would last only a few days without water.

Why winter weather can cause dehydration

Here are ways cold winter weather can lead to loss of body water, making it vital to be aware of your hydration status during this time of year:

  • Breathing in cold, dry air, and spending more time in dry, heated environments such as our homes or vehicles – both can lead to water loss.
  • Exposure to cold air can reduce the body’s thirst sensation by up to 40 percent. Therefore, you tend to feel less thirsty, drinking less water, even though your body’s water needs have remained unchanged.
  • You still perspire in cold winter weather but it is likely less noticeable than during hot summer months, when perspiring reminds you to drink more water.

How mild dehydration affects the body

Your body is made up of about two-thirds water and no matter what time of year it is, you still need a sufficient supply to prevent dehydration. Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body requires water to function properly. Water is necessary to rid your body of wastes and helps maintain body temperature, along with lubricating and cushioning joints.

During cold weather, we bundle up to keep warm and to conserve body heat. However, wearing long underwear, long sleeve shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and heavy coats makes your body work about 10 to 40 percent harder because of added weight. This leads to increased perspiration and sweat resulting in more fluid loss.

Your heart health can also be affected by dehydration. The human body is approximately 60 to 70 percent water. Maintaining this water level is essential for regulating metabolism. However, if these ratios drop, because your heart is deprived of fluid, it will have to work harder to circulate blood flow. In addition, your blood volume, which is the amount of blood circulating through your body, decreases. To compensate, your heart beats faster, increasing both your heart rate and blood pressure. Staying well-hydrated will help your heart do its job better. When you consume adequate fluids, your heart muscle can pump blood more easily but also allows oxygen to reach your muscles, helping them work efficiently.

Avoid winter dehydration

To avoid any possibility of dehydration, here are tips you can use during cold weather making sure you’re meeting your water needs:

Drink adequate fluids including water. Water consumption guidelines vary from person to person depending on age, activity level, weight, and gender.  Here are water intake guidelines for both men and women: If you are sedentary, drink between 8-12 cups of water daily; if you exercise, drink between 8-14 cups of water daily.

  • Need ideas on helping remind you to drink more water?  Try these simple tricks:
  • Add excitement and flavor to water by adding in fresh fruit (strawberries, grapefruit) or veggie slices (cucumber, ginger, or celery).
  • Drink a glass of water after every bathroom break.
  • Drink a glass of water before every meal.
  • Choose sparkling or mineral water.
  • For tech lovers, use a free app like Water Minder or Daily Water to track your intake.

Eat your water. Our food choices make a difference to keeping ourselves hydrated.  Certain foods with high water content can be counted towards your total daily fluid intake. Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to help contribute to your water needs. Here are a few examples of produce that help rehydrate your body: All berries, watermelon, apples, grapes, pears, oranges, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, grapefruit, broccoli.

Take advantage of warm beverages and soups. On cold winter days and nights, drinking warm beverages of caffeine-free tea or coffee – or cocoa can be a fun and delicious way keeping you hydrated.  Making a batch of soup is another great way to obtain adequate fluids – if it’s vegetable, chicken noodle or minestrone, they will also provide important nutrients from their healthy ingredients.

Be familiar with signs of dehydration. Sometimes a person may have certain symptoms of dehydration but not realize that is the cause. These symptoms may include fatigue, lightheadedness, irritability, headache, muscle cramps, or a dry, sticky mouth. Another sign of dehydration is infrequent urination, or dark, concentrated, strong-smelling urine. Urine should be light yellow or clear. Dehydration can be diagnosed by monitoring the color and amount of urine your body produces.

Water is best. Remember certain fluids dehydrate the body. These fluids include alcohol, carbonated sugary beverages, and caffeinated drinks, including sports drinks and energy drinks. Water is still the best hydrating beverage.

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook. Visit her website at

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