Is Water Overrated?

04/29/2015 08:32 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

In my article “Coconut Water Changes Its Claims,” I reported how coconut water might not be any more valuable than plain water when it comes to re-hydrating. But now there is a growing body of science that water itself may be overrated.

Yikes, did I really just say that? Me, who has been quoting experts like school nurses saying they have become so worried about obesity and diabetes that they’ve stopped recommending even fruit juice to kids, and instead are pushing them to hit the water fountains?

But here’s the thing. Guess who else is pushing water now really hard? The soda industry and other Food Giants, and they’re not talking about drinking fountains. As a salvation to slumping sugary drink sales, they’re marketing plastic bottles of water (Dasani and Aquafina, two of the most popular bottled water brands, are respectively owned by Coca-Cola and Pepsi; and Nestle has Pure Life). According to the International Bottled Water Association, bottled water is expected to be the No. 1 packaged drink by 2016, surpassing all other soft drinks.

A quick google search of “bottled water” turns up over 23 million results, including “best of” lists. There’s even the first-ever water sommelier at Ray’s & Stark Bar in Los Angeles that boasts a 44-page water menu. Thousands of years ago, God instructed Moses to hit a rock in order for water to flow through the desert. Today, just look around any office, sporting event, or simply any busy city street and you’re certain to see people sipping or gulping from water bottles or Nalgenes. They’re “snacking” on water.

Given the choice between water and virtually every other beverage, water is the healthier option. And the explicit desire to make healthier choices is stronger than ever in the minds of consumers. But how much water do we really need to drink?

But how much water do we really need to drink?

According to the Institute of Medicine -- which published an extensive report on water consumption -- adequate intake (AI) for young men and women (ages 19 to 30 years) is 3.7 L (13 cups) and 2.7 L (9 cups) per day, respectively. However, to sustain hydration, we don’t have to stick to plain water. “Fluids in different types of beverages and foods contribute significantly to a person’s daily fluid needs.” For example, of the 3,740 mL of water consumed by men and women (ages 19-30 years who moderately workout ) based on a 2,200 kcal diet, 890 mL (or 19 percent median intake for men and women) came from food like bananas, brown rice, and salmon. The remaining 2,849 mL of water came from plain water and beverages like coffee, milk, and tea.

For me, that means roughly 9 cups of beverage a day beyond solid food, which still kind of sounded like a lot. So I did some measuring, and most of three cups fit into the tumbler I pulled from my cupboard, which means I should get all the water I need by having one glass of with each meal.

And if I need more, no need to worry or even think about it. We have this terrific mechanism called thirst that experts say works really well to keep us hydrated. There are no major health risks associated with consuming more than the recommended amount of water if you follow a healthy diet (up to a point, anyway; overdrinking while running a marathon can be fatal), but there are also no proven advantages. Chugging bottles of water is just an effect of marketing hype.

In my book, Salt, Sugar, and Fat, I investigated how the food giants hooked us on processed food, effecting people's health with those three addictive ingredients. And now the beverage giants have hooked us on bottled water, which presents an environmental concern: bottled water garbage. Julie Schutten, an associate professor of communication and environmental cultural studies at Northern Arizona University, says that scientists estimate the amount of plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to be twice the size of Texas. That’s a lot of water bottles.

The writing’s on the wall: Everybody likes water. But contrary to what the beverage industry might want you to think, you don’t necessarily need a bottle of water in your hand at all times.