Water and Other Beverages*

Beverages can be classified into three main categories: (1) water, which is essential to health and in most cases is by far the beverage of choice; (2) foods that are normally in solid form and require chewing but have been liquefied; (3) foods that normally are in liquid form; and (4) non-food drinks.

1. Water

The Need for Water

Our bodies consist mainly of water. Blood, which is composed mainly of water, is the primary transport system of (a) oxygen and nutrients into the cells and (b) waste products out of the cells. Lymph is another transport system that is mainly composed of water.

Insufficient Water

Too little water can cause serious problems. A certain concentration of water is required for the optimal functioning of the cells, glands, and organs. When the urine becomes too concentrated with poisons, damage can be done to the kidneys, bladder, and perhaps even the prostate gland. Moreover, insufficient water can result in the inability of the tissues to release toxic material into the blood stream to be eliminated via the skin and kidneys. Sufficient water is needed for healing of injuries and for the functioning of the immune system.

The main symptoms of dehydration are sluggishness of body (tiredness) and mind (“brain fog”).

Excess Water

Too much water (a) dilutes waste products and makes it difficult for the kidneys to eliminate them and (b) makes it difficult for the kidneys to retain vital nutrients. Drinking fluids with meals dilutes the digestive enzymes, which delays digestion. Delaying digestion promotes the bacterial decomposition of food in the gut and causes absorption of the resulting toxins and partially digested proteins, both of which place a strain on the immune system.

How Much Water?

Whereas there is no question that water is essential to the normal functioning of all of the cells of the body, there is, however, disagreement over the amount of water that should be consumed. One view is that large quantities of water should be consumed with meals and throughout the day. Another view is that the need for water is expressed in thirst, and one should only drink as much water as thirst dictates. Clearly, the amount of water required depends on many factors such as temperature, humidity, the amount of physical exertion we do, clothing, the type of food we ingest, how much salt or spice is ingested, etc. With all of these factors, which vary from day to day, it makes no sense to state a specific amount of water to drink. For example, the suggested eight glasses of water per day may not be enough for a construction worker during the summer and may be more than enough for an office worker who eats a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoids spices and salt.

How then can we know the right amount to drink? Ideally, our thirst should provide the best indication. All other animals drink exactly the amount of water they need, based only on their thirst. Unfortunately, for most of us, our awareness of need for water, expressed in thirst, has become perverted by “recreational” drinking of juices, milk, sodas, coffee, tea, cocoa, and alcoholic beverages. Also, many of us have learned since early childhood to suppress our urges because doing so inconveniences others and ourselves. That is, we hypnotize ourselves to disregard thirst (among other things) until dehydration has already caused harm.

The way to re-educate our sense of thirst is to first cut out recreational drinking and condiments such as spices, and salt. Next, we need to become attuned to whether or not we are thirsty. If so, thirst should be quenched by pure water.

Some macrobiotics practitioners claim that the appearance of the urine is a useful criterion for how much water to drink. Water intake is said to be optimal when the urine has the same pale, straw coloration as beer. While this criterion may be of some use, there are certain problems with it; namely, some toxins are colorless, and others in small quantities can make the urine highly colored.

To play safe, it is better to err on the side of too much water intake rather than too little. However, avoid drinking during meals or while the stomach is digesting food.

Drinking Water with Meals

One need only go to a restaurant to see how common it is for people to drink large amounts of liquids with meals. Drinking water (or any beverage) with meals has a number of cascading negative effects. Drinking water either while eating or during which time the food is being digested, dilutes the digestive juices and prolongs and undermines the digestion of food. The result is that food stays in the digestive tract for an inordinately long time, promoting bacterial decomposition and the growth of yeast. The toxins resulting from bacterial decomposition are absorbed into the bloodstream along with the food, and when the toxic load becomes too large, the putrefying mass along with vital nutrients are expelled instead of being absorbed. The action of yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide (intestinal gas). The pressure of the gas can push partially digested proteins through the intestinal-wall openings and into the bloodstream, which may well play a part in causing allergy and degenerative disease. At the very least, the inordinate time that the food is present in the stomach causes an irritation of the lining of the stomach, leading to false hunger, one of the causes of excess eating and overweight. Moreover, constantly expanding the stomach by filling it with a meal and then water also causes additional irritation (hunger pangs) and a larger capacity, both of which lead to habitual over-eating.

What Kind of Water?

The kind of water to drink is also controversial. Some studies purportedly show that drinking high-mineral-content water is the best. If you must rely on water for its small amount of minerals, it means that your diet is deficient. Of course, any study done on people eating a conventional and, therefore, deficient diet would lead to flawed generalizations.

Distilled and reverse-osmosis-filtered water are the purest. Now there are those who will say, “drinking distilled water pulls essential minerals out of your body.” The answer to this misconception is that the difference between the mineral content of ordinary water and distilled water is an infinitesimal fraction of the mineral intake from a highly nutritious diet of natural foods. Besides, most of the dissolved matter in most non-purified water consists of either unassimilable minerals or poisons such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, radioactive waste, feces, etc.

It is the job of the kidneys to differentiate between needed and unneeded minerals and retain or eliminate them appropriately. Unless a huge excess of pure water is consumed, drinking it causes negligible loss of minerals.

2. Foods That are Normally in Solid Form, Which Require Chewing, But Have Been Liquefied

Ideally, food should be eaten slowly, chewed thoroughly, taken in amounts that do not exceed digestive limitations, and combined in accordance with the physiology of digestion (see article on digestion and food-combining). Unfortunately, many of us are in the habit of drinking foods that already are liquid (such as milk) or foods that have been liquefied (such as orange juice, apple juice, soy milk, and tomato juice). Of course, bottled juices—even those in the refrigerated section of the supermarket or health-food store—are generally pasteurized, which means that much of the food value has been lost.

Those of us who have and utilize juicers, drink fresh, raw juice made from all manner of fruits and vegetables. Juicing raw fruits and vegetables (See article on juicing) definitely is an ideal way to obtain concentrated amounts of high-quality nutrients, and raw juices are ideal when breaking a fast (see article on fasting). But those who consume such juices should be aware of some basic rules: (a) It is necessary to consume raw juices on an empty stomach and not eat anything until the juice is fully digested. (b) Eating the food from which the juice was made would require much chewing, which, in addition to breaking the food into small particles, would result in mixing an appropriate amount of saliva with the food. Therefore, it is important to “chew” juices to ensure that more saliva is combined with them before swallowing.

, there are some negative aspects to drinking milk. Due to unhygienic conditions, milk must be pasteurized, thus damaging proteins and vitamins.

3. Foods That Normally are in Liquid Form

There is really only one such food, namely milk.


Here we are referring to cow’s milk. Of course, the milk that humans would ideally consume (only as babies, not adults) is mother’s milk. There are certainly pros and cons to drinking milk. Unquestionably, milk contains excellent-quality protein and is very high in calcium. However, cow’s milk, which is widely consumed by both babies and adults, falls short of being an ideal food for a number of reasons. One reason is that supermarket cow’s milk is factory farmed, which means that the cows are forced to produce an artificially large amount of milk for a very long time by means of hormones added to their food. These hormones are bovine somatotropins (also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH). Significant traces of these and a whole host of other hormones may be present in the milk. The ingestion of these hormones may explain the recent preponderance of children reaching puberty at inordinately young ages. It may also explain the recent increase in the number of very large breasted women and the extremely large proportion of men who contract prostate cancer (80 times that of men in China per capita). The reader is encouraged to search the Internet for milk + hormones. When I did so, I found dozens of websites listing the myriad harmful effects of drinking milk. Some of these websites have long lists of references to articles on the subject that have been published in reputable medical journals.

Next, due to unhygienic conditions, milk must be pasteurized, thus damaging proteins and vitamins. Pasteurization also kills the beneficial acidophilus bacteria but does not harm the undesirable putrefactive bacteria. Thus, pasteurized milk putrefies rather than sours. Once in the warm digestive tract, milk decays long before it is digested (a difficult process, at best), causing breath odor reminiscent of cow dung.

Finally, milk is commonly consumed with other foods, particularly with cookies or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No wonder so many develop an allergy to peanuts, milk, and wheat (see article on a possible digestive cause of allergies and degenerative disease).

So without drinking milk, where can adults get the large amounts of calcium contained in milk? Well, where do the cows get all that calcium and protein that goes into their milk? The answer is that, under natural conditions, they get it from grass. Whereas humans can’t digest grass, they can eat green vegetables such as collards, kale, and turnip greens, which contain large amounts of calcium plus many other essential nutrients. Also, nuts and seeds contain large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein. Nuts such as almonds filberts, pecans, and walnuts come from trees. Trees help the fertility of the surrounding earth, but grass does not. By far, the most efficient manner of obtaining our nutrients is directly, from vegetable sources. Whereas it may not be desirable to become strict vegetarians, we can benefit ourselves and the earth by moving in that direction.

Certainly, eating unsweetened yogurt or mild, low fat, low salt natural cheese is far superior to drinking milk. If you do eat yogurt, it is best to buy a brand that is made from unhomogenized organic milk with no added jam, pectin, non-fat milk solids, starch, artificial color, artificial flavor, or preservatives. Such a high-quality item can now be found in some supermarkets, but a good health-food store will be more likely to have a selection of varieties to choose from.

4. Non-Food Drinks

Beverages such as coffee, tea, cocoa, sodas, sports drinks, and alcoholic beverages are not really foods—although they may have caloric value, their nutritive value is essentially minuscule. In fact, alcoholic beverages toxify B-vitamins and, in large quantities, can damage the liver or even cause death (see article on red wine). Coffee, tea, cocoa, and caffeinated sodas have a stimulating effect, which wears off after about five hours, causing tiredness and depression. This “crash” requires increasing the use of these items and ultimately causes consequent addiction. Sports drinks contain artificial ingredients and are unnecessary because they can easily be replaced by fruit juices diluted with water to which a tiny amount of salt is added. When soda is consumed with or following a meal, it (a) dilutes the digestive juices, thereby undermining the digestion of food and (b) lowers the temperature of the stomach, decreasing the effectiveness of the digestive juices.

Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic beverages (1) have empty calories (caloric value with little or no nutritive content), (2) damage cells—notably those of the liver and brain, (3) increase the need for vital nutrients such as vitamin C and B-complex vitamins, (4) upset the water balance of the body, and (5) impair judgment and restraint. Stay away from them.

It should be noted that studies alleging that moderate alcohol intake is beneficial are scientifically suspect because they focus only on the alleged positive aspects of alcohol and overlook the many possible ill effects, some of which may be very long-term.

Carbonated Beverages

Carbonated beverages contain carbon dioxide (CO2), sugar, artificial color, artificial flavor, phosphorus, caffeine, and preservatives in varying amounts. Some carbonated beverages contain artificial sweeteners. Aside from these undesirable ingredients, the carbonation, itself, may also be undesirable. The CO2, in the form of carbonic acid, is absorbed into the blood stream and is eventually eliminated through the lungs. While the body is quite capable of eliminating carbonic acid, during the time it is in the body, it may cause calcium and other alkaline minerals to be liberated from the bones and muscles and not fully replaced. Subjecting the body to this chronic abuse may contribute to osteoporosis. The presence of phosphorus, a constituent of some carbonated beverages, would be expected to do even worse harm. It is my conjecture that drinking seltzer at night can increase the chance of nocturnal leg cramps.

Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa

Coffee, tea, and cocoa all contain caffeine and possibly other stimulants. These beverages are frequently consumed with sugar or, in the case of coffee and tea, with sugary baked goods. Caffeine is mildly addictive (compared with substances such as nicotine, which is strongly addictive). Here is the mechanism of the coffee addiction and how to break it:

The addiction is basically a sleep deficit. Drinking coffee to stay awake or alert is analogous to overdrawing a checking account. An undeserved benefit is conferred until the checks start to bounce. Then, penalties arise. Here the analogy breaks down. The bank will not allow you to regularly overdraw your checking account, whereas with coffee, you can keep prolonging the sleep debt. The craving for the “taste” of coffee is the way the coffee addict experiences the body’s need for physiological rest. When coffee is withdrawn, the withdrawal symptoms will be inordinate sleepiness. The addiction will be broken if the sleep debt is repaid with appropriate interest. This adjustment period takes about three days.

Decaffeinated Coffee and Tea

Decaffeinated coffee is typically labeled 97% caffeine-free. Some people then erroneously conclude that decaffeinated coffee contains 3% caffeine. Actually, 97% caffeine-free means that 97% of the original caffeine was removed. For all practical purposes, decaffeinated coffee is essentially devoid of caffeine. Consumer Reports magazine claims that the caffeine content of a 6-oz cup of drip-brewed coffee ranges from 70–215 mg, compared with only 2–8 mg for the same size cup of decaffeinated coffee.

Unfortunately, caffeine is not the only objectionable ingredient in coffee. Even if the caffeine-removal process were to leave no trace of any harmful solvent, coffee minus the caffeine still contains oils that have been heated to the point of free-radical formation. Therefore, coffee in any form should be avoided.

I have found that decaffeinated teas vary in their stimulating initial effect and depressing aftereffect. Tea contains tannin and possibly other objectionable substances. If you are going to drink tea, decaffeinated or otherwise, it is a good idea to add milk or cream to bind the tannin.

Coffee substitutes (made from roasted barley and other grains), hot water, and a small amount of heavy cream makes an enjoyable caffeine-free hot drink but may produce intestinal gas if sweetened. Remember, beer is also made from barley because it ferments so easily.

Alternative Beverages

During summer, a very thirst-quenching alternative to non-food drinks can be made from pure water to which is added a tiny amount of fruit juice. Lemonade made from the juice of one small lemon or lime, 12 oz of water, and a scant teaspoon of honey or maple syrup is quite a pleasant drink.

*From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.

Consumer Reports, October, 1994, p. 651. The caffeine content of other beverages is also reported.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

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