As summer temperatures rise and humidity levels wreak their havoc, it makes perfect sense to seek out beverages and bites that keep us well-hydrated. Popular “refreshing” foods like watermelon, cucumbers and tomatoes get a lot of action during the warmer seasons, and their high water content makes it easy for consumers to get thirst-quenching satisfaction.
But contrary to popular belief, a food’s ability to hydrate the human body isn’t completely based on its water content.
“The presence of salts, sugar and electrolytes help our body to retain water a lot better than just water alone,” explained Yi Min Teo, a digestive health dietitian and nutrition support clinician. Teo went on to explain that “when we lose water through sweat in a hot and humid place or while working out, we lose a good amount of sodium and chloride, followed by potassium, magnesium and calcium in smaller amounts. Sodium, chloride and potassium help regulate and maintain fluid balance. Magnesium and calcium are required for optimal muscle function and energy metabolism.”
So do “hydrating” foods go beyond especially juicy pieces of produce? We asked dietitians and nutritionists to recommend the most unexpected foods that can still offer hydration benefits, and they suggested these eight less-obvious options.
Bone broth has made a strong impression on wellness experts and anyone seeking easy ways to bring more nutrients into their diet. Because it’s a liquid, you’ll get plenty of water out of it too.
“Any food that’s liquid at room temperature counts as a fluid,” said Natalie Allen, a clinical assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at the Department of Public Health and Sports Medicine at Missouri State University, noting that soups and broths are good for hydration.
Broth contains a substantial amount of sodium, which isn’t a bad thing for hydration after all. “Broth is a hydrating food that may seem counterintuitive because of its sodium content. Many people think sodium is bad and should always be limited, but it’s actually an important electrolyte that maintains fluid balance in the cells and ultimately promotes hydration,” said Ellen Landes, a registered dietitian and nutrition instructor.
Plain Yogurt (‘Regular’ Or Greek)
Dairy products don’t always come to mind first when discussing hydrating foods, as they have more substance and weight than other fluid-heavy foods. But according to registered dietitian Kayley Myers, “Yogurt is a surprising food that can help increase your fluid intake. Because it is made from milk, yogurt consists of about 85% fluid. A 1-cup serving of plain yogurt contains just over 3/4 cup of water. This is also a great way to incorporate protein, calcium and probiotics into your diet.”
In the context of milk-based yogurt, protein works in conjunction with the lactose sugar, salt and fat to “slow the emptying of fluid from the stomach and keep hydration happening over a longer period,” CNN Health reported.
Cauliflower isn’t as obviously water-dense as tomatoes, cucumbers or spinach, but whether you enjoy it grilled, boiled, baked or riced, “it’s still over 90% water,” according to Megan Wong, a registered dietitian at AlgaeCal.
“In addition to being a good source of hydration, cauliflower is rich in immune-boosting vitamin C (69% of the daily value per cup),” Wong added. “You’ll also get a good amount of potassium, which is important for muscle function (including the heart muscle), keeping blood pressure in check and maintaining strong bones.”
Cabbage, like cauliflower, is a cruciferous vegetable that holds (and transmits) plenty of water. It’s also a vegetable that holds up well to fermentation, and we’re glad to tell you that kimchi, a very flavorful style of fermented cabbage that originated in Korea, can also offer hydration perks to those who consume it.
“Kimchi is a savory way to improve your hydration while getting friendly bacteria that supports intestinal health,” said Stephanie Meyers, senior clinical dietitian and nutritionist at Iris by OncoHealth.
Magnesium, like sodium, is a nutrient that promotes hydration throughout the body. And, according to Sara Barthel, a functional medicine nutritionist, “foods like salmon have both potassium and magnesium.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a half-filet of salmon contains 53.5 milligrams of magnesium, which represents about 10%-15% of an adult’s daily need. Magnesium and potassium are both electrolytes, which help regulate the balance of fluids in your body.
The popularity of chia seeds has risen in today’s wellness-focused market, and they have a lot of hydration-related benefits.
“Chia seeds are not only a great source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fats, they are also remarkable for hydration,” said registered dietitian Sheri Berger. “When chia seeds sit in water for a period of time, they soak up the liquid and form a gel.”
The potential benefits of chia seeds for skin hydration have also been studied, Berger added.
Pretzels And Other Sodium-Rich Foods
When board-certified registered dietitian Anne Murray said pretzels count as a hydrating food, we admit we were skeptical. But Murray explained that “the salt helps retain water, keeping you hydrated for longer!” Sodium is an electrolyte, and one of its functions is to hydrate the body by carrying water to the cells, according to Cedars-Sinai.
Caffeinated Coffee Isn’t The Anti-Hydration Dietary Item You Might Expect
Caffeine gets a bad rep as a dehydrating ingredient, but Joan Salge Blake, a program director and clinical professor in nutrition at Boston University, tells us that “contrary to popular belief, beverages such as caffeinated coffee and teas can contribute to a person’s daily water needs.”
She explained that caffeine is a diuretic, causing water to be excreted from the body. “But the water loss it causes is short-lived,” she said. “In other words, the caffeine doesn’t cause a significant loss of body water over the course of a day compared with decaffeinated beverages.”
In fact, she said research suggests that individuals who routinely consume caffeinated beverages “actually develop a tolerance to its diuretic effect and experience less water loss over time.”