If you want to be the very best you can be, staying hydrated is absolutely key. This piece is naturally a celebration of one of the most important, calorie-free, life-giving substances on the planet – H2O.

Most of us are aware of how important it is to stay hydrated – I’m sure it’s been drummed into us since we were kids. You might even have been subjected to one of those graded-colour wee charts in the toilet, which in our youth I’m sure we all found funny, but all joking aside, they’re actually really useful and this is a serious subject.

Why is it so important?

It wasn’t until I sat down earlier this year, during my nutrition diploma, for a hydration lesson, that I really understood just how integral water is to pretty much every function of the human body. Let’s not forget, nearly two-thirds of our body is made up of water! If we’re dehydrated, our bodies and brains won’t function in the optimal way. This could be how we feel, heal, react, our ability to absorb nutrients from the food we eat or the way our cells and organs function – dehydration really does affect everything we do. Also, our bodies often mistake hunger for thirst, so making sure we keep hydrated throughout the day can help to prevent us from over-eating and consuming calories we don’t need. Water is a cheap, obvious, accessible part of the diet that has an immediate and dramatic impact on the way we function and feel. If you take just a handful of things from this book, bigging up H20 and staying hydrated is one of the most valuable actions you can build into your daily habits.

Why do we feel thirsty?

As wonderful as the human body is, there is a bit of a lag between our bodies telling our brains that we’re actually thirsty and our brains communicating that message. So if you’re feeling thirsty, a) you are definitely dehydrated, and b) you were probably dehydrated an hour ago. If you’re a parent, it’s worth noting that kids are even worse at recognising when they’re thirsty, so it’s important to keep reminding them to drink water.

How much fluid do we need?

The average woman should be getting at least 1.6 litres a day, while the average man is looking at at least 2 litres a day. Like anything, these amounts are a guideline, and our requirements vary depending on factors such as age, build, lifestyle and activity levels, as well as humidity and the temperature around us. Teas and herbal teas, coffee, fruit juice and milk all contribute to our hydration. It’s thought that we also get about 20% of our water intake from the food we eat, such as veggies and fruit with a high water content.

Keep water handy

My top tip, as ridiculously obvious as it sounds, is to put it in front of you! If you’ve always got water to hand – a glass at your desk, a jug on the kitchen table, a bottle when you’re out and about – you’re more likely to pick it up and drink it throughout the day. If you want to naturally flavour it sometimes to keep things interesting, check out the easy ideas in Everyday Super Food..

Tasty tap water

British tap water goes through loads of checks, so it’s safe, clean and should definitely be utilised. It does change in taste regionally – and I know in some places you can taste chlorine – but it’s there, it’s available, and we’re lucky that it’s in such free flow. If you don’t like the taste, look at getting a filter; and bottled mineral water can be convenient at times too.

Soda & sugary drinks

In my house, these don’t exist and are the enemy. They’re a treat, and should be thought of as such. This is why I think they should only be enjoyed at special occasions (if at all, for younger children). Without question they are a fast and simple way to consume humongous amounts of empty calories – they have no nutritional value. The disastrous combination of copious amounts of sugar – often around 12 teaspoons in 500ml – and citric acid, is a nightmare for tooth decay. As people normally sip these drinks, there’s no chance for the teeth to defend themselves. Over-consumption of sugar is a huge contributing factor to tooth decay in children, and multiple tooth extraction means they need to be put under general anaesthetic at a really young age. That’s no joke.

Fruit juice

If we drink too much, fruit juice can be equally guilty as soda and sugary drinks when it comes to tooth decay, because of the natural sugar and citric acid it contains. But consumed in the right amount, fruit juice is actually beneficial, because it also contains a lovely cocktail of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. So, a few tricks to bear in mind: if you’re buying fruit juice, only fill your glass one-quarter full, then top it up with water – this’ll save you money too. At lunch and dinner time, squeeze any nice citrus and crush a little soft fruit into a jug then top up with water and ice – we mix it up every day. And remember, juice doesn’t have the fibre of the whole fruit, so smoothies are generally going to be more nutritious.

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Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House ⓒ Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2015 Everyday Super Food) Photographer: Jamie Oliver