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Are you hungry or just thirsty? How to spot dehydration – and why to drink more water!

Drinking enough water is key to good health, but how do you know if you are just thirsty of experiencing signs of dehydration? If you’re a person living with diabetes, you know how important it is to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

But while healthy diet, exercise and medication can lower your blood sugar, it’s also important to stay hydrated. High blood sugar can reduce fluid levels in your body, which can lead to dehydration.

If your body doesn’t use insulin properly, glucose can accumulate in your bloodstream. When your blood sugar remains high for an extended period, your kidneys must work harder to filter and remove the excess glucose. Which means you need to pee a lot.

This increase in urination is what leads to dehydration, especially if you don’t replace lost fluids.

Symptoms of dehydration

  • dry mouth
  • thirst
  • headache
  • dry eyes
  • dry skin
  • dark colored urine
  • dizziness
  • fatigue

How much water or fluids should you drink to keep hydrated?

Keeping your blood sugar within a normal range helps your body maintain a healthy fluid balance. But it also helps to stay hydrated. Drinking water not only fights dehydration, it can also help your body get rid of excess glucose.

If you’re living with diabetes, you should drink plenty of fluids — about 1.6 litres or 6.5 cups per day for women; and 2 litres or 8.5 glasses per day for men (according to this research).

But although water is a great all-round drink and highly recommended for increasing fluid intake and preventing dehydration, other drinks are effective for dehydration, too.

How to spice up water

To add flavour to plain water, add a few squeezes of fresh lime or lemon juice. You can also stay hydrated by drinking caffeine-free herbal teas, skim milk, and sugar-free coffee.

You should, however, avoid energy drinks, fruit juices, and fizzy drinks. These drinks contain a lot of sugar and can further increase your blood glucose. Sparkling water is okay, as long as it’s natural or sugar-free.

Are you hungry or just thirsty?

You might think that the main signals for hunger – empty feeling in your stomach, and thirst – dry mouth, are quite distinct. But if you’re busy doing something else and ignore these first signals, the signs that come later are very similar. They may result in you eating a slice of toast instead of drinking a glass of water.

It fairly often happens that people think they’re hungry when they are actually just thirsty. This can mean that you go through your day eating frequently and not drinking enough.

Water is involved in almost all bodily processes including digestion, absorbing nutrients, eliminating waste and brain function. None of these processes work properly if we are in a state of dehydration.

Dehydration might sound dramatic, but even mild dehydration can leave you feeling tired and lethargic. The symptoms get worse as the state of dehydration increases, effecting heart rate, breathing and mental state.

Not sure if you’re hungry or thirsty?

Before you reach for a snack, answer these questions:

  • When did I last eat?
  • Did I eat enough?
  • When did I last drink?
  • Am I feeling hot today?
  • Have I been exercising?

The answers should help you decide if you’re actually hungry. If in doubt, drink a glass of water!

Remember, if you’re constantly thirsty or feeling dehydrated often, no matter how much water or fluid you drink, go to your doctor. It’s always best to be safe!

Photo by Julia Zolotova and Nigel Msipa on Unsplash

What to read next?

How to avoid dehydration caused by diabetes: One of the easiest ways to stay hydrated is to keep a full water bottle with you at all times.

The best diabetes-friendly drinks: A lot of the excess sugar in our diet comes from drinks that are high in sucrose and fructose: regular fizzy drinks, energy drinks and also fruit juices.

Making the right diabetic food choices: Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad. Look out for vegetable skewers, veggie sides, crudités (chopped raw veg), soup or salads.

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.