Is water a nutrient?

  • Water affects every single function in the human body. 
  • 20% of our water intake comes from solid foods. 
  • Adults should drink at least 64 fl oz. (about 2L) of water per day.

The importance of proper hydration and water intake is well known. However, water is often left out of the conversation about nutrients. Nutrients are compounds that are essential for life. They play major roles in maintaining the proper functioning of the body’s processes. A lack of nutrients is associated with poor health outcomes. Water is not often considered when discussing macronutrients. These include carbohydrates, lipids (fats), and proteins. We also do not consider them micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. However, water is one of the most essential nutrients we need.

Water as a Nutrient

Water is one of the most essential nutrients. In fact, we need them in the largest amounts because it is part of almost every single function in the human body. The body needs water for digestion and absorption of other nutrients. We also use water for the transportation of products in the body and the elimination of waste products. It is used for temperature regulation and so much more. All biochemical reactions in the body occur in the presence of water. This is because it fills the spaces between cells. Water also helps from structures for larger molecules, such as protein and glycogen.

Where Water Comes From

Water comes from both food and drinks. In the United States, about 20% of our water intake each day comes from solid foods such as fruits, vegetables, and more. The rest of our water intake comes from beverages. This includes water, as well as coffee, tea, juice, soda, and more. It is important to consume a lot of water. That is why we recommend getting your daily intake from healthy sources.


The effects of dehydration may be the strongest evidence that water is an essential nutrient. Dehydration is the lack of water in the body. It is strongly associated with negative health consequences. In fact, losing as little as 2% of their body weight to sweat has been found to have negative impacts. It worsens an athlete’s physical performance and cognition. These effects may be felt by all people. Dehydration may affect your short-term memory and psychomotor skills. You may even have problems with visual perception. This is true in the presence of even mild dehydration. These effects are made worse with hot climates and intense exercise. This highlights the importance of drinking regularly. This is especially true during physical activities and in hot environments.

In developing countries, diarrhea is the leading cause of death in children. This is due to the amount of water that they lose. Diarrhea can also lead to deadly imbalances in the ions in their body. One way to save a life is through oral rehydration therapy. However, this should be initiated quickly.

Health Functions of Water

Water also plays a major role in kidney function. The kidneys regulate water balance and blood pressure. It also removes the waste from the body. Having enough water in the body allows the kidneys to properly remove waste products. These come out in the form of urine. Even mild dehydration can negatively impact kidney function. This may lead to kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Severe dehydration can contribute to kidney damage. It may also be caused by mild but frequent dehydration.

Observational studies suggest inadequate water intake may lead to headaches. A medical consensus has not been drawn. However, the same studies suggest an association between water deprivation and various negative effects. These include impaired concentration and increased irritability. It may also cause increased instances of migraines. This study focused on water deprivation-induced headaches. They found that drinking water provided relief within 30 minutes to 3 hours. 

Daily Water Recommendations

Recommendations state that adults should drink a minimum of 64 fl oz (about 2L) of water per day. This is commonly cited as about 8 cups per day. Our water intake varies based on a number of factors. Therefore, a minimum intake recommendation may lead to a deficit. This could lead to other adverse health effects. An adequate intake level (Al) for water has been determined. It is expected to be adequate for all members of a healthy population. This level is determined experimentally. It takes into consideration water balance, water turnover, and water intake. Infants meet their daily water through breast milk or infant formula. And with this, other sources of water are not necessary during this stage. During childhood, 1.7L of water per day is considered adequate. The Al for water is 3.7L per day for men and 2.7L per day for women. Those who are more physically active may require more water. So do people who live in hot environments. Water losses to sweat make up about 1 to 2L per hour for endurance sports. This signifies a 1% to 4% body weight water deficit. Water deficits as low as 2% have been associated with reduced endurance performance. Elderly individuals are most at risk for dehydration. Lack of thirst, kidney problems, and medication use are the most common causes of dehydration in the older population. Dehydration in seniors can lead to urinary tract infections and kidney stones. It may also lead to increased falls, confusion and delirium, and more.

Water has many demonstrable effects in the body. And lack of it or inadequate amounts can cause imbalances and negative health effects. The importance of water is so well known. Because of this, it is often neglected in the discussion of essential nutrients. However, water is considered an essential nutrient. This is because water is involved in almost every process within the human body. Even slight dehydration can impact function within the body. We recommend making sure you get enough of it.


Nutrients are compounds that are vital for life. Water is an essential nutrient, just like carbohydrates, lipids (fats), proteins, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, the human body needs an adequate amount of it every day. Water is the main constituent of our organs, cells, and tissues. It is required for proper functioning. The body cannot produce enough water on its own. It needs to be taken from external sources so that the body can carry out its various functions. Therefore, water is considered an essential nutrient.

Scientific Information

  • Micronutrient – a vitamin or mineral vital for healthy development or disease prevention.
  • Adequate Intake (Al) – a value based on observed or experimentally determined approximations of nutrient intake by group. 
  • Diarrhea – a condition where there is increased stool output with an abnormal form and consistency. 
  • Oral Rehydration Therapy – a treatment method for people suffering from mild or moderate dehydration resulting from various illnesses such as diarrhea.
Written by:
Allison Tallman, MS, RDN, CNSC
Registered Dietitian



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