According to the old rule of thumb, you're supposed to drink eight glasses of water per day (and some experts recommend even more). That can seem like a daunting task on some days, but here's the catch: You don't have to drink all that water. Roughly 20% of our daily H2O intake comes from solid foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
It's still important to drink plenty of water -- especially in the summertime -- but you can also quench your thirst with these 15 hugely hydrating foods, all of which are at least 90% water by weight.
Water content: 96.7%
This summer veggie -- which has the highest water content of any solid food -- is perfect in salads or sliced up and served with some hummus, says Keri Gans, author of "The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner and Healthier You" and a consultant to Mindbloom, a technology company that makes life-improvement apps.
Want to pump up cucumber's hydrating power even more? Try blending it with nonfat yogurt, mint and ice cubes to make cucumber soup.
Water content: 95.6%
Iceberg lettuce tends to get a bad rap, nutrition-wise. Health experts often recommend shunning it in favor of darker greens like spinach or romaine lettuce, which contain higher amounts of fiber and nutrients such as folate and vitamin K.
It's a different story when it comes to water content, though: Crispy iceberg has the highest of any lettuce, followed by butterhead, green leaf and romaine varieties.
So when the temperature rises, pile iceberg onto sandwiches or use it as a bed for a healthy chicken salad. Even better: Ditch the tortillas and hamburger buns and use iceberg leaves as a wrap for tacos and burgers.
Water content: 95.4%
That urban legend about celery having negative calories isn't quite true, but it's pretty close. Like all foods that are high in water, celery has very few calories: just 6 calories per stalk. And its one-two punch of fiber and water helps fill you up and curb your appetite.
This lightweight veggie isn't short on nutrition, however. Celery contains folate and vitamins A, C and K. And thanks in part to its high water content, celery neutralizes stomach acid and is often recommended as a natural remedy for heartburn and acid reflux.
Water content: 95.3%
These refreshing root vegetables should be a fixture in your spring and summer salads. They provide a burst of spicy-sweet flavor -- and color! -- in a small package, and more important, they're filled with antioxidants such as catechin (also found in green tea).
A crunchy texture also makes radishes a perfect addition to healthy summer coleslaw, with no mayo required. Slice them up with shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced snow peas, and chopped hazelnuts and parsley, and toss with poppy seeds, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Water content: 94.5%
Sliced and diced tomatoes will always be a mainstay of salads, sauces and sandwiches, but don't forget about sweet cherry and grape varieties, which make an excellent hydrating snack, Gans says. "They're great to just pop in your mouth, maybe with some nuts or some low-sodium cheese," she says. "You get this great explosion of flavor when you bite into them."
Having friends over? Skewer grape tomatoes, basil leaves and small chunks of mozzarella on toothpicks for a quick and easy appetizer.
Water content: 93.9%
Bell peppers of all shades have a high water content, but green peppers lead the pack, just edging out the red and yellow varieties (which are about 92% water). And contrary to popular belief, green peppers contain just as many antioxidants as their slightly sweeter siblings.
Peppers are a great pre-dinner or late-night snack, Gans says. "We tell people to munch on veggies when they have a craving, but a lot of people get bored of carrots and celery pretty quickly," she says. "Peppers are great to slice up when you get home from work, while you're making or waiting for dinner."
Water content: 92.1%
Don't let cauliflower's pale complexion fool you: In addition to having lots of water, these unassuming florets are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that have been shown to help lower cholesterol and fight cancer, including breast cancer. (A 2012 study of breast cancer patients by Vanderbilt University researchers found that eating cruciferous veggies like cauliflower was associated with a lower risk of dying from the disease or seeing a recurrence.)
"Break them up and add them to a salad for a satisfying crunch," Gans suggests. "You can even skip the croutons!"
Water content: 91.5%
It's fairly obvious that watermelon is full of, well, water, but this juicy melon is also among the richest sources of lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant found in red fruits and vegetables. In fact, watermelon contains more lycopene than raw tomatoes: about 12 milligrams per wedge, versus 3 milligrams per medium tomato.
Although this melon is plenty hydrating on its own, Gans loves to mix it with water in the summertime. "Keep a water pitcher in the fridge with watermelon cubes in the bottom," she says. "It's really refreshing and a great incentive to drink more water overall."
Water content: 91.4%
Iceberg lettuce may have a higher water content, but spinach is usually a better bet overall. Piling raw spinach leaves on your sandwich or salad provides nearly as much built-in hydration, with an added nutritional punch.
Spinach is rich in lutein, potassium, fiber and brain-boosting folate, and just one cup of raw leaves contains 15% of your daily intake of vitamin E, an important antioxidant for fighting off the damaging molecules known as free radicals.
Water content: 91.4%
This tropical fruit, also known as carambola, comes in sweet and tart varieties and has a juicy texture similar to pineapple. Its eye-catching shape looks great in a fruit salad or as an edible garnish on the rim of a summer cocktail. As a bonus, it's rich in antioxidants, especially epicatechin, a heart-healthy compound also found in red wine, dark chocolate and green tea.
One note of caution: People with kidney problems should avoid star fruit because of its high levels of oxalic acid.
Water content: 91.0%
All berries are good foods for hydration, but juicy red strawberries are easily the best of the bunch. Raspberries and blueberries both hover around 85% water, and blackberries are only slightly better at 88.2%.
"I love strawberries blended in a smoothie or mixed with plain nonfat yogurt, another hydrating food," Gans says. Strawberries add natural sweetness to the yogurt, she adds, and the combo of carbohydrates, fiber and protein make a great post-workout recovery snack.
Water content: 90.7%
Like its cousin cauliflower, raw broccoli adds a satisfying crunch to a salad. But its nutritional profile -- lots of fiber, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C -- is slightly more impressive. What's more, broccoli is the only cruciferous vegetable (a category that contains cabbage and kale, in addition to cauliflower) with a significant amount of sulforaphane, a potent compound that boosts the body's protective enzymes and flushes out cancer-causing chemicals.
Water content: 90.5%
This juicy, tangy citrus fruit can help lower cholesterol and shrink your waistline, research suggests. In one study, people who ate one grapefruit a day lowered their bad (LDL) cholesterol by 15.5% and their triglycerides by 27%. In another, eating half a grapefruit -- roughly 40 calories -- before each meal helped dieters lose about 3Â½ pounds over 12 weeks. Researchers say compounds in the fruit help fuel fat burn and stabilize blood sugar, therefore helping to reduce cravings.
Water content: 90.4%
A carrot's a carrot, right? Not when it comes to water content. As it turns out, the baby-size carrots that have become a staple in supermarkets and lunchboxes contain more water than full-size carrots (which are merely 88.3% water).
The ready-to-eat convenience factor is hard to top, as well. Snack on them right out of the bag, dip them in hummus or guacamole, or -- for a bit of added crunch and bright orange color -- chop them up and add them to salads or salsas.
Water content: 90.2%
This succulent melon provides a big nutritional payoff for very few calories. One 6-ounce serving -- about one-quarter of a melon -- contains just 50 calories but delivers a full 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
"I love cantaloupe as a dessert," Gans says. "If you've got a sweet tooth, it will definitely satisfy." Tired of plain old raw fruit? Blend cantaloupe with yogurt and freeze it into sherbet, or puree it with orange juice and mint to make a refreshing soup.
When you're thirsty and in need of a drink, which beverages are best at keeping you hydrated?
Sure, you can always reach for a glass of water -- but plain H20 isn't the most hydrating beverage around, according to a study from Scotland's St. Andrews University that compared the hydration responses of several different drinks.
The researchers found that while water -- both still and sparkling --does a pretty good job of quickly hydrating the body, beverages with a little bit of sugar, fat or protein do an even better job of keeping us hydrated for longer.
The reason has to do with how our bodies respond to beverages, according to Ronald Maughan, a professor at St. Andrews' School of Medicine and the study's author. One factor is the volume of a given drink: The more you drink, the faster the drink empties from your stomach and gets absorbed into the bloodstream, where it can dilute the body's fluids and hydrate you.
The other factor affecting how well a beverage hydrates relates to a drink's nutrient composition. For example, milk was found to be even more hydrating than plain water because it contains the sugar lactose, some protein and some fat, all of which help to slow the emptying of fluid from the stomach and keep hydration happening over a longer period of time.
Milk also has sodium, which acts like a sponge and holds onto water in the body and results in less urine produced.
The same can be said for oral rehydration solutions that are used to treat diarrhea. Those contain small amounts of sugar, as well as sodium and potassium, which can also help promote water retention in the body.
"This study tells us much of what we already knew: Electrolytes -- like sodium and potassium -- contribute to better hydration, while calories in beverages result in slower gastric emptying and therefore slower release of urination," said Melissa Majumdar, a registered dietitian, personal trainer and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who was not involved in the study.
Sugar in moderation
But here's where it gets tricky: Beverages with more concentrated sugars, such as fruit juices or colas, are not necessarily as hydrating as their lower-sugar cousins. They may spend a little more time in the stomach and empty more slowly compared to plain water, but once these beverages enter the small intestine their high concentration of sugars gets diluted during a physiological process called osmosis. This process in effect "pulls" water from the body into the small intestine to dilute the sugars these beverages contain. And technically, anything inside the intestine is outside your body.
Juice and soda are not only less hydrating, but offer extra sugars and calories that won't fill us up as much as solid foods, explained Majumdar. If the choice is between soda and water for hydration, go with water every time. After all, our kidneys and liver depend on water to get rid of toxins in our bodies, and water also plays a key role in maintaining skin's elasticity and suppleness. It's the cheapest moisturizer you'll find.
While staying hydrated is important -- doing so keeps our joints lubricated, helps prevent infections, and carries nutrients to our cells -- in most situations people don't need to worry too much about how hydrating their beverages are.
"If you're thirsty, your body will tell you to drink more," Maughan said. But for athletes training seriously in warm conditions with high sweat losses, or for someone whose cognitive function may be negatively impacted by working long hours without beverage breaks, hydration becomes a critical issue.
Can beer and lattes keep me hydrated?
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, which causes you to pass more urine, so when it comes to alcoholic beverages hydration will depend on a beverage's total volume. "Beer would result in less water loss than whiskey, because you are ingesting more fluid with beer," Maughan said. "Strong alcoholic drinks will dehydrate, dilute alcoholic drinks will not."
When it comes to coffee, how well your java hydrates you will depend on the amount of caffeine you consume. A regular coffee with about 80 milligrams of caffeine -- roughly what you would find in 12 oz. of Folgers' house blend -- would be pretty much as hydrating as water, according to Maughan's research.
Consuming more than 300mg of caffeine, or about 2-4 cups of coffee, could cause you to lose excess fluid as the caffeine causes a mild, short-term diuretic effect. This is more likely to happen with someone who doesn't typically consume caffeine, and it could be offset by adding a tablespoon or two of milk to your cup of joe.