Water is vital to normal body functions. Fifty-five to 75 percent of the body's weight is water; the brain is 70 percent water, blood is 82 percent water and lungs are nearly 90 percent water.
This refreshing liquid carries nutrients and oxygen to cells; cushions organs, tissue, bones and joints; removes wastes and regulates body temperature.
Water is lost through perspiration and urination. Perspiration -- which cools the body through evaporation of fluids -- increases in high heat, humidity or times of high activity such as yard work or athletics.
Sun exposure or a sunburn can speed fluid loss; so do beverages with caffeine, which acts as a diuretic.
Thirst is one of the first signs of slight dehydration, so it's best to replace fluids before thirst strikes.
Mary Higgins, a nutrition specialist with K-State Research and Extension, suggests an easy hydration test -- just look at your urine. If it is pale yellow in color, fluids are adequate. If urine is dark yellow or appears concentrated, more fluids are needed.
How much and what type of fluids are recommended each day?
To replenish essential body fluids, drink 8 to 12 cups of fluid daily. Most of that should be water, which is readily absorbed. And cool water is absorbed more readily than warm, hot or ice water.
Some fluid replacement can come from other sources, such as milk; 100 percent fruit juice; low-sodium vegetable juice; foods that have a high water content, like fruits and vegetables; or foods made with fluids, such as puddings, gelatin salads or soups.
Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, which are diuretics that speeds fluid loss. Count only half of the amounts of these beverages toward total fluid replacement.
Sports beverages benefit athletes who are exercising more than one hour and in need of quick energy. For others, Higgins suggests diluting sports drinks with an equal part of water to avoid unnecessary calories.
Who is most at risk if they don't drink enough fluid?
Dehydration is most common among athletes, people who work outside, the elderly and children.
Before working in the heat, exercising or participating in athletics, drink 14 ounces to 22 ounces of cool water. During the activity, drink about a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
Encourage children to take frequent water breaks. During sports or other physical activity, they should drink half a cup of water every 15 minutes.
Athletes, active children and people who work outdoors should monitor fluid loss. Compare weight before and after an activity and drink 16 ounces to 24 ounces of water for each pound lost.
The ability to sense thirst declines with age, so older people cannot rely on their thirst to prompt them to drink enough fluids. Keep an eye on adults and encourage them to drink water before they are thirsty.
Children do not tolerate the heat as well as adults, and usually don't recognize their thirst. Offer them beverages frequently -- each time they pass through the kitchen and before, during and after play.
My power went out for a short amount of time during a recent thunderstorm. What should I do to make sure my food doesn't spoil?
To protect food safety and quality, buy an appliance thermometer to monitor food storage temperatures. A reading of 40 degrees or lower will protect food safety and quality in freezers and refrigerators during a power outage.
Appliance thermometers are different from food thermometers. They are relatively inexpensive and usually can be purchased at discount, hardware, kitchen and department stores.
Place the thermometer in the center of the refrigerator, toward the front of a center shelf where it's visible. Place the thermometer in the refrigerator or freezer compartment rather than on a shelf in the door.
During an outage, check food storage temperatures every four hours but avoid opening freezer and refrigerator doors beyond that.
A full, free-standing freezer will stay at freezing temperatures about two days if unopened -- a half-full freezer about one day.
The time frame will be influenced by the type of food stored -- for example, a freezer used to primarily store meat will stay colder than a freezer used to store a variety of foods.
If the freezer is not full, group packages so they will insulate each other and stay frozen longer.
When advised of a planned power outage, protect frozen foods by adding freezer packs, bags of ice or block ice, or dry ice.
(Be careful when handling dry ice. Wear gloves and keep dry ice separate from food. Wrap it in newspaper or place cardboard between the dry ice and the food. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice should hold a full, 10-cubic-foot freezer three to four days.)
If a power outage is likely to be lengthy, check with a friend or neighbor to see if they have space available in a refrigerator or freezer that is not affected by the outage. Ice chests can be used to store food for a limited time.
How long will food keep in the freezer or refrigerator during a power outage?
If food has started to thaw, evaluate each package separately. Be careful with meat and poultry products or any food containing milk, cream, sour cream or soft cheese.
If ice crystals are still in meats and poultry, refreeze them. If meat products have thawed or been above refrigerator temperatures (40 degrees) for more than two hours, discard them.
Milk, eggs or egg products, soft and hard cheeses or cheesecakes also may be refrozen if ice crystals are still present.
But remember the old saying: "If in doubt, throw it out."
Refrigerated items should be safe as long as power is out no more than a few hours. After that, discard them unless block ice was added to the refrigerator or they were transferred to the freezer.
Be sure to discard any fully cooked items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices. Don't rely on appearance or odor.
Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they've been at room temperature too long, food-borne bacteria may have multiplied enough to cause illness.
-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.