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What are they on about?

David Newnham drinks deeply at the well of scepticism

Under the heading "Adam's ale top of the class for pupils", my local paper tells how more and more schools are replacing fizzy drinks machines with water fountains.

Someone at county hall, I gather, has finally twigged that cans of sweet, caffeinated pop, while they might be nice little earners, certainly don't make for nice little learners.

But as the headline suggests (that's a type 3 all-purpose schools headline, by the way, types 1 and 2 using the formulae "Iin a class of their own" and "top marks forI"), what's being talked about here isn't just the badness of fizz but also the goodness of water.

Drinking water regularly, says the county's learning co-ordinator, keeps the brain active. Then, after mentioning in passing that the brain consists of 78 per cent water, she hands us over to the head of nutritional care at the local hospital. "As adults," says the nourisher-in-chief, "we need 1.5 litres a day, which sounds a lotI " But stop there, I say. Not only does it sound a lot. It also sounds rather familiar.

It's several years since Dr Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, an Iranian-born physician now living in Virginia, wrote a book called Your Body's Many Cries For Water. In this self-published work (he went on to write a volume entitled My Forever Healthy amp; Pain-Free Program, too), the doctor suggested that many people who think they are ill are simply thirsty. "More water," said Dr Batmanghelidj, "can mean less hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, ulcers, angina, obesity, headaches, back painI " He is a bit of a water extremist. But the fact is, he opened a floodgate. Before long, quite moderate nutritionists in every state of the US were demanding that Americans down eight to 10 glasses of water a day, whether they felt thirsty or not.

Not fruit juice, because fruit sugars absorb water. The same goes for anything containing sodium. And as for tea and coffeeI well, caffeine's a diuretic. Do you want to end up with a negative water intake?

Studies published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, among others, have recently shown such claims to be bunkum. But it's too late. Americans love a quick fix, and we love anything American.

So, are you looking for a safe investment? Think water coolers. Think drinking fountains.

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