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July 12, 2019

Stavros Kavouras giving a talk while standing next to a podiumThe Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems focuses on innovative ideas and solutions to the many challenges of current food systems. In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.

Read on for an interview with Stavros Kavouras, professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions and director of the Hydration Science Lab.

Question: How did you get interested in food systems issues?

Answer: I’m a hydration physiologist and my interest is in how water intake relates to health. During my Ph.D I had the opportunity to work with Larry Armstrong, who is one of the leaders in the field. I continued working on hydration in my postdoc.

When I began working on this topic, I was mainly interested in how hydration improves exercise performance. But then after a few years I realized that people who exercise intensively in hot climates are approximately 0.5% of the population, and the other 99.5% of the population is not having that experience with exercise and hydration. I became more interested in how small changes in water intake has an impact on health for the broader population.

Q: Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.

A: Water is a forgotten nutrient. We’re discovering the impact that water has on health. Specifically, I’m looking at the role that water intake has on glucose regulation. We have seen that low water intake seems to have an impact on the development of glucose-intolerance in diabetes. We’ve been looking at how increasing water intake may improve the ability to handle glucose.

I’m not saying that if you drink water you will heal diabetes, but being a low water drinker it could contribute to the factors that leads to diabetes in the long term. The key mechanism behind this is probably a hormone that affects the pancreas and the liver.

The other area I’m working on is the determinants of hydration in children. We’ve seen in recent studies that children are consuming a relatively small amount of water. National nutrition studies show that more than 50% of children are underhydrating.

We’re running a large study right now that we hope will identify what can help children hydrate better. The school environment can impact these choices. One of the side effects of hydrating is going to the bathroom often. There is often limited bathroom access in schools and the teachers don’t like the students going to the bathroom very often. So that could contribute to this underhydration we’re seeing in children. We’re hoping to understand all of these determinants in more detail at the end of this project.

Q: What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about?

A: I’m excited that water is starting to get more attention, and is being recognized as a nutrient. The next step is that water has therapeutic uses, and can contribute to primary and secondary prevention of disease. This is incredible. Of course, scarcity of water is a big issue. Do we have enough water for everyone to have that amount? And is it safe water to drink? Water as a therapeutic nutrient will be a very important topic in the near future.

Q: What’s your favorite food?

A: Water is my favorite food. We forget that water is food. We’ve learned a massive amount about how food impacts health, but these studies have not recorded water intake, it’s left out. I drink all different types of water, sparkling, iced, room temperature. And probably my second favorite food is something that lives in water —seafood.