x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Why I don't drink as much water as I should

It's difficult to remember to drink plain old water, when you have a penchant for all types of tea and fresh juices.

Remembering to drink water doesn't come naturally to me. It never has. Sparkling or still, bottled or tap, I have to be reminded to force water down a couple of times daily, and it's usually in the form of an afterthought or a gentle suggestion from a friend who's noticed my untouched water glass over dinner. Part of it is that my aesthetic loyalties lie with teas: hot and iced, black and green, white and red. But this established pattern of freakishly low intake of plain old water is not an aversion so much as a blind spot - I just forget my body needs it, until I walk past the post-it note on my fridge ("Drink more H2O!!") or start feeling light-headed for no apparent reason. Of course, this habit inspires people to make occasional wisecracks about my Emirati heritage, camels and water storage, at which point I take no small amount of pleasure in informing them that, contrary to common folklore, camels don't actually store water in their humps.

Between 2003 and 2008, the market for soft drinks in the UAE increased at a compound annual growth rate of more than 6 per cent, with the juice category comprising more than a third of the beverages assessed. We love our bottled water. But we love our juices so much that it would be hard to find a sandwich or shawarma joint between Khalidiya and the outer banks of Ras al Khaimah that doesn't brandish a decorative trim of laminated, backlit images of layered juice drinks.

I've always loved the compelling astringency of ice-cold freshly-pressed pomegranate juice, served in a big Styrofoam cup; its ability to cut through the grease and garlic of shawarma trumps all other options. We were raised on the natural stuff with the most wholesome of intentions: slim cobalt Tetra Pak boxes of Lacnor fruit cocktail (Lacnor is an Emirati company that has spent 25 years building a reputation for long-life milk and long-life natural juices with no added sugars), cheery tangerine boxes of Suntop orange juice, Capri-Sonne apple juice in a silver pouch, and just once I persuaded my mother to bring home a bottle of Ribena after realising that it was the juice box of choice for the most popular girls in junior high school. (My acute distaste for it only reinforced my pre-existing concern that I wasn't biologically hard-wired for popularity.)

When seated next to a stranger on a plane, I still perform a silly tradition to which I've held fast all my life, saying a little prayer that they'll order anything but tomato juice, with its thick scent and grainy entrails. I have had a similarly dramatic response to most juices made from concentrate, which bear so little resemblance to their fresh counterparts. Orange juice and coconut water outrank other juice products in terms of consumption rates, and in different ways, both are to me the essence of sunshine. While I love the silvery, vegetal taste of fresh coconut water and the bright tang of freshly squeezed OJ, juices from concentrate aren't my favourite; they taste cooked, dark, retired - but they are also practical, non-perishable alternatives when not-from-concentrate juices and juicing fresh fruit on-site aren't options.

For running around in the midday heat, sweetened, flavoured water can sweeten the prospect of conquering the recommended two litres of water that awaits consumption - at least by individuals who are smarter about hydration than myself. But water that tastes like a lollipop doesn't appeal to me at all - I don't even like my water with lemon. Furthermore, a small bottle of flavoured water can contain as much sugar as a box of pastries.

My brother's after-school snacks were routinely washed down by his beloved Oronamin C, DayGlo, honey-sweet, and packaged in an ugly, if unassuming, medicinal brown bottle. Oronamin C, the number two energy drink in Japan, is laced with vitamins, minerals and a kick of MSG, and it's made by the same company that brought Pocari Sweat, that ubiquitous health drink with the worst name on the planet. For anyone who has ever wondered: "Pocari" has no meaning at all, and was made up for its purportedly likeable sound, while "sweat" is just the reference you might fear it is, with all the nasty implications of providing the drinker all of the necessary nutrients and electrolytes lost when sweating.

But it's another famous tiny bottled drink, called Lipovitan D, that's the bestseller in Japan. It's prime ingredient, taurine, predates Red Bull, known - and named - for its taurine content (taurine is named after the Latin taurus, which means bull or ox). In Japan, Red Bull is modified to contain arginine instead of taurine as the main active ingredient. I wonder whether the substitution has any effect on Red Bull's flavour, with its curious and unmistakable baby aspirin overtones.

I don't know if it's the promise of vitamins and minerals that make health drinks and flavoured waters seem like a promising alternative for children, especially if the path of least resistance leads to a vending machine stocked with frosty orange Fantas and diet sodas loaded with artificial sweeteners. It wasn't Fanta that beckoned to me in my youth, and it wasn't Mirinda, or Shani, or Vimto, or any fizzy drinks at all, really. What I coveted was Milco orange, the closer to frozen the better - lurid, artificially flavoured juice boxes of sticky, addictive, orange flavoured water that I dreamed about and loved.

There are a number of sports drinks made for replacing electrolytes - Lucozade, Powerade, Gatorade - and all get the job done, but while packing a sugary wallop that may not be necessary for everyone. Electrolyte-enhanced waters have become popular as well, but they can easily be made at home. I used Bob Harper's recipe and mix up a litre at a time for drinking when I'm active or out in the sun. Add half a teaspoon of baking soda, two tablespoons of agave nectar and half a tablespoon of sea salt to a litre of water, shake it up, and sip away.