Food & Drink

WELL-SEASONED: Today, Raise a glass to the refreshing taste of water

This article originally ran on Wednesday, March 22, 2006

This morning, when you turn on your faucet to fill your tea kettle or coffee pot, give pause to the fact that today is World Water Day. In 1992, the U.N. General Assembly designated March 22, the day after the vernal equinox here in the northern hemisphere, as an annual observance to "set up concrete activities as deemed appropriate in the national context." National context is a loaded term.

Here in the United States, most of us have the luxury of water -- hot or cold, softened, mineral, still or sparkling, enhanced with vitamins or bottled, either in France, Fiji or the glorious aquifer in nearby Bellefonte.

One of my fondest childhood memories at my grandmother's house in southeastern Ohio is drawing up the heavy handle of the green pump and pumping away with both arms and all my weight before the first cold splash hit the metal bottom of the water bucket. It's a recollection that is fading.

Future generations may be equally astonished to recall the days when you had to actually turn a handle, instead of just run your hands in front of a sensor, to get water from a faucet. But the national context varies greatly in other countries, in the dusty war-ravaged Middle East and on the scorching plains of Africa.

Water there is scarce, and often polluted when it is available. Water is an essential nutrient and is a major component of our bodies, accounting for 55 percent to 70 percent of our body mass. The old wives tale to drink 8 glasses of water a day is not entirely accurate; many of our foods -- as long as we avoid processed foods -- are largely composed of water.

Here is the water percentage in some common foods:

When we eat those foods that are composed largely of water, we provide our bodies with the perfect fluid balance to keep our intercellular function flowing smoothly. Barbara Rolls, a Penn State nutrition professor who is the director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, has developed a theory called "Volumetrics" that considers caloric density and satiety, or a feeling of fullness, to be related to the water content of foods.

Choose foods that are higher in water content, such as fruits and vegetables, and you can eat more of them and feel satisfied. The "Volumetrics Eating Plan," Rolls' second book to describe her theory, provides many low-fat and low-sugar recipes that were developed in the kitchen she shares with her partner Charlie Bruggeboers, an enthusiastic cook, or that were favorites of the staff in her lab.

This World Water Day, celebrate nature's perfect element with a water-based soup or a big, frosty glass of what is unavailable to more than 2 billion people in the world today.

And count your blessings. Quick Minestrone This recipe is from Rolls' first book, "Volumetrics," which was published in 2000 and became so popular that she was asked to write a companion volume with menu guides and recipes.

Quick Minestrone

Makes 8 one-cup servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups chopped carrots

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, undrained

1 cup canned low-fat or fat-free chicken broth

1 cup water

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups packed sliced spinach

1 15-ounce can small white (navy) beans, rinsed and drained

2/3 cups cooked small rice-shaped pasta (orzo)

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery and garlic; saute; 10 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp tender.

Stir in the tomatoes, broth, water, Italian seasoning and salt, and bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until carrots are tender.

Add the spinach, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the beans and pasta; simmer 1 minute or until hot.

Nutritional information per serving -- calories: 130; energy density: 0.5; carbohydrate: 24 g; fat: 2 g; protein: 6 g; fiber: 5 g; sodium: 414 mg

Anne Quinn Corr teaches basic food preparation in the nutrition department at Penn State. She can be reached at 865-7431 or