Would you like water with that?

Nutrition

Photo credit: Faungg, Flickr, Creative Commons

By pH health care professionals

Some people like drinking water while they eat, while others only drink it before or after but never with a meal. Personal preferences aside, the Internet is rife with recommendations and theories as to which best helps digestion, which hurts it and whether when you drink water even really matters.

The answer, believe it or not, is not clear cut. We found no credible studies that address this issue. However, a greater understanding of the digestive system does shed some light on whether drinking water before or after your meal, as opposed to with your meal, can be harmful to your health.      

How does digestion work?

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract (mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine), liver, pancreas and gallbladder. This system is responsible for breaking down the food you eat into the nutrients you body needs for energy, growth and repair. It also assists with eliminating what your body doesn’t need. 

Digestion starts with the saliva in your mouth, which contains enzymes that begin to break down the food you eat to prepare it for digestion. The food then moves down your esophagus (a pipe that goes from the back of your throat to your stomach) and into your stomach where gastric fluids continue to digest the food while killing any bacteria that may have hitched a ride with your meal. The food is then processed and absorbed through the intestines with the help of your liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Remaining waste is eliminated from the body in your stool.

What does water have to do with all of this?

The claim has been made that drinking while eating can dilute digestive enzymes that are needed to properly break down food and make digestion less effective or efficient. But this claim appears unsupported because the pH of your stomach is very acidic and water is naturally neutral. You’d have to drink a lot of water to counter the acidity of your stomach. 

In fact, water may very well be beneficial to your digestion. It keeps your body hydrated, replenishes fluids lost during digestion, and softens stool, preventing constipation. And if you are trying to control your weight, one study observed that participants who drank two cups of water before a meal ate 75-90 fewer calories than people who drank no water at all – supporting the claim that water makes you feel fuller and may be a simple way to control your appetite.

Another study suggests that you may feel full longer if you aren’t taking swigs of your water with a bite of your meal. The thicker and less-diluted meals were associated with feeling fuller longer. But neither study specifically addressed people drinking water throughout their meal.

What does this mean for you?

The best thing you can do is pay attention to how your body feels, and adjust your eating and drinking as needed.  It also appears that if you are trying to lose weight, you should consume water before your meal and not dilute your food with water.

Also keep in mind that not all drinks are created equal. If you drink an alcoholic beverage at dinner, you may be drying out your mouth, and the lack of saliva may lead to poorer digestion. Remember, saliva contains enzymes that break down your food.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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