Amy Jaffe MS RD LD
Should You Drink Water During Meals?
Some claim that drinking water with meals dilutes stomach acid and digestive enzymes, making it more difficult for the body to digest food. This claim, however, implies that your digestive system is unable to adapt its secretions to the consistency of a meal, which is false.
Another popular argument against drinking liquids with meals states that fluids increase the speed at which solid foods exit the stomach. This is thought to reduce the meal's contact time with stomach acid and digestive enzymes, resulting in poorer digestion. As logical as this statement may sound, no scientific research supports it. A study that analyzed the stomach's emptying speed observed that, although liquids do pass through the digestive system more quickly than solids, they have no effect on the solids' digestion speed.
There is also the thought that drinking acidic or alcoholic drinks with meals dries up saliva, making it more difficult for the body to digest food. This does have some truth to it. However, this mainly refers to hard liquor, not the low alcohol concentrations in beer and wine. In regards to acidic drinks, they seem to actually increase the secretion of saliva. Finally, there's no scientific proof that either alcohol or acidic drinks, when consumed in moderation, negatively affect the digestion or absorption of nutrients.
Liquids help break down large chunks of food, making it easier for them to slide down your esophagus and into the stomach. They also help move food matter along smoothly, preventing bloating and constipation. Also, your stomach secretes water, along with gastric acid and digestive enzymes, during digestion. In fact, this water is needed to promote the proper function of these enzymes. Drinking water with meals can also help you pause between bites, giving you a moment to check in with your hunger and fullness signals. This can prevent overeating.
For most people, drinking liquids with meals is unlikely to negatively affect digestion. That being said, if you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), liquids with meals may not be for you. That's because liquids add volume to the stomach, which can increase stomach pressure, similarly to how a large meal would. This can lead to acid reflux for people who have GERD.
Most importantly, follow the advice of your medical doctor or health professional regarding your own individual health concerns.
When it comes to drinking liquids with meals, base your decision on what feels best. If consuming liquids with meals is painful, leaves you feeling bloated or worsens your gastric reflux, stick to drinking liquids before or between meals. Otherwise, there's no evidence that you should avoid drinking with meals. On the contrary, beverages consumed right before or during meals can promote smooth digestion and lead to optimal hydration.
In short, “there’s no concern that water will dilute the digestive juices or interfere with digestion. In fact, drinking water during or after a meal actually aids digestion.
Water is essential for good health. Water and other liquids help break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens stool, which helps prevent constipation.” - Mayo Clinic
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