Our mouths create saliva while eating as it contains digestive enzymes to help break down food. These enzymes are very important in creating a healthy digestive process.
Our stomachs contain gastric juices that aid in digestion and are instrumental in killing any bacteria we might consume in the food we eat. It is important these juices function properly as they help break down food and allow the stomach to contract and pulverize food into a state that can be pushed to the small intestine.
The liver is also important as once nutrients are taken from the food we eat they are sent through the bloodstream to the liver. From there, the liver distributes the nutrients to different areas of the body. It determines what to keep for later and what to utilize right away. The liver requires an ample amount of water to function and do its job properly.
To Drink or Not to Drink
The main area of debate is whether or not drinking water during a meal is harmful or beneficial to the digestive process. There is no doubting the fact that drinking too much water during meals can interfere with the natural and necessary levels of bile and stomach acid. This would slow the digestion process and reduce the body’s ability to produce enough digestive enzymes to digest foods properly. Without proper digestion, a build up of toxic waste can occur no matter what you are eating. We can apply the same principles when thinking about other beverages we might consume during a meal. In the case of alcoholic drinks and acidic beverages like soda, they tend to dry up the saliva your glands have produced, making it even more difficult to properly digest food. Drinking water or other beverages while they are cold also slows down digestion and can create cramping in some individuals.
It is clear that drinking water before and after you eat aids the digestive process. The general consensus on this is that drinking water about 30 minutes before you eat will help keep the body hydrated which results in optimal digestion. For the liver, this is also important as overall body hydration aids in optimal liver performance. Drinking water about 30 minutes after can also assist in hydrating the body through the latter parts of digestion and replenish the lost liquids from digestion. It is important to note that drinking water during a meal would be more beneficial than not drinking while eating if you are not properly hydrated beforehand. Eating while dehydrated can cause the body to have a very tough time digesting food.
The Other Side of the Coin
It’s also important to mention that according to Michael F Picco, M.D. and the MayoClinic: “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 and other liquids help break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens stools, which helps prevent constipation.” While they do not make any mention of temperature or amount of water, and don’t reference their statement, it is clear they feel drinking while eating is generally OK.
Based on the information presented, when thinking about how to approach eating meals yourself, there are several tips we can apply. It appears most beneficial to stay hydrated throughout the day and if you must drink while you eat, avoid drinking too much, as well as alcohol and acidic drinks. Drink warm water and drink it sparingly. A small glass will likely not interfere with digestion and by adding a dash of apple cider vinegar or lemon, you can aid in the digestive process further. If you can, you might want to try drinking 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after a meal with no drinking during, see how you feel. If it works for you, then stick with what works, if not, adjust accordingly. Listening to and becoming more conscious of your body and body awareness is a great step to take when thinking about new foods and how you treat your body. Sometimes going with what the body feels and wants is more important than staying rigid to information. Things change, the body changes, flow with it. Listen to your body!