Can We Drink Water While We Eat?

On health food TV shows, they often say that it’s prohibited to eat and drink at the same time. Some experts explain that water dilutes our stomach acid. Others think that doing so makes us fat. And some people even think that water pushes undigested food out of the stomach! Can ordinary water be that harmful to us?

The Basics of Healthy Digestion

To understand why water is thought to disturb digestion, it's useful to first understand the normal digestive process.

Digestion starts in your mouth, as soon as you start to chew your food. Chewing signals the salivary glands to start producing saliva, which contains enzymes that help you break down the food.

Saliva also helps soften the food, preparing it for smooth travel down the esophagus and into the stomach.

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Once in your stomach, food gets mixed with acidic gastric juice, which further breaks it down and produces a thick liquid known as chyme. Chyme eventually moves towards the first part of the small intestine.

In the small intestine, chyme gets mixed with digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile acid from the liver. These further break down the chyme, preparing each nutrient for absorption into the bloodstream.

Most nutrients are absorbed as the chyme travels through the small intestine. Only a small portion remains to be absorbed once it reaches the colon.

Once in the bloodstream, nutrients are sent to different areas of the body. Digestion ends when the leftover materials are excreted from the colon through the rectum.

Depending on what you eat, this whole digestion process can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.

Do Liquids Cause Digestive Problems?

There is no doubt about the benefits of drinking enough fluids each day.

However, some claim that the timing matters, and that drinking them around meals is a bad idea.

Below are the three most common arguments used to claim that liquids with meals are bad for your digestion.

Alcohol and Acidic Drinks Negatively Affect Saliva

Some argue 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.

Alcohol decreases saliva flow by 10--15% per unit of alcohol. 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.

Water, Stomach Acid and Digestive Enzymes

Many 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.

Liquids and Speed of Digestion

A third 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

In Some Cases Liquids Can Improve Digestion

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.

Furthermore, 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.