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Jan 28, 2019 | Lifestyle

Drinking Water With Meals: Does It Worry Digestion?

By Jerry Kweku Asomaning
Drinking Water With Meals: Does It Worry Digestion?

Water they say is life and so drinking enough water on a regular basis is crucial to the survivor of the human life. Even though, one can’t survive on this planet without water and considering the fact drinking water is a basic necessity for one’s health, there’s still an ongoing debate about the amount of water one should drink and the best suitable times to drink it. One such debate concerns drinking water during meals (eating and drinking water at the same time).

The idea that drinking water with meals is bad has been around for hundreds of years. It’s within the memory of everybody that drinking water with meals used to be considered a very bad habit which affects the digestion process. Growing up, I was repeatedly told not to drink water with meals but with the spicy nature of our Ghanaian foods, I wouldn’t finish the food without reaching for a glass of water and chug it down.

Different schools of thought exist as to whether or not drinking water with meals is beneficial or harmful to the digestive process. The theory against drinking water while eating is that, first; water will dilute stomach acids and digestive enzymes resulting in poorer digestion. Another claim is that drinking liquids with meals will increase the speed at which solid foods exit the stomach.

What is gastric acid and exactly what happens to gastric acid when you drink water alone or with meals?

The stomach is the place where proper digestion takes place. Your stomach secretes a number of juices and enzymes that help in breaking down the food we eat. Once you start eating your body produces a strong gastric acid called hydrochloric acid and also releases enzymes called proteases to aid in digestion, but the pH of your stomach isn’t necessarily the same as the pH of the acid.

Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is an acid that forms when hydrogen and chloride combine in your stomach. Normally, your body releases just the amount of HCL and other chemicals it needs for digestion, but, under certain conditions, it may produce more gastric acid than is necessary. HCL has a low pH of about 2. The acidic environment of the stomach prevents infections and the growth of dangerous microorganisms.

The primary function of HCL is to aid digestion by breaking down proteins in your stomach and kills bacteria that enter the stomach. HCL does that b activating pepsinogen into pepsin- an enzyme that helps in breakdown proteins.

Drinking Water only:
Before I get into the science or lack thereof, it’s important to state that people drink water either with meals or without meals. This means that water sometimes enter the stomach alone and other times with foods or foods already inside.

On an empty stomach (when water alone passes through the stomach to the small intestines), secretion of stomach acids does not occur. Water is absorbed within 10 minutes. In a nut shell, drinking water alone does not dilute stomach acid because it was never release in the first place. The reason being that water is not protein, carbohydrate, fat or food that needs to be broken down. Water simply passes through the stomach on its way to the intestines.

Drinking water during meals:
However, a different scenario occurs when food and water enter the stomach simultaneously. When you drink water with meals, it essentially will be absorbed into your body slower than if you drink the water itself. The reason behind it is that, your stomach will want to digest the food before releasing it into your intestines. It is important to state that, water is not retained in the stomach for a long time. Research shows that about 300ml of water will go into the intestine in about 10 minutes. That is if you drink with meals, it passes through chewed food, additionally, it moisturizes, and the quickly leaves the stomach.

Digestive process begins 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 soften the food, preparing it for smooth travel down the esophagus and into the stomach. As water and food enter the stomach, this add volume and expansion of the stomach walls, stimulating the release of digestive juice The soften food enters the stomach where it is mixed with acidic gastric juice which further breaks it down and produces a thick liquid known as chyme. Chyme eventually moves on to the intestines where most of the nutrients are absorbed. 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.


For the sake of time, I would like to concentrate on two (2) most important reasons why you are told not to drink water during meals. The theory against drinking water while eating is that, first; water will dilute stomach acids and digestive enzymes resulting in poorer digestion. Another claim is that drinking liquids with meals will increase the speed at which solid foods exit the stomach.

Dilution of Stomach Acid and Enzymes
The argument against drinking water with meals is that, water dilutes stomach acid and enzymes required to break the food down. As logical this argument may sound, it’s not entirely true and largely a myth. The idea that drinking water with meals is bad has been around for hundreds of years. And yet there is no data to support it?

First of all, I agree drinking water during meals will definitely change the pH of the stomach but it’s not as straight forward as some might say The argument, therefore, should not be limited to either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. We need to probe further. How much water will dilute stomach acid? Does it affect the entire digestion process and the kind of food the person is eating?

An’ empty’ stomach already contains a small amount of water. So for instance, if you drink 1 liter of water, the pH of your stomach, which had been at 2, would increase a little more. So there’s definitely a bit of ‘dilution’ of gastric acid, so to speak. But the human body is so complicated that every single physiological process in your body takes place during digestion and so it’s not a straight forward matter. Stomach acid does not have fixed quantity. Normally, the stomach pH value is maintained around 2 -3.

The human body is full of buffer systems which are designed with ideal pH in mind and it will quickly and efficiently maintain those pH’s in the absence of diseases. So for instance, when we eat food and drink water, the pH value inside the stomach goes up. When this happens, there is a feedback mechanism in our stomach to detect this and signals the stomach wall to secrete more hydrochloric acid into the stomach to bring the pH value to normal. So the stomach becomes acidic again. So depending on the need of the stomach, acid is supplied to the stomach. The supply or the quantity of acid is not restricted. If stomach pH starts rising, more acid will be released. If it drops, less will be released. More enzymes are produced increasing the acidity level when stomach ‘feels’ like it can’t digest something.

As I said earlier, there’s some form of dilution of stomach acid when we drink more water during meal but the effect on digestive process is insignificant. When the pH of the stomach rises as a result of drinking more water, more hydrochloric acid is secreted to maintain the stomach pH value.

So somebody would ask how much water one need to drink to dilute stomach acid?

Mathematically, the effect on pH of the stomach acid by drinking water during meals is insignificant. One needs to drink almost 4 liters of water to significantly dilute your stomach acid.

Research shows stomach produces about 400 to 700 mL of gastric acids per meal. Also the average stomach has a pH of about 2. But for the sake of this calculation let assume that the stomach produces about 500 mL of gastric acid per meal.

Let’s just take a look at the formula for pH and the effect it will have by adding water:

pH = log (1/(mols/volume))
2 = log (1/(mols/0.5L))
So when we solve for mols we get mols= 0.005
Let’s not forget that most foods contain water but in this ideal situation let’s assume our meal contains a quarter of a liter of water. Again let’s also assume our food is completely pH neutral and so because it has a neutral pH the mols doesn’t change, but our volume does (0.5L [previous contents] + 0.25L [from food]= 0.75L)

pH= log(1/0.005mols/0.5+0.25))
You would probably get a Ph of 2.18 (pH=2.18)
Since normal digestion ranges from 1 to 4, we are well within range. The dilution is insignificant.

So with logarithm, which is used in calculating pH (log with base 10, not linear), and going by this kind of result, it means one would have to drink about 5 L of water to be able to significantly dilute gastric acid above 4.

Surprisingly, those who say we should drink water while eating are rather silent on whether one should also “avoid foods with high water content”. Water goes into the stomach with food, for example a medium orange 86% consists of water, Watermelon contains 92% of water, and Grape fruit also consists of 91% water. Logically, if water is bad, wouldn’t that mean soups and drinks are too? As a matter of fact, drinking water with your meal supports the digestive enzymes to break down the solid food at the initial level of the digestive tract.

In conclusion, if you drink water during meals no harm will be done. In fact, drinking water rather aid digestion. According to mayo clinic water helps in break down food further and helps prevent constipation.

Water influence the speed of digestion
Another popular argument against drinking water with meals states that fluids increase the speed at which solid foods leave the stomach. The claim is that water reduces the meal's contact time with stomach acid and digestive enzymes, resulting in poorer digestion. It’s important to also state that, as logical as this statement may sound, there are no studies that show that liquid pushes solid food into the intestine before it’s full digested. Scientists claim that liquid leaves the body faster than solid food but it doesn’t influence the speed of digestion.

So is it possible to drink during meals
Yes, drinking water with meals is unlikely to have negative effects on digestion. Drinking water during meals is a personal choice and doesn’t really have any adverse effects. If consuming liquids with meals is painful and 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. In fact, various medical studies conducted by respected and reliable organization including Mayo clinic under a controlled environment have shown that drinking moderate amounts of water when having food may actually be beneficial for you and that stomach’s pH balance is not affected by drinking water during meals. Some of the benefits of drinking water during meals include;

Prevents constipation and bloating.
Water soften stools,
helps in absorption of nutrients
Liquefies food in the stomach
water clears food in the throat
It is also important to state that, while drinking water with meals may not have adverse effect on digestion, care must be taken as it can fill up the stomach and reduce one’s appetite.

In conclusion, what I just sought to do with this article was also to add my voice in support to all those who have written extensively in favour of drinking during meals. It must be stated also that there are NO scientific evidence supporting the claim that drinking water during meals will dilute stomach acid and speed up digestion.

By: Jerry Kweku Asomaning
A public Health Advocate, an Herbal practitioner and a student of History and politics

Email: [email protected] or whatsapp: +233244879544



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