One of the things I remember about our childhood is the numerous horror stories and myths that grown-ups at the time used to keep us away from mischievous behavior. There is this one in particular that to date, I have never understood what it was meant to achieve.
We were meant to believe that you were tougher when you showered in cold water! Those who were not interested in being tough were told they will age faster if they took warm baths. That did the trick because who wants to age faster?
It is no surprise that myths still rule our adult lives. Sensational information still spreads faster than bread margarine. This debate about whether to drink water with meals or not still lingers among the diet conscious crowd.
Let’s jump into it; shall we?
The Time Factor: Before, During, or After?
The issue is not in the water itself, but in the timing. When is the right time to be drinking water during meals? Is it before, during, or after? And what time exactly before or after the meals?
The common myth doing rounds is that you should not be drinking water while eating. The reason given is that the water will dilute your digestive juices and render them useless and incapable of digesting the food in the stomach.
I am here to make you worry no more and have your water as you like. I will do this using some common knowledge facts and reliable updated research findings.
Will Water Make Food Pass out of the Stomach Faster?
The basic Form Two digestion lessons will remind us that digestion begins in the mouth. This is where the food gets mixed with saliva, chewed and turned into a chime paste. That makes it easy for digestive juices in the stomach to act on it.
This is where the myth starts crumbling down. It is clear that the digestive juices will prefer working on a less solidified product in the stomach. The myth supporters will say that this is a bad thing because the less solidified food will not stay long in the stomach.
A look back into the basic digestion Biology shows as that our body is clever. The stomach has already taken care of those concerns by having the pyloric sphincter as a valve that will only allow digested food to pass to the duodenum for absorption.
This part of the myth is pegged on the concern that you will get hungry faster because the food will be out of your stomach within a short period. Well, hunger is not such a simple thing as an empty stomach and has much more to do with our brains as explained in this article here
In fact, when digestion happens faster, the food will be easily absorbed and converted into energy that will power our bodies and keep our brains from triggering hunger. That is why a camel can survive for days without food in its stomach. It is the reason why survival experts will advise you to look for water first and not food when lost in the wilderness
Will Water Dilute your Digestive Enzymes?
The answer to this question is in a few question. Are enzymes in digestive juices soluble in water? Are the digestive juices incapable of digestion when dissolved in water? Also, does the water separate with the food in the stomach so that it is only available to dilute the digestive juices?
Our body systems are very smart and adaptive to different situations. Digestive juices are produced in response to the amount and complexity of the food in the stomach.
Enzymes are not like sugar particles which dissolve in water and lose their ability to perform their functions. That is why they will be secreted as digestive juices which are in liquid form.
The juices only act as carriers to move them around the stomach as they adhere to food particles to break them down. This process becomes easier through the mixing of water and food in the stomach by stomach muscle contractions called churning.
Digestion is not a Simple Mechanical Process
The digestion process beyond the mouth is a complex chemical process that should not be analyzed as just food being literary broken down.
That is why I laughed when I recently saw a viral video of someone boiling margarine and trying to equate it to what would happen in the stomach. I think that should be a story for another blog post.
Back to the myth; the digestion process continues into the small intestine where the digested food will be absorbed. It is then moved into the large intestines where much of the remaining water will be absorbed. This will leave you with the semi-solid fecal matter.
What About Drinking Water After Meals?
Just the same way drinking water during meals is not a course for concern, drinking water after meals should not give you sleepless nights. There is no perfect timing. So drop that stopwatch because any time is water time.
What you should keep in mind is that having plenty of water in your body system is good for you since the body is generally powered by water. Take water as an equivalent of fuel in a car and food as an equivalent of engine oil. Since we survived the ‘cold water bath myth,’ we can also now confidently phase out the myth of whether drinking water with meals is good or bad from our dining tables.