To Your Health

Is it true that drinking a lot of liquid with meals dilutes the enzymes needed for digestion?

Q. Is it true that drinking a lot of liquid with meals dilutes the enzymes needed for digestion? If so, I'm in trouble because I take most of my supplements with meals and so swallow a lot of water.

A. The notion that it is harmful to drink water with your meals comes up again and again. While is seems logical that water at mealtimes would dilute your digestive juices (especially the hydrochloric acid in your stomach) and thus hinder digestion, there really is no scientific support for this idea.

There is, of course, a limit to the amount of water that can be safely consumed at mealtimes, but in one instance a healthy man consumed a liter of water at each meal with only beneficial results. This is not proof that it would be safe for everyone, but few people would continue to drink a quart of water at a time if they felt bad afterward. Most people find that they feel better from drinking a glass or two of water at meals. In the end, the only answer may be to see if you can tell any difference in the way you feel after a meal with lots of liquid compared to another meal with only a little.

Although mealtimes may not be the ideal time to put emphasis on fluid intake, drinking water at mealtime actually aids the digestive process, and a glass of water appears to do nothing but good for almost all of us. Up to 8 ozs. of water at a meal seems to be safe for anyone, but if you decide from your own experience that you should not drink very much water at mealtimes you can still drink plenty of water between meals. You can assume that your digestion will be unaffected or perhaps improved by drinking one to two glasses of water with your meal.

We need a minimum of six glasses of water per day (eight-10 glasses is even better) so drinking some water between meals is necessary if you reach this level. Don't wait until you feel thirsty before you drink; the sensation of thirst means your body is already lacking sufficient water.

Just because water at mealtimes seems OK doesn't mean stomach acid is not important for digestion. While we do not yet have clear evidence that reducing stomach acid by using "acid blockers" (like the much advertised purple pill) prevents us from absorbing nutrients, there is reason to believe that long-term suppression of stomach acid will eventually cause some digestive problems. While we await the results of long-term studies, it seems sensible for anyone with increased nutrient demand, such as the elderly and the chronically ill, to use these medicines only if absolutely necessary.

If you are among the majority of Americans who would like to lose weight, it may encourage you to hear that consuming foods with high water content, soup for instance, increases your sensation of fullness with a meal and as a result you tend to eat less. Strangely, drinking the same amount of water contained in the soup while eating a casserole made from exactly the same amount of ingredients as the soup does not have this effect. So, if you need to gain weight, drink your water with your meal but if you would like to lose weight, incorporate foods with high water content into your meals so you can comfortably reduce your calorie intake.

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