Diluted Acid = Not as Effective?
February 6, 2008 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Does drinking liquid during the course of a meal make it harder for your stomach to digest the food?

Out of habit, I usually eat the solid food first, before drinking the beverage. I do this because (or so I think) liquid dilutes the stomach acids, making it harder for the body to digest the food properly. Just wondering, is there any basis to this?
posted by proj08 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, liquids have to be digested too, right?
posted by Plug Dub In at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: Well, liquids have to be digested too, right?
I thought the bladder did that... Sorry for being stupid!
posted by proj08 at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2008

The bladder just holds urine until you've got to go.
posted by rancidchickn at 5:25 PM on February 6, 2008

A google search for "eating while drinking" (without quotes) comes up with some articles mentioning your same thought, but so far no real proof.

posted by fjardt at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2008

Food has to be liquified, at least to a thick lumpy paste, in order for it to be digested. That's the main reason for chewing. Part of it is to break the food up into pieces, but part of it is to allow time for enough saliva to be released and mixed with the food to create a sufficiently wet paste.

Drinking fluid with food aids digestion. That's why we have the urge to do so. But it probably doesn't matter much whether it's consumed as the food is consumed, or a few minutes later. Not doing it at all, however, is a prescription for feeling a bit ill for a few hours.

The issue of diluting the stomach's acid is a non-issue. It doesn't make any difference whatever. It's like the saliva: if there isn't enough acid, more will be secreted.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2008

I don't know about the scientific reality of it - but there is a school of thinking this way. Our family had guests once, who seemed perfectly normal until they responded to the question of what beverage they would prefer with dinner with a pronouncement that drinking liquid with your meal was very unhealthy. I guess we should have asked them to elaborate, but we were too startled. We just fed them sans liquid. I did get the sense that this was part of some whole "health system" they were following and I think we just didn't really want to know. They seemed very healthy, though!
posted by mkim at 5:51 PM on February 6, 2008

Easier, I would have thought. It'll separate and mix the particles of food better. I'm very much in the habit of drinking while eating; I'll often take a swig to help with chewing something, or to cool hot food.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:09 PM on February 6, 2008

Huh, I don't usually like drinking liquid while I'm eating. I usually drink right after eating, but I suppose if I didn't have something at hand I wouldn't drink anything. I'm going to try to drink more while I eat and see what happens!

I've never heard that drinking while eating was bad, but I have heard that cold liquids can be harder on the digestion. I don't know if there's any truth to that.
posted by Secretariat at 6:52 PM on February 6, 2008

How I understand it is that when you take a sip while chewing the beverage dilutes your saliva and slows the creation of a bolus. In most of Europe children are taught to drink after they have eaten.

I try not to take a sip of anything while I am chewing. This also helps with portion control.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:09 PM on February 6, 2008

Some kind of naturopath told me once that drinking with your meal causes your digestive system to react as if the stomach was full of food, rather than a mix of food and water, so it releases more digestive acids than needed and causes stomach ulcers and other problems.
posted by Sar at 7:11 PM on February 6, 2008

Your digestive system has an amazingly complex and adaptive regulatory array, including its own neurons arranged separately from the rest of your body's nervous system. Don't sweat it.
posted by meehawl at 8:21 PM on February 6, 2008

Some kind of naturopath told me once

This seems to be their realm from the little searching I did.

Honestly I don't think it really matters. I drink a glass and a half of cold water with every meal. For IBS they tell you that liquid intake is important because it can prevent constipation but nothing about when to drink it.

I suspect the health information you got is the kind that is passed around but not supported, much like the don't swim after you eat myth.
posted by red_lotus at 8:23 PM on February 6, 2008

I always thought that drinking liquid aided in digestion, but my roommate once came up with the good point that we use diluted acid to dissolve the food, and by drinking more we dilute the acid more, thereby slowing digestion.

It'd be really interesting to hear if this is true or not. I'd imagine out bodies would release more digestive juices if need be, but who knows.
posted by Jhoosier at 8:26 PM on February 6, 2008

People have no more trouble digesting soups than solid foods.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:02 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've heard the argument against drinking liquids with your meals (but specifically large amounts of liquids either prior, during, or after eating, and even more specifically cold beverages) will dilute your stomach acids and cause reduced digestion power (er.. whatever) in Ayurveda.

On a side note, I ended up trying to avoid any guzzling of water around meal times and avoided all cold drinks for a couple months. It became increasingly burdensome and I've since gone back to my old way of drinking water whenever the heck I feel like it I feel 10000x less anxious about it all. I didn't really notice much of a difference in my digestion either way.
posted by zippity at 9:56 PM on February 6, 2008

Seriously, read the link I posted. The acid in your stomach doesn't digest the food - it activates proteins that do that, and its main role is to "denature" the tightly wound proteins within the food. Most of the absorption of food happens past the stomach, in the intestine, where the acid is neutralised to around 1/000th the strength of the stomach acid level. The stomach secrete acid for two main reasons: to disinfect food and kill bugs as it passes through, and to use the acid to activate those nasty proteins that eat other proteins that you really would rather not have active elsewhere in your body uncontrolled. That's why they've evolved only to work at a high rate in a highly acidic environment. And they only have to work for a short period of time. Your stomach is also used to mix everything up, and to expel food in small doses into the small intestine. Your small intestine then secretes a whole bunch of stuff that variously breaks down proteins, sugars, and fats. These are absorbed there - the stomach's role is mainly mechanical. The system is very highly regulated - unless you're pumping water into your stomach you will do fine. Excess water is excreted as watery stools, or absorbed through the intestine and passed out through the kidneys as urine. A limited supply of water means that your stools will shrink and receive less mucous as your body dries them out on the way down. In the large intestine, several million varieties of bacteria adapted for life with you go to work on the remains of the food, feeding themselves and synthesizing some crucial nutrients for you as payback that you also absorb.

You can get unfortunate people sometimes who, for one reason or another, have a non-acidic stomach. Their problem is not really with nutritional issues, but with infections from unkilled bacteria.
posted by meehawl at 9:59 PM on February 6, 2008

I can't speak to the science of the business, but I do think there's a relevant cultural component. I always drink water (or wine or beer) while I'm eating, generally having a sip (or gulp) ever couple of bites.

My mom (in Tennessee) dated a guy from Michigan when I was in early high school, and we all marveled at his ability to eat dinner without a glass of something, anything, by his plate. I'd honestly never seen such a thing in my young life.

Since then, almost every European I know tends not to consume much liquid while they eat. It still strikes me as a little odd simply because I feel like I can't comfortably chew, swallow, or taste without regular doses of liquid.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:16 AM on February 7, 2008

gesamtkunstwerk and mostlymartha, I doubt not drinking (or only drinking a little) while eating is a European thing.

For example, I (European) drink quite a lot during my meals and all my friends/acquaintances/colleagues/class mates/family members drink while eating. Of course, this isn't valid proof that all Europeans prefer to drink while having lunch/dinner.

Rather, as with using a washcloth, to drink or not is much more likely explained by a more complex combination of very different factors.

posted by lioness at 5:34 AM on February 7, 2008

piling on to meehawl's good advice, the amount of acid in your stomach doesn't change by drinking water, there are the same number of molecules available to do important acid work.
posted by gjc at 7:00 AM on February 7, 2008

You don't even need to have a stomach to digest food. Don't worry about it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:00 AM on February 7, 2008

I have always wondered about this. When I was a kid we had lunch at mums' friends house. She had three kids too. After lunch we were like 'Mum we are thirsty.. 0:)' and she was like no worries. 'Hey *...??* do you want me to get your kids a drink too?' And she said 'We don't drink after meals, it dilutes stomach acids...' My mum paused and all 6 kids froze.
Okay my brother with red hair was preparing to crack it. The other looked distraught. I took in the Fucking THIRSTY faces of the other three and looked down with an inward sigh. Mum wouldn't torture them... But apparently this system of all or nothing only covered our little group. (It tied in quite harmoniously with the red hair, you see??) So I just tried not to look like I appreciated or enjoyed any of that water at all...

I'll NEVER forget that.
Who the hell would do that!!

If you're thirsty DRINK! Sometimes (in summer mostly) I'll take a bite or two of my meal. And think nope I can't eat this, I'm thirsty. I think I had a cool mum because my actions in this situation are identical to what they were as a child. Why would you get thirsty if you're not thirsty (aside from alcoholics, fat asses or unfortunate folk - diabetics ect? Of course).

I'm going to speculate 50/50 water to acid might slow you down (yeah - the saturation point thingy) but a tummy full of food perhaps makes this impossible. And I'm also going to go so far as to suggest that a drink (not a stupid amount, just a normal type amount at a normal type pace,) may even help. What slurry is any fun when it's all chunky and gluggy...? Ugh, no thanks! But just add a little water and - ta da!!
But I'm definitely right about one thing though... that woman was a bitch.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2008

I thought the thing to avoid was washing down your partially-chewed food with large gulps of your beverage, which leads to the diluted-stomache-acid scenario.
posted by Rash at 4:40 PM on February 7, 2008

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