We look into what the evidence says to answer the question does drinking water while eating reducing digestion by diluting digestive enzymes in the stomach in normal healthy individuals?
Sometimes it seems there’s a new wellness fad every day. Grapefruit diets, zero carb lifestyles, appetite suppressant lollipops – please stop me or I”ll be at it all day. While most are misguided and sometimes dangerous, some have at least some redeeming qualities.
Gut health, for example, has been a popular topic for some time now, and in this case, it’s for good reason. It’s legit! A healthy microbiome plays a role in immunity, disease prevention, and digestive system regularity. On the other hand, there is a trending idea that drinking water while eating can reduce digestion by diluting digestive enzymes which in turn can result in poor nutrient absorption. What does the research say on drinking water while eating and digestion? Let’s find out.
First, it’s important to understand the digestive process from beginning to end. Digestion is the body’s process for breaking down the food we eat into smaller and smaller molecules so that the usable nutrients can be absorbed by our bodies and supplied to our cells. The process begins in the mouth as we chew, and our food begins to mix with digestive enzymes produced by salivary glands. When we swallow, food goes down the esophagus and into the stomach which produces acids and enzymes that further break down what we’ve eaten into a thick, partly-fluid substance called chyme. The stomach then sends chyme to the small intestines where most of the magic happens. Chyme mixes with digestive juices from the pancreas and liver and then, with water as the transport medium, the nutrients from the food we’ve eaten are absorbed into the walls of the small intestines and sent out to our cells. The waste that remains moves into the large intestines, through the colon and rectum where, well – you know the rest.
But, let’s continue the investigation a bit further.
Does Drinking Water While Eating Reduce Digestive Enzymes?
There are three primary types of digestive enzymes, each identified by the macronutrient, or substrate, it hydrolyzes, or processes. Amylases break down carbs and starches into sugar molecules which provide energy for the body. Lipases break down fats, or lipids, into absorbable molecules. Proteases are enzymes that break down proteins into absorbable amino acids.
These enzymes attach to particular substrates they are designed to digest. Water molecules are then utilized to complete the hydrolyze process and release the nutrients for absorption. That process is not hindered based on normal, moderate consumption of water during a meal as enzymes are specific to their non-water target.
does Drinking Water While Eating Reduce Digestion?
The idea that drinking water disrupts digestion is simply not true. Scientists actually disproved this theory in a study that compared the digestion of liquid and solid meals. Their conclusion? Both meals took the same amount of time to be digested, giving us a clear indication that consuming liquid with a meal does not hamper the speed of digestion.
Remember, enzymes do not target water – they target nutrients. Each type of enzyme seeks the binding location of the specific nutrient for which it is designed. For example, if amylases enzymes don’t detect carbs they will not and can not bind something else. And water, of course, does not have these specific binding locations.
But can digestive enzymes be watered down? Honestly, it is virtually impossible. Whenever an imbalance in digestive enzymes is detected in the stomach, the enzyme Gastrin compensates by producing more stomach acids to break down nutrients. The because the remainder of the digestive tract (like the mouth, esophagus, and intestine) has a neutral pH of around 6-7, it would take an abnormally large amount of water to cause any major change in digestive pH. The human body really is amazing!
All things considered it is simply inaccurate to assume that water can impact digestion in any major way.
Why Drinking Water with Your Meal may actually HELP Digestion
Water is a significant player in the process of digestion.
For one, saliva, a digestive enzymatic fluid, is mostly made of water. It’s important for the chewing and swallowing stages (otherwise eating would be like swallowing a big fat horse pill DRY with each bite). And two, water also softens soluble fibers creating soft stool to prevent constipation. So yah, there’s a reason why humans are 60% water, and digestion is just one of the many reasons water consumption is essential to keep the human body operating as it was designed.
other Benefits of Drinking Water with meals
We do know that drinking water with meals has countless benefits. Aside from increased hydration, water can increase feelings of satiety and fullness. A study conducted in 2010 found that consuming 500 mL of water with a meal increased weight loss within the experimental group. Researchers contributed this weight loss to decreased calorie intake because of the increased feeling of fullness.
For those with clinical digestive issues, many “diets” designed to improve digestive health endorse water consumption. As seen in the low FODMAPs “diet”, water intake over consumption of sugary beverages is highly recommended. This way of eating is meant for those with diagnosed digestive issues and may help assist in improving bloating, flatulence, and a load of other digestive problems.
And lastly, drinking water with meals encourages us to be more intuitive and present with our eating. Making the effort to slow down, take a few sips of water, and really enjoy our meal can lead to a much more pleasant eating experience. Consuming water with food can help us engage with our body and be more mindful of hunger cues.
Science has shown us that water is an essential nutrient. Consumed in proper amounts, water actually supports, not interferes with digestion (along with all other bodily functions). Water keeps the GI tract hydrated and helps break down food and provides an aqueous medium for nutrients to travel along the digestive system. It helps transport nutrients through the small intestines, and softens the stool preventing constipation. There is no science behind the claim that consuming water before, during, or after a meal in any way hampers the digestion process by “diluting” enzymatic activity. So go ahead, pour yourself a big one and get sipping!
Contribution by Grace Carroll
Updated on October 24th, 2020
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.