Digestive fire: Can I drink with food

VARIOUS CURRENTS OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HAVE given the world many “rules” on how to live and eat in order to be healthy. And although these directions themselves, like their adherents, have long gone out of fashion, some of the myths generated by them are still alive. We deal with another of them and find out whether it is still harmful to drink food with water or other liquid.  

Who Invented That You Can’t Drink

The fact that the liquid with which a person drinks food dilutes gastric juice was said by Herbert Shelton, the very popularizer of the theory of separate nutrition , whose books were read on the border of the past and present centuries. Shelton did not have a medical education, and he practiced medicine without having the appropriate license – for which he was repeatedly prosecuted. None of his theories were properly substantiated, confirmed by research data and published in at least some medical journal. In addition, recommendations to avoid drinking while eating are attributed to Ayurveda, and Indian philosophy speaks of the prohibition on cold water, which supposedly “extinguishes the fire of digestion.”  

Nevertheless, the main argument of opponents of drinking – dilution of gastric juice – has been repeatedly tested, and it has never been proven that this is possible at all. The point in this question was put by a study , during which patients were given 300 ml of water to drink before a planned operation on the stomach. During operations, they took samples of gastric juice and measured its acidity. As expected, the pH (acid-base balance) was normal. So the first thing to remember is that there is nothing wrong with drinking while eating .    

How digestion works

Digestive enzymes begin to be produced even before we start eating, and this process continues throughout and after a meal, so if water could dilute them, it would hardly be critically important not to drink during a meal. According to the therapist, toxicologist and medical journalist Alexei Vodovozov, the enzyme dilution theory is absurd. An enzyme molecule interacts with substrate molecules, that is, a substance susceptible to this enzyme. To do this, they need to meet, and the water is more likely to facilitate this meeting: one thing is a dense lump of food (where the enzyme still needs to somehow squeeze through), the other is liquefied or generally close to a solution. In the second case, the meeting of the enzyme with the substrate will occur much faster. 

It is worth noting that we are talking about drinking food not while chewing – food in the mouth should be moistened only with saliva, because digestion begins with the processing of food with saliva enzymes. But there is nothing wrong with drinking after you have swallowed another bite. The acidic environment of the stomach is provided by hydrochloric acid, and in order to lower its acidity (that is, increase the pH) by at least one point, you need to drink several liters of water at once. Even so, a healthy stomach will simply continue to produce acid until it reaches the level it needs. It has been revealed , for example, that the food itself that has entered the stomach is capable of somewhat reducing acidity, but in the process of digestion it returns to normal.   

Alla Pogozheva, a leading employee of the Institute of Nutrition of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Professor, Doctor of Medical Sciences, explains that the food that has entered the stomach is in it for an average of four hours, while the water “flows” in 10-15 minutes , after which it is absorbed in the intestines. The specialist emphasizes that even a very large amount of water is not enough to dilute the gastric juice and reduce the activity of enzymes. In addition, the food itself (especially vegetables and fruits) and the gastric juice itself contain water, so its presence in the stomach is quite natural and does not contradict physiology.   

Is it possible not to drink while eating

You don’t have to drink. If only because in the course of a long evolution, the human body has learned to independently regulate the processes taking place in it. In other words, the body is able to adapt to various circumstances and change its work depending on them so that it is comfortable. “The body has several lines of ‘protection from the fool’, which may be its owner. A host who decides to drink water while eating, because it is written in one source, or not to drink, because it is written in another. In the first case, some mechanisms of maintaining homeostasis (that is, the constancy of the internal environment) will work, in the second – others, ”notes Aleksey Vodovozov. Professor Alla Pogozheva adds that water during meals contributes to the formation of stools, with its participation various reactions and metabolic processes in the body take place, so it is still better to drink, and if not during meals, then at least after a while.

Can i drink tea, coffee, juice or lemonade?

For comfortable digestion, especially if problems have already arisen with it, warm non-carbonated water without impurities is best suited – but in general there is nothing wrong with combining food with other drinks. It is confirmed that they, like water, do not affect the pH level. For example, in a study comparing the effects of water, tea, coffee, and apple juice, there were no significant changes in stomach acidity. There are only some nuances that do not hurt to take into account people who are prone, for example, to heartburn or flatulence.  

Thus, it is believed that coffee can simultaneously increase the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and prevent the sphincter that separates the stomach from the esophagus from closing. This leads to the “throwing” of acidic fluid into the esophagus and heartburn. True, according to other sources, coffee in reasonable quantities is still safe for the digestive tract. There is also no ban on drinks containing fructose – for example, fruit drinks or juices, but, according to Alla Pogozheva, they can provoke bloating in people prone to flatulence. As for drinks like cola or fortified drinks, they will not affect digestion, but it is worth remembering that these are additional sources of sugar and caffeine. By itself, carbon dioxide will not harm the stomach , but it can provoke, for example, hiccups.       

Is temperature important

Another myth is often found on the Internet – that if you drink food with cold drinks, then the work of the digestive tract will accelerate at times, which is why everything eaten will go to the intestines, without having undergone proper treatment with enzymes in the stomach, will begin to rot and lead to various health problems and well-being. In fact, this is impossible, because the digestion process consists of clear sequential stages; the body is not stupid enough to harm itself by pushing food straight into the intestines simply because it is cold. And finally, there is evidence for an already obvious conclusion: everything that enters the stomach heats up (or cools down) to its temperature within literally five minutes. Considering that digestion lasts several hours, even repeated intake of cold or hot drinks is unlikely to significantly change its speed.      

However, cold or hot drinks can be harmful for other reasons. Too cold can provoke painful sensations with increased sensitivity of the teeth, but the abuse of scalding food or almost boiling tea can lead to esophageal cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer calls safe drinks with temperatures no higher than sixty-five degrees. In general, both with the drinks themselves and with their temperature, the main thing is a sense of proportion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *