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Health Answers

Does drinking water with meals help with digestion?

By Courtney Humphries
October 18, 2010

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Q. I’ve always been told that drinking water with meals helps with digestion, is this true?

A. Digestion involves breaking down the food you eat into smaller and smaller particles so the nutrients can eventually be absorbed. The process depends on fluid in order to liquefy and dissolve the contents of food, first with saliva in the mouth and then digestive juices in the stomach and small intestine.

Can you help your body in this effort by providing additional fluid?

Dr. Braden Kuo, director of the GI Motility Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that drinking water is not necessary for digesting food, because the body is very efficient at secreting and reabsorbing its own fluids.

At the first stage of digestion, drinking water can simply make it easier to swallow food, since most of us have difficulty swallowing when our food is not sufficiently moistened with saliva.

When the food reaches the stomach, water “may help to some degree, but its impact is moderate to minimal,’’ he says. He adds that having some extra fluid in the mix may help smooth the digestive process for those with constipation.

He says there’s no data to support the other common notion that drinking during meals interferes with digestion because it dilutes the digestive juices.

People sometimes drink water with meals to promote a feeling of fullness, in hopes of helping limit how much they eat. Kuo says that this probably doesn’t work if you just sip water with a meal, because liquid passes through the stomach much more quickly than food and so doesn’t have time to stretch the stomach and provide that feeling of fullness.

Your best chance for that effect is to drink a lot of water just before a meal, and then eat fairly quickly.

A small recent study by researchers at Virginia Tech supports this idea, finding that dieters who drank two eight-ounce glasses of water before meals lost more weight than those who didn’t.

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