Water is an essential element for optimal health, comprising 75% of body weight in infants and 55% in the elderly. According to Harvard Health, it assists in a variety of bodily functions. While there are countless health and wellness benefits of drinking water, several myths about water and how to drink it also persist.
Before we continue, it’s important to understand that the human body is a complex unit. It will also comfort and empower you to know you are well protected by the complexity of your body. It’s not as fragile as it’s made out to be by people who want to sell their services or products using fear-mongering as a marketing strategy, so here, we address five myths about drinking water.
MYTH 1: Water can dilute stomach acids.
An often-asked question is if drinking water can dilute stomach acids. To explain this a little more, let’s look at two scenarios. The first is drinking water on an empty stomach. Water is absorbed in about approximately five minutes, and there is no release of stomach acid when water alone passes through the stomach to the small intestine. So, in this case, there is no dilution of stomach acid happening simply because none was released in the first place.
The second scenario is when water is consumed with a meal. Water helps lubricate the food we swallow, especially when we are eating way too quickly with minimal chewing. The mix of food and water adds volume, which leads to the expanding of stomach walls and releasing of digestive juices simultaneously. The stomach releases stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid or HCl for short), which creates a highly acidic environment in the stomach with an average pH level of 2. There are hardly any studies that seem to indicate that the presence of water leads to the dilution of such acids.
One study on 12 healthy subjects showed that drinking water (which has a neutral pH of 7) increased the stomach pH to ≥4 in less than one minute, and this alkalising effect of water disappeared in three minutes. Perhaps, this is how people got the idea that water dilutes stomach acid, but even though water can minimally and temporarily change the pH of our stomach acid, it is insignificant in the grand scheme of things as the contents of our stomach are constantly monitored to adjust to different components of our meals.
A related misconception is that water will ‘flush’ our meal out of our stomach. Yes, liquids do go through our stomach faster than solid food, but this doesn’t impact the solid parts of our meal. It just stays in our stomach until it’s digested enough to move along to the next part of our digestive tract.
MYTH 2: Drinking lots of water with meals helps with mindfulness.
When it comes to mindful eating, it’s best to avoid taking water with your meals as it can be a cue for us to ‘cheat’ on chewing our food, which helps to physically break down food and gives enough time for the mouth to mix food with saliva, thereby starting the digestion process. Drinking water with your meals may lead to a reduction in chewing as the water can aid in pushing the food down. While sipping on water (as needed) when eating your meal is fine, taking large gulps may not be a good practice for mindfulness.
MYTH 3: Drinking water with a meal can cause weight gain.
It’s standard for nutritionists to advise clients trying to gain weight to avoid water with meals to help them take in more calories, but that doesn’t mean having water with food directly causes weight gain. In fact, for those who are trying to lose weight, water with meals could be a positive habit that will help some to slow down the rate at which they eat as well as reduce their food portions, thereby helping them achieve a calorie deficit.
MYTH 4: Drinking water while eating can make you sick.
In most cases, drinking water with meals shouldn’t make people sick, but it may trigger reflux symptoms in those with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). This can happen as the extra water can add volume to your stomach, and more volume leads to more pressure. This pressure can then allow acid to move back up the wrong way in some people.
Those who have gone through bariatric surgery are also asked to avoid having water and food at the same time because of the surgical changes to their digestive system. They often have to work on the timing and quantity of water they consume to avoid difficulties.
MYTH 5: Children’s stomachs are too small to drink water with their meals.
I still remember my mom telling me not to drink water with my meals. Years later, when I asked her why, she said it was to make sure I didn’t fill up my stomach with water, which could lead to food being wasted. Admittedly, children do have small stomachs that tend to get filled quickly, but again, this need not apply to all the children. If your child is able to eat enough whilst having water with their meals, then that’s absolutely fine.