Expert Dietitian Tips

Digestion is super important for health, staying slim, and mental well-being.  Without proper digestion many discomforts can be born into the body – indigestion, heart burn, irritability, bloating, lethargy, headaches, insatiable cravings, inability to determine true hunger, and depression.

Now, imagine that you are doing something every single day that is unknowingly causing one or more of these symptoms!  Wouldn’t you want to know what that was?

Have you thought about what you drink and how much you drink with your meals?

When you digest foods without complications, the feelings of happiness, contentment, clarity, optimism, and lightness appear in your body. To maximize those wonderful feelings it is really important to understand how consuming liquids can affect digestion.

When I go out to eat, it’s usually the same old story – The waiter or waitress comes by with a big jug of really cold ice water and serves the table. This is standard and conventional practice – even if you don’t order a drink, you’ll usually get a huge glass of ice cold water. Most restaurants across America and elsewhere do this every single day without a second thought. This is the first big mistake for digestion. Don’t drink cold water with your meals.

When several studies were published about how consuming cold water increases your metabolism a few years ago, you could literally hear the ice plumping into glasses across the country.  People thought – “Wow, if I just drink cold water all day, I can lose weight!” – well this bit of wisdom is a double edged sword. While drinking cold water does speed up your metabolism (about 4 extra calories per 8 ounces of water), it does so by using energy to heat up the cold water to body temperature. This diverts energy that should be used for digestion.  When you are eating, you want all your energy directed at breaking down food so your body can easily assimilate the nutrients and eliminate waste. When you have bad digestion – you could actually gain weight in the long run, because toxins can be built up in your digestive organs which can inhibit the bodies ability to breakdown fat, cause insatiable cravings and mess with your body’s ability to determine if you are full or not.

The second big mistake I see – is people getting refill after refill of liquids while eating. Using the liquids to literally aid in gulping down huge amounts of inadequately chewed foods. Sometimes drinking the equivalent of 24 ounces of liquid during the meal. Don’t drink liquids with your meals.

Drinking liquids during your meal dilutes your naturally occurring digestive enzymes and stomach acids which makes it harder to breakdown food. Stomach acids are dissipated with the act of consuming liquids with solids because water is excreted faster than solids. If you are chewing adequately (creating saliva), you should be able to eat comfortably without lots of liquids. Allow your saliva to naturally help you swallow your food.

Drink water or other liquids 20 minutes before you consume food and wait at least an hour after.

Focus on hydrating yourself between meals vs. during. You’ll still be adequately hydrated throughout the day with this method and allow your food to be digested without complicating matters for your stomach and intestines.

If you must drink with your meals, sip on a warm beverage.

Good options are room temperature water with lemon or herbal tea – the temperature will be closer to your body’s normal heat and ease digestion vs disrupting it. Ginger is my favorite type of tea to drink with or after meals because it naturally moves food from the upper part of the digestive tract into the lower. At home I just cut up a few pieces of fresh ginger and pour hot water over it. On the go, I always carry these tea bags with me… When we were in Asia last summer, ginger tea was a standard on menus – I wish all restaurants here had it available too. (Yogi, Numi, and Traditional Medicinals are my favorite digestive teas.)

I can’t wait until our eating rituals here in the modern world start to better align with healthy and nutritious practices of eastern medicine where these principles are founded.

You have the power – Be unconventional and you just may start a trend of drinking more thoughtfully and healthfully.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic. Do you know someone who could improve their digestion by following this habit? If so, please share this information with them.

Are you guilty of guzzling down your food with big glasses of water? Don’t feel bad and don’t be shy, I used to a long time ago too.

Here’s to drinking thoughtfully all week long!

Author: Kristina Nova, RDN