Drinking water before a meal can help you balance your weight and better digest your food.
Ayurvedic Rules about Drinking Water with Meals
One of the no-nos of Ayurveda is drinking copious amounts of water with meals. Sipping room-temperature, warm, or hot water with a meal is helpful, but drinking water in quantity during meals is not allowed.
And now science supports this practice. Research on 50 young adults showed that drinking 16 ounces of water before meals can increase thermogenesis, which is the generation of heat in the body. Increased thermogenesis, over time, can increase metabolic activity while supporting healthy weight balancing, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Diagnostic Research.
Ayurveda suggests drinking a large glass of water 30 minutes before a meal to pre-hydrate your stomach’s water-rich bicarbonate buffer layer. During the meal, water can be consumed, but not in excess. The rule of thumb is to drink enough water during the meal to create a soup-like consistency in the stomach.
With increased metabolic activity and a hydrated stomach buffer layer, your stomach can produce a significant amount of acid and increase thermogenesis. With more acid, the body can process hard-to-digest foods like wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts, and soy more efficiently and without indigestion.
As predicted in Ayurveda and verified in the above-mentioned study, a large glass of water prior to a meal can support healthy weight balance—the results of thermogenesis.
In a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, the thermogenic effect of drinking 16 ounces of water was measured on 14 men and women. Within 10 minutes, the effect of water began increasing thermogenesis and reached its maximum effect after 30-40 minutes, which resulted in a 30% increase in thermogenesis.
This thermogenic effect was also enhanced when the water was warmed, which supported the Ayurvedic recommendation to drink room-temperature or warm water instead of cold water. The thermogenic effect increased the efficiency of breaking down fats and carbohydrates.
How Water Can Aid Digestion
The stomach is lined with a mucousy layer of cells that produce acid buffering bicarbonate from water. This mucus layer is needed to buffer stomach acids during digestion. This buffer layer is made up of 95% water. If the body is dehydrated, and this bicarbonate buffer layer is not adequately hydrated, the stomach will either not produce sufficient acid for digestion or the acid that is produced will irritate the stomach lining, causing a burning sensation.
In a study published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences, the pH of the study participants’ stomachs were measured immediately after study participants drank either a glass of water or took an antacid medication.
Water had an immediate acid-buffering effect by raising the stomach pH to an alkaline number greater than four within one minute while the antacid medications raised the pH to more than four within two minutes. It took as long as 171 minutes for some antacid PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) to buffer stomach acid to a pH greater than four. Water, the study concluded, was an effective tool to maintain proper acid balance in the stomach, while providing proper stomach hydration.
See also DIY Stomach Acid and Heartburn Test
To make matters worse, not being properly hydrated delays the stomach from emptying its contents, a process called gastro paresi. The delay can cause various forms of indigestion.
In an older study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, athletes were dehydrated by either running or being in a sauna. Stomach emptying times were significantly slowed from dehydration and resulted in 37.5% of the subjects experiencing signs of indigestion.
In Ayurveda, slowing down the speed in which the stomach empties is called udvarta, or upward moving digestion. This allows food and digestive acids to linger in the stomach, where they can causes excess stomach acid, stomach irritation, or, in chronic cases of udvarta, an inhibition of stomach acid due to long-term stomach irritation.
Here we see how cases of too much or too little acid can both cause indigestion and upper digestive sensations of burning.
Either too much or too little acid can cause undigested foods to pass through the stomach into the intestines, where they irritate, congest, and swell the lining of the gut and the lymph drainage vessels, including the breast tissue. The result is poor digestion and poor health.
While there are many factors that go into supporting a healthy digestive system, none are as simple as drinking water. Test this on yourself and try to remember to drink a big glass of water (12-16 ounces) about 30 minutes before each meal, and then sip room-temperature, warm, or hot water with your meals.