Why & When You Should & Shouldn’t Drink Water. ~ Sara Bruskin

Via on Mar 23, 2011

How much is enough? How much is too much? Is ice water bad? When’s best to drink water? When’s worst?

Paralyzed by H2O Uncertainty?

Sometimes the pursuit of hydration can feel like a contrived game of “Red light—green light.”

You’re going along your happily hydrated way when someone tells you that you shouldn’t be drinking cold water. This stops you dead in your tracks. After a little while, you finally acclimate yourself to room temperature beverages and pick up pace again.  Then you hear that you shouldn’t be drinking during meals…

Stop… Reconfigure…

The worst part comes when we’re given contradictory information and find ourself paralyzed, or forced to choose sides. In such cases, it’s probably best to consider what changes we can realistically implement in our own life, and see where that leaves us.

Here are three arguments concerning water consumption that never seem to get resolved.

Photo: Sean Rogers

Argument 1: Cold Water.

Anti-cold water

According to Ayurvedic guidelines especially, cold water is not good for the body. It should be cut out completely, as it shocks the digestive system and quenches the agni (flame) that fuels digestion. Because your body must use energy to warm the liquid back up, energy is taken away from the digestive system. Room temperature or warm water are considered optimal because they do not put as much strain on the body.

When I was experiencing chronic stomach pains a few years ago, I discovered that it was because of my morning smoothies (not water, but it’s the temperature that’s important). The intense cold was too much for my stomach after a night’s rest, and my acupuncturist recommended that I drink a mug of warm water with lemon first to ease my body into a waking state. My stomach pain disappeared in about a week.

Your digestive system doesn’t like being woken up with a splash of cold liquid any more than you do.

Pro-cold water.

A recent episode of Food Detectives explored the calorie-burning powers of cold water. When you drink cold water, your body expends energy to maintain its normal temperature. This process does in fact burn calories. According to their research, if you drink eight glasses of ice-cold water in a day, it amounts to about 70 burned calories. That won’t replace your regular exercise regimen, but it could arguably save you five minutes or so on the treadmill.

Cold water also makes your palate less sensitive, so any innocuous bacteria in the water will not taste as unpleasant if the water is cold. People are more inclined to stay hydrated when they enjoy the taste of their beverage, which gets even more important with age, as your thirst impulse dulls.

A happy medium:

Since your digestive system is something you need to rely on for a long time to come, this consideration comes before a mediocre weight-loss technique. Avoiding cold water is beneficial, but only if you manage to keep your water intake up.

If your water consumption drops to 1/7 of its former total when you swear off cold water, then this change may be hurting you more than it’s helping you. That said, transition takes time, and you may just need to power through the difficult phase while eating lots of hydrating fruits and veggies until you acclimate to room temperature water.

Argument 2: Drinking during meals.

Anti-drinking during meals.

This is a rule that I have come across many times. Drinking water—or any liquid for that matter—dilutes the stomach fluids and washes away saliva. With these essential digestive tools watered down, the body cannot effectively process food.

Furthermore, people tend to wash mouthfuls of food down with water before they have chewed them thoroughly. This leaves more work for the already compromised digestive system. When your digestive system isn’t performing at its best, nutrients are not absorbed effectively and all of that spinach was for nothing.

Pro-drinking during meals.
Photo: atl10trader

On the other end of the spectrum, some people encourage drinking during meals because it will fill the stomach up faster and leave less room for food. A belly full of water will cause your brain to think that you’re full before you are, and weight-loss is sure to follow.

Testing phase:

I had always drank lots of water with my food in the past, considering it an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone—get my nutrients and liquids all in one sitting. In an effort to ease the burden on my stomach, I decided to forgo water during lunch one day. I chose a massive burrito because I figured it would go down easily without water, and it would provide me with leftovers for the next day.

One of those assumptions was right.

It wasn’t terribly difficult to eat without a beverage, but my potential leftovers were quickly reduced to nothing. Without water taking up space in my stomach, I mistook that empty space for extra food room and ate way more than I needed. This experience left me quite ready to dismiss the popular rule. After all, there is no reason somebody 5’4″ should be able to eat a burrito the size of a small baby.

The explanation for my excess stomach room was my previous habit of drinking while eating. The stomach stretches when it is pushed to accomodate excess volume, so my stomach had done just that in order to make room for all the liquid I used to drink with my meals. If I were to cut that habit, my stomach would shrink back to its normal size and let me know when it has had the right amount of food for my body.

While I do not recommend overeating, the fact that I didn’t feel like dying after consuming such a large amount of food is a testament to the powers of unencumbered digestive fluids.

Photo: Steven Depolo

Overall, leaving water out of your meals is a good idea. If you happen to enjoy dinners of crackers and sawdust, this will be difficult for you. Since I love spicy food, I might reserve a few sips of water for especially tongue-searing meals. If you can adopt this rule in part or entirely, your body will thank you.

Argument 3: Filthy tap water vs. pristine bottled water.

In truth, there is no conundrum here, just a widespread misconseption. Tap water is not filthy, at least not in the States. It is actually regulated more closely than bottled water is, and the environmental impact of bottle production and disposal leaves no excuse for the product. The following video explains why there is no reason to drink bottled water

YouTube Preview Image

For a quicker glance at the matter, click on the following picture to enlarge.

Presented by Online Education

The Facts About Bottled Water

The frustrating water game may never end. As new information arises, we’re faced with more choices, but with a little research and attention to your own body, you don’t have to feel paralyzed by water debates.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sara Bruskin recently graduated from the University of Colorado, and is working as an intern for Colorado Common Cause.

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39 Responses to “Why & When You Should & Shouldn’t Drink Water. ~ Sara Bruskin”

  1. The rule in our house (and my dad's house) was: no water 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after meals. Ayurvedic principles running strong and deep…

  2. Thanks, Sara. I just wrote a piece that contained some of this information but I forgot the key temperature component. I fall into to the camp of "room temp to hot scale" on water consumption. Ayurvedically, cold is the main quality of vata, which when vitiated is the "spearhead of all disease" – according to the texts. But, I also don't come from a paranoid view… so, though as a habit I veer away from cold water, every now and again its so nice to have an ice-cold drink.

    Of course, with ayurveda principles we must also always consider one's physical constitution (prakriti), one's current condition (vikriti), the weather, the season, the time of day, etc. There is no one-size fits all rule. But, even though it may sound like it, it is not complicated – once you feel the principles as active in your life they become your natural response and you are not frozen like a deer in headlights checking all the variables.

    Finally, the best thing I've learned about staying hydrated is drinking a big glass of water first thing in the morning after scraping the tongue of ama (toxins). This one definitely should be warm… way to shocking to the system to wake up to cold water! This sets the tone of the day for hydration by replacing fluids lost in the night, and also starts the day with the sweet taste which is imperative for conditioning our body-mind mechanism towards sweet experience.

    Thanks for bringing this all up, Sara.

  3. elephantjournal says:

    Great job, Sara: should you drink during meals? Is ice water bad for us? Is drinking a lot of water essential, or too much? ~ W.
    #
    elephantjournal.com Great article from our newest intern! ~ Joe Yeoman

    #
    Shawna Dressler When in doubt, drink wine…

    #
    Sachin Kandhari The rule in our house (and my dad's house) was: no water 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after meals. Ayurvedic principles running strong and deep…

    #
    Antoinette Elbert Now check this out…about converting all that waste inot usable oil! http://www.flixxy.com/convert-plastic-to-oil.htm

    #
    Katherine Rebholz If you drink kangen water you can drink anytime

    #
    Energy of Mind: A Sauhu Therapy
    Thanks, Sara. I just wrote a piece that contained some of this information but I forgot the key temperature component. I fall into to the camp of "room temp to hot scale" on water consumption. Ayurvedically, cold is the main quality of v…ata, which when vitiated is the "spearhead of all disease" – according to the texts. But, I also don't come from a paranoid view… so, though as a habit I veer away from cold water, every now and again its so nice to have an ice-cold drink.

    Of course, with ayurveda principles we must also always consider one's physical constitution (prakriti), one's current condition (vikriti), the weather, the season, the time of day, etc. There is no one-size fits all rule. But, even though it may sound like it, it is not complicated – once you feel the principles as active in your life they become your natural response and you are not frozen like a deer in headlights checking all the variables.

    Finally, the best thing I've learned about staying hydrated is drinking a big glass of water first thing in the morning after scraping the tongue of ama (toxins). This one definitely should be warm… way to shocking to the system to wake up to cold water! This sets the tone of the day for hydration by replacing fluids lost in the night, and also starts the day with the sweet taste which is imperative for conditioning our body-mind mechanism towards sweet experience.

    Thanks for bringing this all up, Sara.

  4. Nadine McNeil Nadine says:

    Funny, I was just having a lengthy exchange with my very health conscious cousin about various elements of the water debate. The one thing I can share from personal experience is that oftentimes when we think we're hungry, we're actually thirsty. Here in Africa, the choice is clear — DRINK BOTTLED WATER! I even brush my teeth and cook with it. Elsewhere though, it depends. Very concise yet informative piece on an important topic. Thanks!

    • Sara Bruskin Sara says:

      It's really tricky, because the video I posted talks about how much money goes into bottled water production and clean-up. If that money were to be put towards securing safe drinking water in other countries, we could possibly eliminate the need for bottled water eventually.
      But… what are people with unsafe tap water supposed to do in the meantime? Catch-22!

    • Sara Bruskin Sara says:

      It's really tricky, because the video I posted talks about how much money goes into bottled water production and clean-up. If we could stop putting that money into the bottled water industry use it to secure safe drinking water in other countries, we could possibly eliminate the need for bottled water.
      But… what are people with unsafe drinking water going to do in the meantime? Catch-22!

  5. Adam says:

    Although I agree with not buying bottled water, I think it should also be said that fluoride and other chemicals in the tap water can be harmful to the body after years and years on contact. One of the best things I have ever done is stop drinking tap water.

  6. Colin Wiseman Colin Wiseman says:

    I have to say thought although the argument for bottled water vs tap water in terms of resources used to distribute the bottles, and for the clear up, is a clear winner for tap water, I will add that I do notice a difference in taste. Tap water at source maybe perfectly clean and nice, but pump it through 30-40 year old pipes to my 4th floor flat (apartment) and I can taste the copper piping and other things. Some parts of Glasgow (in Scotland) I have noticed the water has a thin film of oil or something on it when it comes out the tap, again I put this down to the pipes being old, broken and seeping in impurities from around the town.

    So am all for bottled water as it tastes better, but I wish it was easier to recycle them!

    • Sara Bruskin Sara says:

      If people stopped paying for expensive bottled water, I wonder how long it would take them to raise enough money to replace those old pipes…

      • Colin Wiseman colinwiseman says:

        Stopping paying for expensive bottled water won't raise a penny to replace the old pipes. The water from the taps comes from one company and we pay 1 small annual fee to them which doesn't change. They would have to raise the price significantly to be able replace all the pipes :(

  7. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    In nature, cold water is clean water.

  8. Tom Lauria says:

    Hi Sara: This is Tom Lauria from the International Bottled Water Association. Let's give your readers the correct information on the federal regulation of both tap and bottled water. At the federal level, bottled water must comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) (21 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq.) and several parts of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Section 410 of FFDCA requires that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) bottled water regulations be as protective of the public health as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tap water standards.

    Bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, ultraviolet (UV) light or other safe and effective methods.

    • Sara Bruskin Sara says:

      "Section 410 of FFDCA requires that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) bottled water regulations be as protective of the public health as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tap water standards."

      If bottled water is truly held to the same safety standards as tap water (though we know many brands are in violation of such standards http://tinyurl.com/j87zt ), then why would we pay more and create so much pollution for something that's monitored in the same way as our tap water, and loses to tap water in taste tests across the country?

  9. hanna says:

    yay sara!!!! your smart lol that was really well written to the point that it kept me interested even though i was just truely reading about water. good job haha

  10. Philip says:

    I knew you could write and I know you can present an argument, but who knew you could write and argue with yourself! Go to law school. Drink warm, drink cold, don't drink, do drink: no wonder the French drink wine!
    Nicely done and welcome to the written world.

  11. faith says:

    I disagree — but I still love you …. i'm only 5"3, and i regularly eat burritos the size of small babies!!!

    –faith

  12. [...] Hydrate. But not too much. Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your first class. Now [...]

  13. Mat Hill says:

    Zen saying:

    Eat when hungry, sleep when tired!

    Plus… Drink when thirsty?

    Not rocket science.

  14. apimom says:

    If I do not feel thirsty I have to assume that my body knows, when I need liquid. I have never encountered a human that resembled a shed snake skin because he or she did not make sure the hydration thingy was taken care of. Dehydration happens for instance if you are in a life boat at sea after your cruise ship sank and you drift without any drinkable water for quite some time – not only a few hours.Nowadays I feel I cannot talk to some people without watching them slugging water and interrupting their sentence because now between the first and last part of a sentence they have to take a swig, usually with water running down their chin. The bottles are everywhere in the office. On the desks, counters, shelves with no names, half full, no lids, oooops there goes the water all over papers, chins, merchandise, computers. continued…

  15. apimom says:

    continued…
    This is of course followed by numerous washroom breaks as the hydration has to go somewhere. And so go the minerals and trace elements connected with electrolyte action, which counteracts the whole health aspect of this liquid sucking exercise. I honestly do not remember as a child any moment of drinking. Must not have been such a big thing. Especially at the cottage a herd of fairly clean kids ran off in the morning, maybe returned at lunch time for a few minutes and disappeared again to return in the evening fairly dirty. We did not have water bottles with us. We were not overweight, sick, allergic or "dehydrated". We did know a kid or two, who's parents had the vision to the future. They had to stay home, had allergies, were sick frequently, had weight problems and their parents made them drink "hydration" liquids.
    It seems that nowadays the thought "more is better" rules. What happened to balance and logic and laws of physics?
    apimom

  16. helen says:

    apimom, i have discussed this so many times with friends ( i am 37), what did we do as kids and teens? i cant remember bringing water bottles, or being very focused about drinking massive amounts of water at all!! not to say this isnt a good habit, i am just very unsure.

    as for the article it self; as most other things, how and when we drink water is just a habit. i dont remember the exact incident that caused me to think that icecold water was a bad thing, but i stopped in my early 20's and now drinking anything icecold feels unnatural.

    being an inhabitant of norway, i am blessed with good quality tap water that also tastes so good, i just dont need to buy bottled water. but while traveling in certain countries where tap water is unclean, bottled water is the only solution to staying healthy, unless i can boil the water clean. but, for sure, clean and good tap water is a blessing!

    drinking while eating is not good!! as a previous commentator wrote: 30 minutes before and/or after meals is ok, but not during meals. and as a digression; why does a writer for elephantjournal eat a burrito the size of a baby? ;)

  17. thixotropic says:

    Tap water contains harmful (not just innocuous) bacteria, fluoride, and pharmaceutical drugs, all in biologically significant amounts.

    Bottled water is frequently just filtered tap, and often has fluoride added to it. Unfortunately AFAIK no one has listed which ones do so, sorry.

    The best solution is either distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) water. With either you will need to be sure you’re getting enough minerals to replace what gets leached out by drinking distilled/RO water

  18. thixotropic says:

    BTW thank you for this; we were just discussing water, how much we needed, etc. BTW, did this article get around to telling us how much we *do* need? :)

  19. Kozuyo says:

    "Wonderfully pure" San Francisco tap water from Hetch Hetchy near Yosemite is filled with Cryptosporidium, this protozoan is resistant to chlorine. Those that work in child care and those who have infected children are also in the danger of contracting cryptosporidium. Those who drink unfiltered water and those who take care of people who suffer of cryptosporidiosis are also in the danger of contracting the protozoan and getting ill. Cryptosporidium is a disease that is mostly diagnosed at people who do not have a strong immune system. Most individuals diagnosed with cryptosporidium are elderly people. There are a series of possible treatments for cryptosporidium, but starting receiving one is very important, as the disease can evolve to other forms because of the dehydration process. A wise person would not follow this poorly researched anecdotal misinformation.

  20. cathy says:

    Tap water is full of bacteria and added fluoride.. especially in large cities. My city sometimes has BROWN water and you are telling me because you can upload a video that my water is pristine.
    There is such a thing as a filter.. we do nto need to resort to buying bottled water.

  21. Molly says:

    You guys. Your body warms everything to the same temperature by the time it hits your stomach. There is literally no difference between drinking hot and cold water. I have no idea where that insane 70 calorie “fact” came from. The amount of energy it takes to bring cold water to the temp in your stomach is negligible. Like, maybe 1 calorie. When will this myth die? Soon? Please?

  22. Charles says:

    I've experimented with this a bit myself. I agree with the 30 minute rule but I did find that taking little sips of water in between every bite or three slows down the eating process, thus giving my stomach more time to fully digest the food and also develop that full feeling (even if it's only half full). I felt even drinking water before the meal wasn't too bad as long as it wasn't excessive; however, drinking water after a meal has become a more uncomfortable experience. I think it's mostly a matter of listening to your body and finding out what it needs instead of always following the same rules, as it goes with anything. And of course, moderation.

  23. lurkitty says:

    Where you live really does make a difference in water quality. The city of Eugene, Oregon has been shown to have some of the cleanest water around, regularly testing better than bottled water. When I moved to the small town of Veneta, just 10 miles out of town, it was a different story. While Eugene's water comes from a water treatment system, Veneta is supplied mainly by wells. Within 6 months of moving, there had been three fecal coliform events; instances where bacteria from human waste was found in the water supply. It was clear that the treated water was much higher quality and safer than the "natural" water from the wells. I subsequently bought an RO unit which not only made the water safe to drink, but greatly improved its taste.

    As an asthmatic, I have frequently been advised of the importance of staying hydrated. Because asthma causes mucus to thicken, having a bit more water in my system is necessary to ensure that my lungs stay clear. There is no one simple rule for everyone to follow as regards hydration. You really need to know your own body.

  24. brillana says:

    I have read in some yoga books about not drinking liquids while eating meals. I have tried this tip and the benefit which I have noticed from this practice is disipline. It makes you think about what you are putting in your body more. You are less likely to eat on impulse if you have finished with your meal or snack and are now on drinking time. A few sips of abeverage is ok if you are really thirsty. I feel good when i eat without liquids and I don´t think it makes me eat more quantity.

  25. I don't think argument 3 is as simple as that. No matter how closely monitored tap water is, it would be better to attach a filter to the tap just to be safe. As for bottled water, all we can really do is be careful which one we buy.

  26. James Bishop says:

    Personally, if you can get away with tap water, do so. I'd only resort to bottled water when I have no other choice.

  27. Genevieve says:

    Is fluoride in water good or bad for you? I hear both sides but not too sure. Is it in most states tap water?

  28. Robyn says:

    I'm going to throw a lot of *I've heard*'s out there…. I've heard that ice water hydrates your body because your stomach empties it faster so it's a good idea to drink that when you're exercising. I've also heard that warm water sits in your stomach and if you are trying to lose weight, to drink warm water.

    I was hoping to read more when the best time to drink water was: morning (because I've heard you should drink a glass for hydration right when you wake up)? throughout the day (but not at meals obviously)?

    I JUST WANT DRINKING WATER TO BE CLEAR!

  29. Simon says:

    If tap water is so good then why is it so undrinkabley foul tasting? One month after we put a reverse osmosis filter in our office the cleaner unknowingly filled the water dispenser with tap water one night. The next day everybody was complaining that there was something wrong with the water. It was so bad they couldn’t drink it. They had no idea they had been on RO water for a month and all they were tasting was ordinary tap water.

    As for drinking with meals Traditional wisdom recommends a single cup with each meal to help the digestive juices. No water leaves only a bulk that overworks digestion. Chinese wisdom says to only drink hot drinks to soften the fats and oils and aid digestion.

  30. kristine says:

    Being a veteran and growing up as a military brat. water was always important. I gave up bottled water because of waste, I switched a filter and have found it much easier to drink water. Our water is horrible here, just a few towns over, the water is not drinkable. I find a glass of water at bed time is wonderful, I wake up feeling so much better. I always drink with my meals to and dont usually have water until after 10am.

  31. Jack Black says:

    Goodness, you know we are in trouble when we justify the use of something ONLY to make us feel like we've eaten more than we actually. If people are serious about weight loss, cut sugar out completely from the diet, this includes flavoured water and fruit juices. The only place one should get their sugar from is when it naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables. Sugar was one of the hardest drugs for me to quit. You should too.

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