March 23, 2011

Why & When You Should & Shouldn’t Drink Water.

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

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

Presented by Online Education

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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