There are compelling reasons to drink with our meals to lose weight, but does it really work? How does drinking while eating affect digestion? We turn to the experts to find out.

We all know the importance of drinking water for overall health. Staying hydrated helps keep our mind sharp and our mood steady while regulating our body temperature and preventing kidney stones and constipation. But a long-standing debate exists as to whether drinking liquids with our meals is beneficial for our bodies. Can drinking before and while we eat help us to lose weight? Does drinking with meals interfere with our digestion and keep us from properly absorbing the nutrients that we need? Experts have worked to answer these questions and have arrived at some pretty interesting conclusions.

Drinking water reduces your overall daily calories

The simple act of drinking water may actually lessen your calorie count for the day. People who drink 51.9 oz, or 6.5 8-oz, glasses of water throughout the day are shown to consume 194 less calories overall than those who are not regular water drinkers. Does water intake right before a meal influence the number of calories ingested? One study found that subjects who drank 2.4 cups of water immediately before breakfast reduced their calorie intake by 22% while reporting feeling less hungry and more satisfied. This is likely explained by the fact that filling the stomach with water causes it to swell and stretch, resulting in a satiated feeling experienced earlier than usual.

Water intake before meals translates to weight loss

Given that water effectively fills the stomach and contains no calories, it makes sense that drinking prior to eating reduces both appetite and the number of calories ingested. But how much weight can you actually lose? A 2010 study examined just this.  Participants who drank 2 cups of water before each meal over 12 weeks lost 4.4 lbs, or 44%, more than those who did not. While this is promising news for anyone desiring to slim down, it is unclear whether this weight loss is sustained for the long term.

Does drinking water with meals impede digestion and nutrient absorption?

A popular belief is that drinking water while eating hinders our digestive process by accelerating how quickly solid foods depart from the stomach, leaving less time for digestive enzymes and stomach acid to break down the food. Water on its own exits the stomach rapidly, but when water and solid food are ingested together, both are emptied from the stomach slower. In fact, solid food is emptied at the same rate regardless of whether water is ingested with it or not.

What are the effects of alcohol and caffeine on our ability to absorb nutrients?

Drinking water before and with meals may be beneficial for weight loss with no proven impact on digestion and nutrient intake, but can the same be said for other beverages besides water like alcohol or coffee? Evidently not. Heavy alcohol drinking, generally considered 1.7 fl oz of alcohol or more per day, with or without meals is shown to harm the gastrointestinal tract, leading to the poor uptake of essential proteins and vitamins that we need from our food. Similarly, drinking more than 300 mg of caffeine, or three cups of coffee, a day is associated with weaker absorption of vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, iron, and calcium.

What you should know

Þ   Drinking water with your meal is effective and safe. Despite the common concerns surrounding drinking before or during meals, current evidence shows that increasing water intake before and during a meal can lead to weight loss and has no real impact on digestion and nutrient absorption.

Þ   Stick with water. Water is the beverage of choice for mealtime as it is free of calories and additives and is not linked to digestive issues like alcohol and caffeine.

Þ   If you have a digestive condition, drink with caution. People with gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and indigestion are prone to abdominal pain and should take special care not to drink too much with their meals. Increasing water intake can expand the stomach which may further exacerbate stomach discomfort after a meal.

Þ   See what works best for you. Whether you choose to adopt the habit of drinking water before and during your meals to lose weight should depend on how your body uniquely responds. Drink 2 to 2.5 cups of water right before you eat, pay close attention to your level of hunger throughout the meal, and stop when you feel full. Track your weight over time, and of course do not continue if you feel stomach pain or discomfort.