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What Effect Does Drinking Before Eating Have on Digestion?

By Linda Tarr Kent

Digestion allows your body to absorb nutrients from food and pass them through intestinal wall channels into your bloodstream. Your blood brings the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates to the rest of your body. Drinking water prior to eating can help improve your digestion. Drinking alcohol or soda prior to a meal may interfere with your digestive process.

Water and Your Stomach

Drinking an 8 oz. to 10 oz. glass of water 30 minutes before a meal will help you better digest your food. That’s because this starts mucus production in your stomach. Your stomach lining is made of mucus, 90 percent of which is water. Your stomach also contains acid and an enzyme that digests protein, which the mucous lining protects your stomach tissue from. Shoring up your mucous lining prior to the meal reduces your chance for heartburn.

Proper Hydration

Adequate water intake improves digestive processes in all stages, from mouth to stomach to intestines, and helps you avoid constipation. In fact, your body cannot digest food without adequate water. The process known as hydrolysis changes starches, proteins and fats into the smaller molecules of nutrients that your cells need. In your intestines, water helps your body absorb solids and pass waste through for elimination. Your saliva, which initiates digestion of starches with the enzyme amylase, also consists mainly of water. When you are dehydrated, these processes become impaired.


In small quantities, alcohol stimulates production of gastric acid by your stomach. In large quantities it inhibits gastric acid secretion. Alcohol also can delay the emptying of your stomach. This can result in bacterial degradation of food and cause gas, which in turn brings feelings of fullness and abdominal discomfort. Alcohol also interferes with the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine, causes mucosal damage to the intestine even in small amounts, interferes with enzymes needed for digestion and hampers the transport of nutrients to your bloodstream. It also may reduce transit time of waste in the large intestine, leading to diarrhea.


Drinking soda prior to a meal may affect digestion as well. If you drink caffeinated soda, it can have a dehydrating effect, reducing the amount of water in your body that’s available to help with digestion. However, this effect is mild if your daily caffeine intake is 450 mg or less. Soda typically has 35 to 54 mg caffeine in a 12-oz. serving. Caffeine in any amount also can cause gastrointestinal distress. You are more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems if you are not a habitual caffeine consumer. Some artificial sweeteners in diet soda can contribute to gas, causing gastrointestinal discomfort.


Drinking water prior to a meal may help you eat less and thus help you lose weight, notes a study published in “Obesity” in February 2010. Drinking alcohol, on the other hand, slows fat metabolism in your body. In fact, you burn about one-third fewer fat calories, which may contribute to a larger waistline or thigh circumference. Sugary soda also contributes to weight gain due to its caloric content and low satiety factor. Going the diet soda route may not be the best swap. Even artificially sweetened soft drinks are correlated with weight gain, according to a study published in the “Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine” in June 2010.

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