Enjoying a glass of cold or ice water with or after a meal is fairly common in many societies. Theories abound as to how ice water can affect people, particularly after eating. Here are some of the rumors around and actual effects of ice water on digestion.
Ice Water Causes Heart Attacks and Cancer
There is an emailed rumor that started in 2006, which claimed that drinking ice water after a meal would solidify the fats from the partially digested meal, and cause them to react with the acids of the stomach, leading them to line the digestive tract. This lining of fat would eventually lead to cancer or might contribute to the unlucky person having a heart attack. This is, however, an urban legend. By the time food enters the digestive tract, it has been warmed by the body, and is already broken down and thoroughly mixed by the stomach. It would not separate out to line the digestive tract with fat, and there have been no studies that link fat to cancer in this way, although consuming too much fat over a long period of time can increase the chances of heart attack by raising cholesterol levels.
Cold Water Cools Digestion
In some Eastern medicines, it is commonly accepted that drinking cold or ice water can slow down digestion, which might be harmful to health. Generally, this view sees digestion as a ‘hot’ process and encourages the consumption of warmed and cooked foods and warm or hot drinks to strengthen the digestive process. This is considered particularly helpful for people who have weak digestion. According to this school of thought, drinking cold water, or indeed, eating or drinking anything that is at lower than room temperature, will lead to bloating, stomach cramps and discomfort. Western science does not support this view, but following it is a personal preference and will certainly not do any harm.
Drinking Water Slows or Stops Digestion
Another rumor surrounding drinking water after a meal postulates that the water can dilute the stomach acid, slowing down digestion. However, this is also false. Studies of diabetics have shown that water consumed with food makes no difference in the rate of glycemic and insulin responses, and the speed of digestion governs these responses. So, changing the amount of water that is drunk with or after a meal does not change how quickly the meal is digested. However, in some cases, for example, when someone suffers from acid reflux, drinking too much water at once can aggravate the condition by lifting the acid.
Ice water generally does not harm and in fact can be helpful, as water that is slightly cooler than body temperature tends to be absorbed faster than warm water. It can also help to bring down body temperature on a hot day and tends to taste better. Water is necessary for the healthy functioning of the body, so try to drink enough to stay hydrated during the day.