are you absorbing nutrients or storing excess fat?

My darling Texan husband always complains that us Russians don’t like to drink during meals. He is baffled as to why we don’t guzzle iced water, carbonated drinks, and juice with our meals, like he is used to. 



How are you supposed to swallow your food with your throat being parched? I always laugh and tell him he eats too much too quickly, and he should use his teeth to chew his food and his saliva to break it down, instead of swallowing it whole as he tends to do.


Now the reason for this culture clash is two-fold. One, in Europe and Russia, there is a long history of war and starvation that the US does not have. Over generations people have been programmed to eat more slowly, eat less, and enjoy every bite. I grew up knowing that my great grandfather starved to death during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. I hate wasting food knowing that they survived on wallpaper glue. I was always encouraged to finish every bite. The last bite is where all your power lies, my grandmother would say. So I’d rather have less food on my plate and make sure I finish it all, and have seconds if I want. Whereas the Texan hubs will pile his plate sky high, swallow his food til he’s stuffed, guzzle drinks while eating, and not feel guilty about not finishing it (though he usually does finish).


cdccroppedThe kind of abundance of food and huge portions that we come to expect here in the US are rooted in these cultural differences. That’s why Europeans are so shocked by our portions, and why ‘French women don’t get fat’. They don’t eat at the Cheesecake Factory. They’ll have a tiny bit of pastry vs a giant slice of cake. For the record, I love the Cheesecake Factory, but I’ve never been able to go beyond eating appetizers (ok giant appetizers that could feed a family and a giant cheesecake slice).


In the last 50 years portion sizes of food and drinks here have grown to absurd proportions (see the CDC infographic at left), and the reason we’re able to eat so much so quickly is because we’re washing it down with drinks, rather than chewing it and washing it down with saliva.


Also, it is common cultural knowledge taught in kindergarden that chewing thoroughly is an integral part of the digestive system. In Germany there is even a popular saying that ‘chewing well is half digested’ (gut gekaut ist halb verdaut!). So I grew up knowing this as a fundamental health basic, and it was obvious to me, and yet relatively unknown to my hubs.


If you drink while you’re eating, you will wash away the digestive enzymes in your mouth, and it will dilute your digestive acids, making your digestive system less effective. This can lead to constipation, heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, indigestion, and gas. It even means you absorb less nutrients from the food you just ate. The stomach as a reaction will create more acid, and the food may be passed to the small intestine without having been properly broken down, causing more discomfort.



It may also be that drinking a lot of liquids during meals also increases your blood sugar levels, causing you to release more insulin, and store more fat. So try to be present with your food, eat slowly, and chew thoroughly, so you create plenty of saliva and start the digestive process in your mouth. You will not feel parched if you chew slowly enough.


The reason you’re guzzling cold drinks during meals is:


it tastes refreshing
you’re not present with your food
you’re eating too quickly
you’re not chewing enough
you’re dehydrated


Most of us are perpetually dehydrated. We eat when were actually thirsty, and we drink when we should focus on eating. Of course you are thirsty and need to drink if you barely chew and basically swallow your food. But you will notice for yourself how much better you feel and how much less you will eat once you pay attention to this process. And no, you will not be gagging and choking if you chew slowly and thoroughly until your food is close to liquid.


me and the hubs drinking NA beer before a heavy German meal.
me and the hubs drinking NA beer before a heavy German meal.

If you feel that you need to drink at mealtimes, avoid ice in your drinks. TRY to drink room temperature water or warm tea. Traditional Chinese Medicine advocates against ice in drinks, as it solidifies fatty foods in your body, and inhibits digestion. Imagine the fat in your body liquid when warm, and solid when cold. Gross huh. Of course, there’s nothing more refreshing than an iced drink on a hot day, but ironically warm tea will quench your thirst more sustainably, and once you get used to drinking hot tea instead of iced tea, it will seem so refreshing and thirst quenching. 


Do i drink iced drinks? Yes, of course! And much more now that I’m married to a Texan. But I TRY to drink them before and after a heavy meal, not during.


Try to pay more attention to your food, chew more, drink less, avoid ice, and you will optimize nutrient absorption from your food. Try to drink liquids half an hour before, and after your meal. If you need occasional small sips while you’re eating, ok. Chew slowly and thoroughly, so you create plenty of saliva and digestive enzymes. It will seem odd at first, but notice how you feel in a couple hours. Less bloated than usual? No more heartburn?

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