Drinking liquids during meals… is it healthy?

I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile. Actually, since one day in my physiology class last year. We were talking about gastrointestinal motility patterns.  And why would that be the one on my mind recently? While we were learning about how fast different meals empty from the stomach I was thinking about something that I had heard about back in my days of reading random things on health and nutrition. Somewhere there emerged an idea that drinking water with meals was detrimental to digestion.Bella eating zucchini bread

The suggestion was that the water would lower the pH level of the stomach and dilute the digestive enzymes, thus making food harder to digest. According to the internet this could cause indigestion, heartburn, irritability, bloating, lethargy, headaches, insatiable cravings, inability to determine hunger, depression. I’m wondering if it also caused the dust all over my house and those pesky lost socks!

I never could get truly into this way of eating because I quickly found that telling myself that I couldn’t have liquids during meals made me want them that much more! Not to mention there are several foods that are a challenge for me to swallow without liquid.article-2238428-005CD67400000258-197_233x423

What we learned in physiology that day was that the rate that liquids empty the stomach is faster than any other component of a meal.

Gastric emptying

The figure to the right shows that liquid empties from the stomach in about 20 minutes, much faster than the semisolid or solid foods, which take from 60-100 minutes. So, the liquid isn’t going to be in the stomach for long, messing with your stomach pH. Second, the pH of the stomach is LOW, about 0.7 to 3.8 which is very acidic. So acidic that there isn’t much that can change that except food, which only brings it up a small amount.

In my undergrad I did some experiments in chemistry with making an acidic solution less acidic (more basic), and I can tell you without a doubt  that water alone is not going to change the acidity of a mixture.  The other thing happening in your body is what physiologists call the cephalic and gastric phases of digestion. In the cephalic phase we are thinking about and anticipating eating. As you are preparing your meal and just about to sit down to eat it you are anticipating eating it and this is releasing gastric juices in your stomach. The gastric phase is while we are eating and our body releases more gastric juices.

The summation of all this is that drinking liquids during your meal is not going to lower your stomach acidity. You are still going to make plenty of stomach acid (providing things are working correctly in that area in the first place), and none of the liquid you are going to normally drink is going to change the pH level of that stomach acid.

So if you want feel free to enjoy your beverage with your meal again!Flash-Chill-TAKEYA-Iced-Tea-Beverage-System


Rhoades and Bell,  2013, Medical Physiology: Principles for Clinical Medicine, fourth edition, (pgs 494-495, 509)

Elderberry syrup

Something that is well known for this time of year is the flu, the upper respiratory flu, not the stomach flu. I’ve decided to write a post about this for several reasons: 1) it’s usually on everyone’s minds during pre-winter and winter season, 2) it’s going around in the Seattle area right now based on this article, 3) I happened to learn a few things about it in Botanical Medicine lab fall quarter. We had a final project requirement of preparing two herbal preparations (one internal, and one external) to target a specific health condition. I chose to target influenza A because I had read some research in the past about Elderberry extract having a significant impact on the duration and severity of symptoms of influenza. I became slightly obsessed this summer with wild harvesting my own elderberries on one of our trips to Eastern Washington and making my own elderberry syrup. So it was natural that I decided to make one of my preparations for this project elderberry syrup.

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I’ll share with you part of my write up for my project.

“Influenza is caused by an orthomyxovirus, an RNA virus that infects the upper respiratory tract. Most influenza is caused by influenza virus type A, and although some illnesses are caused by type B, type A is more severe and is more commonly seen. Influenza is typically characterized by fever, myalgia, headache, sore throat and cough. Although the illness is typically self-limiting in 5-7 days, it is nevertheless important to address due to its ease of communicability(it’s easy to catch), short incubation period (doesn’t take long from the time you’re exposed to getting symptoms), related loss of productivity(can’t get to work, school, etc), and risk of morbidity in certain at-risk patients.

The elderberry syrup I made consisted of Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea, also known as Blue Elderberry. This was the main herb for my target condition because I have known for some time the research showing Sambucus nigra extract having powerful antiviral effects, and the ability to shorten the duration of influenza. I also knew it was possible to wild harvest it in Eastern Washington during the late summer. Since it was my main herb I chose for addressing influenza I will share some extra information about it.  Sambucus nigra, black elder, has been used for centuries in folk medicine as treatment for colds, influenza and sinusitis. The berries of elder contain high levels of flavonoids that have been shown to have antiviral activity against several different viruses, including influenza virus. The main flavonoids in elderberries are the anthocyanins cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-sambubioside, and it has recently been demonstrated that these substances are detectable in blood plasma after oral ingestion of elderberry extract. Raw honey is used to increase shelf life, flavor, and for its antiviral properties. Clove and fresh ginger are added to enhance the flavor profile.

I chose a syrup because it is tasty, easy to take, and quick and easy to prepare. The syrup can be made in a fairly large quantity if you are able to wild harvest many quarts of fresh elderberries. The syrup can be made up and it will last for about 3 months with refrigeration, and can also be frozen. Also, the berries can be frozen and the syrup made up as needed.”

I’ll include my recipe write up from my project, which is also available in the below references from Rosemary Gladstar’s book. I used honey since that’s what she recommended but I’ve noticed syrups on the market use vegetable glycerin, and since I have that I’ll try that next time. Please never give honey to infants under the age of 2.

Rather than making syrup in the past I have purchased encapsulated elderberry extract. That might be something to look into if making your own doesn’t work for you. Check with your health care provider before making any decisions about your health and check my disclaimer here.

Elderberry Syrup  


  • Large pot
  • Fine mesh metal strainer
  • Sterile canning jars or container of choice
  • Tongue depressor or chopstick


  • 2 quarts fresh ripe elderberries, Sambucus nigra, Caprifoliaceae family; (I wild harvested Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea found commonly in Eastern Washington)
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ ounce freshly grated gingerroot, Zingiber officinalis, Zingiberaceae family
  • ½ teaspoon ground clove flower buds, Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae family
  • Honey


  1. Combine elderberries with ¼ cup water in large pot and simmer over medium heat until soft.
  2. Strain out pulp, reserving liquid
  3. Return liquid to pot, composting pulp
  4. Using tongue depressor or chopstick measure amount of liquid, marking level on tongue depressor or chopstick
  5. Add ginger and cloves and simmer, uncovered, until liquid reduces to half its original volume (use marked tongue depressor to check)
  6. Pour juice into measuring cup and note volume
  7. Return to pot and add equal amount of honey, stirring to combine thoroughly
  8. Let cool, then store in sterile bottles in refrigerator
  9. Use within 12 weeks or freeze


Couch, Robert B. “Medical Microbiology.” 1996. ncbi.nim.nhi.gov. 6 December 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK8611/&gt;.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Medicinal Herbs A Beginner’s Guide. Storey Publishing, 2012.

Kinoshita, et al. (2012). Anti-influenza virus effects of elderberry juice and its fractions. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 76(9), 1633–8. doi:10.1271/bbb.120112

Krawitz, et al. “Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2011): 11:16.

Zakay-Rones, Z., Thom, E., Wollan, T., & Wadstein, J. “Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment  of Influenza A and B Virus Infections.” Journal of International Medical Research (2004): 132–140.