Having a cold beer with a meal is such a refreshing thought! But, that one glass of icy cold drink may be messing with your digestion more than you think. Our grandmothers knew something when they told us not to drink cold water!
The breaking down of food is mechanical and chemical; both need to work together in perfect synchronicity.
The mechanical process involves physically tearing food into smaller pieces, mixing and moving food from one segment of the digestive tract to the next. This starts from our very first bite.
The chemical process also starts from the beginning; as we chew food, enzymes in the saliva start acting with food particles to break them down chemically.
After sufficient mixing, food goes to the stomach through the esophagus. It then moves to the small intestines and, finally, the colon. There are also different enzymes at work at each site before food is ready for the next.
You can imagine healthy digestion to be a very beautifully orchestrated process. Unfortunately, this symphony can easily be disturbed.
Cold Drink May Slow Down Digestion
"Food transit time" is the time that food takes to pass through the digestive tract and it significantly impacts our health. Some food may take more time than others to digest, but food generally takes around 24 to 48 hours to pass through the gut without any discomfort. When there is pain, bloating, reflux, constipation, or diarrhea, you know that things are not quite working as they should.
Apart from the discomfort, slow food transit time can negatively impact health through its effects on metabolic functions, nutrient absorption, and gut health.
Cold foods and beverages slow down digestion. A study* looked at meal temperature and stomach emptying time by having subjects ingest orange juice at 4C, 37C, and 50C. The researchers found that the stomach emptying rate with the cold drink was significantly slower than the two other drinks.
What was also interesting is that the researchers found that it took 20-30 minutes for the intragastric temperature to return to the average body temperature 37C after ingesting either the cold or the hot drink.
“Wonderful,” you may think, “that my body knows how to adapt!” Yes and no, and this leads us to the next topic, digestive enzymes.
Enzymes In Action
As we have mentioned, the chemical breakdown of food is a series of enzymatic activities at each digestive tract region.
Enzymes in the saliva break down carbohydrates and fats; enzymes from the stomach digest proteins, and enzymes from the pancreas and small intestines break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Enzymes work within a specific range of temperatures and pH levels. For example, the stomach has an acidity level around oh1.5-2.5, and pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down protein, functions best at ph2.
Human digestive enzymes function best at body temperature. When presented with foods and beverages that are either too cold or too hot, while the body can take time to resume its normal temperature, enzyme activities may be compromised.
Foods for Thought
Think again before reaching for the next cold juice or beer with your meal.
Here are a few more things to consider to help to speed up your food transit time and build a healthy gut environment
Include in your diet fiber from plants, such as wholegrain, fruits, and vegetables, help normalize food transit time and colon health.
Consider taking probiotics, or fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut as they help build a healthy gut. Foods such as beans, oats, bananas, garlic, leeks, and onion are high in prebiotic and help support good bacteria.
Drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.
Somehow, our grandmothers knew.
* Sun WM, Houghton LA, Read NW, Grundy DG, Johnson AG. Effect of meal temperature on gastric emptying of liquids in man. Gut. 1988;29(3):302-305. doi:10.1136/gut.29.3.302