When it comes to optimizing your digestive health, the best ways to consume water are not always as obvious as you might think. There are few patently “bad” times to drink water, but plenty of people haven’t realized there are particular windows when guzzling just the right quantity or enhancing your water with appropriate additives could provide surprising bonus benefits. Fortunately, you likely won’t need much significant effort to begin getting the healthiest value from your daily intake.

Drink Water Before Meals, Cut Back While Eating

Your body’s signals can be deceiving. More to the point, you may occasionally misinterpret some degree of dehydration as hunger. Drinking a generous glass of water before a meal has helped many habitual overeaters lose weight by reining in their appetites, precisely because satisfying thirst misunderstood as hunger suddenly creates a healthier “full” feeling. The resulting improved hydration also enhances digestion by preemptively ramping up secretions that properly break down essential nutrients. Surprisingly, drinking water during a meal rather than before may wash away valuable saliva and minimize its ability to moisten food before swallowing. Further down your body, excess liquid in the stomach during a meal dilutes digestive juices tasked with breaking food down. This makes it harder for your digestive system to work effectively in transferring nutrients from the food to your bloodstream, creating malabsorption.

Enhance Your Water with the Right Additives

A little something extra in your water is not automatically a bad thing. Plain water is actually harder for your body to process than water mixed with other substances. This is because your body is geared to take necessary water from the food you eat, particularly fruits and vegetables. However, that doesn’t mean that you should forgo drinking water. A tall glass of water should typically be the very first thing you consume in the morning, as it helps replace the moisture lost through sweat during the night and wakes your digestive system. Adding a bit of lemon to that glass can work as an effective aid to your body’s natural detoxifying processes.

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You can also get similar benefits from diluting raw apple cider in a glass of water. Before a meal, compounds in raw apple cider vinegar can dramatically improve digestion while reducing hunger, promoting a ramped-up metabolism and working wonders for your skin. If you drink more soda than water, try substituting sparkling water laced with a low-sugar fruit concentrate that will far more good for your body any time of day. Trace mineral drops can also return valuable nutrients and ionic minerals, such as magnesium, removed by modern water supplies. Your body needs these substances to run on all cylinders, and restoring them may require as little as adding a little something extra to a glass of water first thing in the morning, before bed and especially after exercise.

Embrace Filtered Water

Want to upgrade your water’s digestive impact immediately? Buy a water filter, preferably one with activated carbon (also known as, “activated charcoal”) that binds to and removes contaminants entirely. The chlorine-laced into modern, treated water systems protects us all from numerous illnesses, but it may also wipe out beneficial gut bacteria. As if that wasn’t bad enough, your water’s added lead, fluoride and various other chemicals can further jeopardize your gut microbiome and hinder your body’s ideal digestion and filtration functions. Unbalanced beneficial bacteria can further give way to compromised immunity, mood swings, lingering depression, fluctuating weight, skin problems, and several autoimmune diseases. Going “#NoFilter” is fine for selfies, but everything underneath your skin deserves better. You can get a separate filter for your faucet that you can install yourself, or work with your preferred local plumber to have a full system filter installed to filter all of your home’s water.

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Make Water a Habit

Aim to make conscientious water intake an ingrained pillar of your daily routine. Because it is harder for your body to process plain water, it’s best that you drink smaller amounts throughout the day rather than gulping large quantities when you realize that you’re dehydrated. While rehydrating at these crisis times is important, drinking all of your water then will likely result in the majority of it passing through your body without making it into your system and even disrupting your digestion. Rather than expecting your body to process everything all at once, carry a water bottle around and take smaller drinks before you feel the effects of dehydration.

To be honest, therein lies the most encouraging approach to hydration: it can be every bit as habit-forming as devotion to coffee, soda or energy drinks. If you can find yourself wholly committed to these potentially detrimental beverages just by consistently drinking them at certain times or with specific meals, you can absolutely create the same associations with healthy, natural water. Pavlovian conditioning is not a one-way street. Spend as little as a few weeks steadily injecting some mindful consideration for when and how you attend to proper hydration, and you’ll likely notice marked improvement in your overall wellness.