We're a society where icemakers abound, and restaurants serve iced water with every meal. But before you have your next glass of iced water, I want to tell you a story.
More than 70 years ago, Ted and Dorothy Hustead posted some signs along Highway 16 in their tiny cow town of Wall, South Dakota, The Husteads owned the Wall Drug Store, a struggling mom-and-pop pharmacy and soda fountain. It was the height of the Depression during a hot, dusty and grasshopper-plagued summer, and they were desperate for customers.
In those days before air-conditioned cars, Dorothy came up with the idea to offer free ice water at their store to parched tourists headed for Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone, or to truckers, salesmen and farmers headed into and through town on business. They hand-painted a few signs, planted them along the highway, and it worked. It has expanded into a two-block–long tourist emporium, western art gallery and a restaurant where you can buy a five-cent cup of coffee and, of course, get a free glass of ice water.
The Hustead’s idea saved their business but, more significantly, it started an American dining tradition of drinking cold water with our meals.
The Argument Against Drinking Cold Water
Yet, the wisdom of this is suspect. Ayurvedic doctors say the uniquely American practice of consuming cold drinks with meals is a definite no-no. To explain why, they talk in terms of “agni” (a Sanskrit word meaning “digestive fire,” or the bodily mechanisms and enzymes involved in digestion) and “ama” (another Sanskrit word which refers to toxins that develop as the byproducts of poor digestion and metabolism).
According to Ayurveda experts, cold drinks extinguish agni and promote ama. Sipping hot water, on the other hand, improves digestion and appears to help keep open the countless channels throughout the body where ama (the toxins) can collect.
Physicians familiar with Ayurveda with whom I have spoken over the years have told me that this one simple practice has helped patients with gastritis and indigestion. Some have even said it helped patients lose weight (though I don’t know of any studies that bear this out).
I never drink ice cold drinks with my meals and prefer to sip on hot ginger tea both at meals and throughout the day. Ginger enhances digestion and is a great remedy for nausea. The recipe is simple: Chop up a small piece of ginger root into smaller pieces and drop them into a cup of boiled water, let them steep for 20 minutes and then enjoy. Or you can boil them with the water. Years ago, I used to recommend ginger tea to my hospitalized cardiac patients to help them with digestive or nausea problems.
Switching from drinking cold water to hot water may be a simple—and free—remedy for some basic ills (at least the ancients thought so). I’d like to enroll you in an experiment. Try switching to hot or warm water or ginger tea with meals and let me know if it helps your digestion.