Hundred-Year-Old Advice About Drinking Water

I always enjoy reading hundred-year-old advice. Sometimes I agree with it; other times I just smile. Here is what a century-old home economics textbook says about drinking water:


That drinking water at meals is harmful is another tradition to which some people still cling. There may be certain pathological conditions that would make this practice harmful. But people in normal health suffer no ill effects from a reasonable amount of water taken with meals. A safe rule at meals is to drink when you are thirsty, and with one limitation not to drink when masticating.

The digestion of starch foods should begin in the mouth and this can take place only when the food is thoroughly mixed with the saliva. If food is mixed with water the salivary glands are not sufficiently stimulated to action, and the food passes from the mouth without enough of the digestive juice.

One disadvantage of drinking water at meals is that people who do so often think they have a sufficient amount and do not drink between meals. Copious water-drinking is essential for proper elimination. It is a safe rule to take at least six glasses a day, including that taken at meals, and ten glasses are not too much.

How to Cook and Why by Elizabeth Condit and Jessie Long (1914)

41 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Advice About Drinking Water

  1. What an appropriate post for today, as the whole of the Texas coast goes nuts stocking up on water prior to tropical storm/hurricane Harvey’s landfall. It’s too soon to know what the storm is going to do, but it’s not too soon for another reminder that water’s important for health. It is funny to read that some people thought drinking water with meals wasn’t a good thing — I never had heard that before.

  2. I hadn’t heard this before. I’m not sure why but I don’t usually drink water until after a meal. So, when I have company, I have to remind myself to put water out for them while they’re eating. If I don’t someone usually ends up asking me for a glass of water. πŸ™‚

    1. I agree with you, and not sure if it’s because I heard it wasn’t good for you (this post’s advice certainly had legs!) or more likely because I just didn’t like the combo. To this day I only set out water for dinner when I have company over. I never drank soda growing up, so it wasn’t that I had that with meals, either. Nowadays, a glass of wine sometimes!

        1. πŸ™‚ We never drank soda growing up, either, but our mom insisted we have a glass of milk with meals. When I grew up I learned I had developed an allergy to milk so now water is all I drink. Maybe a glass of wine with company!

          1. Barbara, I drank a LOT of milk too, but now due to reasons (largely Big-Agri), have become mostly dairy-free. (Thanks for going over to my blog πŸ™‚ ) Full disclosure: I also drank a lot of Hawaiian Punch!

            1. Now that you mention it, I had a craving for Hawaiian Punch with my first pregnancy. But it ended when my son was born. And we did drink Kool-Aid, too, but only outside and on summer vacation. πŸ™‚

          2. We also always had a glass of milk with each meal when I was a child – though, since I grew up on a dairy farm, at the time I never really about whether other families drank as much milk as we did.

            1. Seems like when I was a kid, all kids drank a glass of milk with every meal. The exception in our house was the summer when, when it was really hot, we could have ice tea. My parents bought instant ice tea. Otherwise it was milk three times a day for meals. It seemed to be something that was done universally.

              I don’t remember my parents drinking much milk, however. My father would drink ice tea or instant (decaf) coffee with dinner and my mother was always partial to tea. That may be why I sort of associated drinking milk (and I’ll confess I don’t like milk much as a beverage) with being a kid, which is probably completely unfair.

              My father would occasionally buy buttermilk which was always sort of a treat, and which he liked. This reminds me that I just bought some and haven’t opened it yet. . . . I better do that.

            2. My mother would drink milk – though my dad never did. We used to tease him about being a dairy farmer who didn’t like the milk.

    1. I agree! It intrigues me how recommendations like this one are built on a strong rationale–yet the logic behind the rationale has changed across the years.

  3. Advice that remains pretty much spot on today.

    My suspicion is that the “drinking water at meals is harmful” belief was a hold over from Europe where, even at that time, water often was dangerous. Not because water itself is dangerous, but polluted water is dangerous. The lousy condition of European water, for eons, gave rise to the beer drinking cultures of northern Europe and the wine drinking cultures of southern Europe, with prodigious quantities of both being consumed in that era. It wasn’t really until after World War Two that European water started to really be cleaned up.

    1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were right about that, Pat_H. We are very lucky to live in a time when many more people have access to clean, safe drinking water than previous generations did. Hopefully this will become something that everyone has within our lifetimes.

    2. Now that you mention it, that makes sense. There probably were lots of issues with polluted water back then that had health implications.

      1. I know that the town I live, which was founded in the 1890s, used to have outbreaks of typhus prior to World War One that stemmed from well water used in town. And it wasn’t a big town. Big cities really ran that risk in the poorer sections.

        Medieval European texts used to warn of “creeping things” and the like making water dangerous. The attention that goes into making beer and wine, probably combined with the effect of alcohol (which is of course a poison) made drinking it much safer. During the Middle Ages some enormous amount of alcohol was consumed by many people on a daily basis as a primary drinking liquid. Dangerous water, no pasteurization for milk, etc., made it the safest bet. Even as late as the middle 20th Century the amount of calories contributed to European diets by alcohol was pretty high.

        American consumption, for that matter, wasn’t inappreciable for much of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

    1. I like how you put that. I often think about it from the opposite perspective (something old in the new); but you’re absolutely right, there is also new in the old.

  4. Cool article. I’d not heard the lore about drinking and eating, but it’s fun to learn of it. Until recent years, I’d never thought much about how much water to drink in a day. It’s enjoyable to read that a hundred years ago they knew sufficient daily intake of water was real important. Great find. Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

  5. I’m smiling.πŸ˜„ I chuckled over the chewing while drinking water, I’ve done that when the chicken breast were to dry to swallow as a child.

    1. When I was a child, the kids had 2 glasses at each meal – one filled with milk and the other with water. I don’t remember that there were any “rules” about when we drank them–as long as the milk was gone by the end of the meal.

    1. He probably had opinions similar to the author of the hundred-year-old book about possible problems with drinking water (and other liquids) with a meal.

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