We live in a fast paced technical society where taking the time to eat three meals in a calm, relaxed manner is practically impossible. We eat while we are driving, talking on the phone, rushing out the door, doing homework, working, parenting, or, if we have the chance, staring at computers or TV screens.
Do you experience indigestion, gas, or bloating after eating? Are you lethargic and fatigued at the end of a large meal? While these can be symptoms of digestive disorders or food allergies, before you begin elimination diets, doctor’s visits, and blood tests, I encourage you to ask yourself one very simple question:
Am I chewing my food properly?
The first time I encountered the concept of chewing properly was during a lecture on digestion that I was listening to on my computer while scarfing down an egg salad. When the professor asked whether we remembered if we chewed our last meal well I looked over at the empty bowl horrified. I didn’t even remember when I took my last bite, much less whether I chewed it well.
In the past I associated the whole process of digestion with the stomach and the small intestine. To my surprise, I found out that the process of digestion begins in the mouth.
The action of chewing mechanically breaks down very large aggregates of food molecules into smaller particles. This results in the food having increased surface area an important contributing factor to good digestion. In addition to the obvious benefit of reduced esophageal stress that accompanies swallowing smaller, versus larger, pieces of food, there is another very important benefit to chewing your food well that comes with its ability to be exposed to saliva for a longer period of time.
George Mateljan, The World’s Healthiest Foods
According to Liz Lipsky of Digestive Wellness, there are a few other reasons why longer exposure to saliva is good for digestion and overall health:
- contains enzyme that help split lipase and carbohydrates, giving a head start to digestion
- buffers acids, allowing us to swallow and protect our teeth, oral mucosa, and esophagus
- reabsorbs nitrates from our foods, primarily green leafy vegetables and beets. These nitrates are converted into nitrites by bacteria on our tongues. When this nitrate saliva gets swallowed into acidic gastric juices, it converts into nitric oxide, reducing inflammation through the body.
In fact, the simple act of chewing, says Liz Lipsky, “stimulates the parotid glands, behind the ears in the jaw, to release hormones that stimulate the thymus to produce T-cells, which are the core of the protective immune system.” Page 13
While there are some few people out there that can chew their food poorly and not experience any of these side effects, most of us have sensitive digestive tracts due to the environmental toxins and stress we are exposed to on a daily basis. Thus improper chewing may lead to some of these digestive disorders:
- Acid Reflux
- Poor nutrient absorption
- Fermentation dysbiosis
- Leaky Gut
- Depressed Immune System
- Food allergies
In order to avoid some of these conditions, focus on the task of chewing well. Our food needs to be broken down to the consistency of split pea soup in our digestive tract; the longer you chew the shorter and smoother the digestive process. Ease the burden of digestion by actively participating and aiding your body.
A good rule of thumb is as follows: if you can tell what kind of food you are eating from the texture of the food in your mouth (not the taste), then you haven’t chewed it enough. For example, if you are chewing broccoli and you run your tongue over the stalk and can tell that it is still a stalk or over the floret and you can that it is still a floret, don’t swallow. You need to keep chewing until you can’t tell the stalk from the floret.
George Mateljan, The Healthiest Foods
You can also try an experiment my husband and I did for a day. We chewed every bite twenty times in order to readjust our eating habits. My jaw hurt for a week! My jaw muscles were not used to being worked so much! We also noticed we became fuller a lot faster. We gave our brains enough time to register that we were eating and therefore send a signal that we were full when we had enough. Usually that happens about fifteen to twenty minutes into the meal.
We discovered that the secret is in the first bite. If you begin your meal rushed and swallow your food half chewed the rest of it will continue in the same manner. You will eat a lot more than you should because the brain does not have time to register how full you are. That is why start you meal slowly. Here are some tips to help you pay attention to the chewing process while you eat.
- turn off the TV or computer
- avoid stressful conversation
- light some candles and play some relaxing music
- focus on your meal’s delicious medley of flavors
- reflect on the nutritional content of your food and visualize the nutrients replenishing different parts of your body
Collaborate with your body and actively contribute to your health. Your body will reward you!