Chew Your Way to Health
It’s not just what you eat, it’s how you eat.
Despite the number of times over the years that we have heard we should slow down and chew our food, how many of us have ever followed that advice? This highly important nutrition tip is probably one of the most overlooked and relates to one of the hardest habits to change.
In this culture of multi-tasking, we tend to eat on the run. The term “fast food” doesn’t just apply to the burger, pizza, and taco chains; it tends to describe the way we eat our food, regardless of its source.
There is a well-known quote from Mahatma Gandhi which says, “Chew your drink, and drink your food.” He was emphasizing the scientifically proven benefits of sufficient chewing – and there are many.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Efficient chewing breaks the food molecules into smaller particles, increasing their surface area and allowing for more thorough breakdown by digestive enzymes. The longer the food is in the mouth, the greater the effects of the enzymes in saliva. For example, amylase helps break down carbohydrates, and lipase aids in metabolizing fats before they reach the stomach. Better digestion translates into better absorption of the vitamins and nutrients that the foods you are eating provide.
With improper chewing, the nutrients in food stay locked in fragments, which can cause digestive distress in the form of gas, bloating, constipation, and intestinal bacterial overgrowth. A side effect can be sluggishness and loss of energy. Many of the nutrients in the foods you are eating are lost.
Chewing more slowly is also helpful in weight loss. It allows more time for your brain to receive signals that you are full; you feel more satisfied with less. Chewing exercises the facial muscles, improving blood flow to the brain. This helps boost brain activity and produces more endorphins, the brain chemicals that improve mood. Another benefit is in dental health – when food residue combines with tooth enamel in the mouth, the effects are acidic, making teeth prone to tooth decay. Saliva has a neutralizing effect, so you are less likely to get cavities.
So how much chewing is necessary to derive all the benefits? There is no magic number. Thirty to fifty chews per bite is often recommended, although there are some who practice 100. Instead of focusing on a specific number, simply chew your food completely until it is small enough and dissolved enough to be swallowed easily. If you can tell what type of food you are eating from the texture in your mouth (not the taste), you have not chewed it enough.
Here are a few tips to help you ease into the process:
- Allow enough time to eat – at least 20-30 minutes, plus additional time for preparation.
- Keep the atmosphere relaxed; avoid distractions such as TV, the computer, and driving.
- Cut your food into smaller pieces; the smaller the bites, the better you will chew.
- Keep chewing until the texture is gone and food is liquid.
- Put your fork down after each bite.
- Drink liquids only when your mouth is empty.
Mindful eating forces you to slow down and be in the moment. When there is more focus and concentration on the act of eating, it becomes a pleasurable experience and food tastes even better. Start chewing your food and experience the benefits to your health and your life!
Sue Smith is a Certified Health Counselor and owner of Prime Health Style in Westport. She received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and is a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sue creates completely personalized, sustainable programs for her clients to help them achieve their wellness goals and lead happier and healthier lives. She leads workshops on nutrition and offers health counseling to individuals, families, and groups.
Photo by Cheryl Pollack