Can you remember meal times with your parents when they urged you to 'slow down and chew your food properly' ?
If you’re like most, chewing is a habit or unconscious reflex. As soon as a piece of food enters your mouth, you chew “just enough” to grind the food into manageable bits before swallowing it, often far too quickly (especially if one is in a hurry which is usually the case).
Is there anything wrong with that?
Yes, because it appears that the chewing process, or mastication, can have a significant impact on your health. Let’s look at some of the key benefits of chewing your food properly…
6 Benefits of Chewing Food Properly
1. Easier Digestion
Contrary to what most people think, digestion does not start in the stomach. It starts in the mouth before food even reaches the stomach.
Chewing breaks your food down from large into small particles which are more easily digested. It is easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients from the food particles as they pass through.
Research presented at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting (ref. 1) showed, that when participants chewed almonds longer, the smaller particles were better and more quickly absorbed by the body.
But in those who chewed less, the larger particles were passed through the body, while also providing opportunistic bacteria and fungi with a source of fuel during their transit. Purdue University professor Dr. Richard Mattes explained: “Particle size [affects the] bio-accessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body.”
2. Less Excess Bacteria in Your Intestines
When large particles of improperly chewed food enter your stomach and intestines, it may remain undigested. This undigested food causes an increase in bacteria in the intestines. In a healthy digestive tract, bacteria offer vital help with basic physiological processes—from digestion to growth to immunisation (ref. 2).
But when the digestive system is constantly overloaded with undigested food, excess bacteria are created, and undigested food may start to putrefy. Worse, these molecules may "leak" out of the intestines into the blood stream leading to a disorder known as ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome (ref. 3). This can trigger an autoimmune reaction, which may develop into gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal bloating, excessive gas and cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, rashes and more.
3. More Exposure to Digestive Enzymes and Saliva
Saliva contains digestive enzymes. The longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to break down your food, making digestion easier on your stomach and small intestine. One particularly important enzyme is lingual lipase which together with saliva, helps to break down fats and fatty acids (ref. 4). This activity is essential for fat absorption by the small intestine, as long chain fatty acids (triglycerides) cannot be absorbed. Saliva also helps to lubricate your food so it’s easier on your oesophagus.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
The longer you chew, the more time it will take you to finish a meal. Research shows that eating slowly may help you to feel fuller quicker, eat less and, ultimately, to avoid weight gain (ref. 5). For example, chewing your food twice as long as you normally would will instantly help you control your portion sizes, which naturally decreases calorie consumption.
5. Stronger Teeth
The bones holding your teeth get a ‘workout’ when you chew, helping to keep them strong. The saliva produced while chewing is also beneficial, helping to clear food particles from your mouth and wash away bacteria so there may be less plaque build-up and tooth decay.
6. Enjoying Your Food
If you rush through your meal with little chewing, you’re also not really tasting or enjoying the food. When you properly chew your food, it forces you to slow down, savour each morsel and really enjoy all the flavours your food has to offer.
Given all these benefits, how does one actually chew food properly? After all we weren’t taught it in school were we?
Tips on How to Chew Your Food Properly
Clearly, how you chew is unique to you, and it is probably deeply ingrained by this point in your life. So you may need to make a conscious effort to change the way you chew.
There are many theories about how frequently you should ideally chew each piece of food. According to Horace Fletcher, a late-1800s health-food guru (also known as “The Great Masticator”) you should chew each bite 100 times before swallowing! As a result of this, he attributed his good health, strength and endurance (ref. 6)
You needn’t be that extreme! The amount of chewing obviously depends on the food type and texture, but here are some tips to help you chew in a way that will support your health.
- Eat in a relaxed environment
- Take smaller bites of food
- Chew slowly and steadily until your mouthful of food is liquefied or has lost all of its texture
- Finish chewing and swallowing completely before taking another bite of food
- Drink fluids after swallowing.
In summary, the chewing process is the first step to proper digestion. Chewing too quickly may cause large particles of food to enter your stomach and intestines, potentially leading to digestive problems. Whereas chewing food thoroughly may allow you to absorb more nutrients from the food, help you maintain a healthy weight, allow for easier digestion, and lead to fewer digestive issues like gas and bloating.
Meal time should be a time to relax and enjoy the pleasure of good food. Taking the time to chew each bite thoroughly, is not only good for the body, but can help feed the soul!
Or, in the words of the ‘Great Masticator’:
“Chew, masticate, munch, bite, taste everything you take into your mouth.
Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.”
--Horace Fletcher (1849-1919)--
- Research presented at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263541.php
- Beneficial role of intestinal bacteria http://www.livescience.com/32761-good-bacteria-boost-immune-system.html
- About Leaky Gut Syndrome http://www.sharecare.com/search?query=Could+Leaky+Gut+Be+What+is+Troubling+You%3F
- The critical role of lingual lipase in helping tobreak down fats and fatty acids http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingual_lipase
- Study showing how eating slowly and chewing frequently helps to increase a feeling of ‘fullness’ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18589027
- The Great Masticator http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9693596