By Dr. Mercola
The last time you had something to eat, did you give any thought to how long you chewed? Most likely not, as chewing is done, for most people, almost as a habit or unconscious reflex. As soon as a piece of food enters your mouth, you chew and swallow, probably far too quickly (especially if you’re in a hurry or eating on the run).
The chewing process, also known as mastication, is actually extremely important, however, and serves as the first step in your digestive process. The way you chew, including how long you chew, can significantly impact your health in ways you likely never knew…
7 Reasons to Chew Your Food Properly
1. Absorb More Nutrients and Energy From Your Food
Chewing breaks your food down from large particles into smaller particles that are more easily digested. This also makes it easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients from the food particles as they pass through.
This also prevents improperly digested food from entering your blood and causing a wide range of adverse effects to your health.
Recent research presented at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago showed, in fact, that when participants chewed almonds longer, the smaller particles were better and more quickly absorbed by the body.
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:1
“Particle size [affects the] bioaccessibility 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. Maintain a Healthy Weight
The longer you chew, the more time it will take you to finish a meal, and research shows that eating slowly can help you to eat less and, ultimately, to avoid weight gain or even lose weight. 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.
It takes time (generally about 20 minutes) for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full, and this may explain why one study found people reported feeling fuller when they ate slowly.2 They also ended up consuming about 10 percent fewer calories when they ate at a slow pace, and presumably chewed slower, as opposed to when they were rushing.
3. Your Food Gets More Exposure to Your Saliva
Saliva contains digestive enzymes, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to start breaking down your food, making digestion easier on your stomach and small intestine. One of these enzymes is lingual lipase, an enzyme that helps break down fats, for example. Saliva also helps to lubricate your food so it’s easier on your esophagus.
4. Easier Digestion
The chewing process predigests your food into small pieces and partially liquefies it, making it easier to digest. Digestion is actually a very demanding task for your body, requiring a great deal of energy, especially if forced to digest improperly chewed food. Chewing properly allows your stomach to work more efficiently and break down your food faster.
5. It’s Good for Your 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 buildup and tooth decay.
6. Less Excess Bacteria Lingering in Your Intestines
When large particles of improperly chewed food enter your stomach, it may remain undigested when it enters your intestines. There, bacteria will begin to break it down, or in other words it will start to putrefy, potentially leading to gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping and other digestive problems.
7. Enjoy and Taste Your Food
If you rush through your meal with hardly any chewing, you’re also not really tasting or enjoying the food. When you take the time to properly chew your food, it forces you to slow down, savor each morsel and really enjoy all the flavors your food has to offer.
How to Chew Your Food Properly
The way you chew is unique to you and is probably deeply ingrained by this point in your life. In other words, you’ll likely need to make a conscious effort to change the way you chew, but the good news is you can start with your next meal. There are many theories about how many times you should, ideally, chew each piece of food. The Times of India recently highlighted Horace Fletcher, a late-1800s health-food guru (also known as “The Great Masticator”) who was famous for chewing each bite 100 times before swallowing (and to this he attributed his good health, strength and endurance).3
You needn’t be this strict, however, as the amount of chewing a food requires will obviously vary depending on its type and texture. Here’s a guide to ensure that you’re chewing in a way that will support your health. Generally speaking, you’ll want to eat in a relaxed, non-distracted environment; eating on the run or while you’re working or watching TV is not conducive to proper chewing.
- Take smaller bites of food to begin with (it’s easier to chew smaller morsels)
- Chew slowly and steadily
- Chew until your mouthful of food is liquefied or lost all of its texture
- Finish chewing and swallowing completely before taking another bite of food
- Wait to drink fluids until you’ve swallowed
The Dangers of Chewing for No Reason…
While chewing is essential when you eat, chewing without eating food can be counterproductive. When you chew gum, for instance, you send your body physical signals that food is about to enter your body. The enzymes and acids that are activated when you chew gum are therefore released, but without the food they’re intended to digest.
This can cause bloating, an overproduction of stomach acid, and can compromise your ability to produce sufficient digestive secretions when you actually do eat food.
Besides this, chewing gum can cause jaw muscle imbalances (if you chew on one side more than the other) and even TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorder in your jaw, which can be a painful chronic condition. I generally recommend avoiding gum chewing, but if you do chew gum, do so only occasionally or right before a meal when the acid and enzyme stimulation may actually be beneficial.