Think back to your last meal for a second. How long did it take you to eat? Did you chew like crazy, or gulp down your food as fast as you can? And how did you feel afterwards - satisfied, or bloated/uncomfortable?
In today’s go-go-go world, everything’s happening so fast, but eating is one thing we really, really need to slow down. Inhaling is out, and chewing is in – and here’s why it’s so good for your health.
It jump-starts digestion
Known as mastication, chewing is actually the first step of digestion. It triggers the digestive process. It sends a message to your stomach to start making stomach acid, and it preps the pancreas to work with your small intestinal tract. Then, the actual act of chewing makes you secrete saliva, which coats your food in the enzymes your body needs to digest fats and starches. Remember, your stomach doesn’t have teeth, so it’s really important to break down your food as much as you can in your mouth. Your tummy (and time on the toilet) will thank you for it!
It improves digestion
Speaking of digestion, chewing your food properly will also make for much smoother sailing later on. The stomach acid and digestive enzymes we talked about above only coat the surface of food fragments. So, swallowing smaller particles of food makes the digestive process a whole lot easier. Put it this way: if you swallow an almond whole, only its outside will be coated with those excellent enzymes. The result? Your stomach will struggle to break it down, and your intestine won’t be able to absorb all those nutty nutrients. That’s not ideal. The solution? Chew your food until it’s liquefied to make sure your saliva coats everything. As a bonus, doing this also lubricates the oesophagus, helping to prevent heartburn and indigestion. (We know, we know, it sounds gross, but let’s be real - the side effects of bad digestion are even worse!)
It helps with weight management
Chew more to eat less. Yes, really! The longer you chew, the longer it will take you to finish a meal. This is a great thing because it takes your stomach 20 minutes to signal to the brain that you’re full. By slowing down and eating mindfully, you’ll be more in tune with your hunger and satiety cues, and therefore eat less. And when you eat until you’re satisfied (as opposed to stuffed), you’ll find it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Did you know, the pleasure we get from eating decreases as we move through each meal. It’s called the “satiety cascade”. Add that to the list of reasons why it’s best to savour your food and chew, chew, chew!
It boosts growth and repair
The body needs a lot of things to function at an optimum level, and nutrients and proteins are two of them. Take proteins, for example. They are broken down into amino acids, which are the hidden helping hands in charge of growing and repairing the body. They’re also known to boost energy levels, sleep and focus. And guess what? We can’t produce amino acids ourselves – we need to source them from food. If you don’t chew your food, you’ll starve your body of amino acids, mess up your digestion, and potentially end up with a host of health problems. How’s that for motivation?
It reduces bacteria
You thought we were past the yucky stuff, hey? Not quite! When undigested food enters the intestines, your body begins breaking it down the only way it knows how – by putrefying it. That can cause all sorts of super fun digestive issues, like gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and cramping. Nobody wants bacteria lingering in their intestines, and chewing is the easiest way to nix that. Phew!
It strengthens your teeth
As mini bones, your teeth need to be fortified on a daily basis. That’s where proper chewing comes in, it gives your pearly whites a workout, keeping them nice and strong. Plus, saliva washes away food particles and bacteria, leaving you with less plaque build-up.
So, how much should you chew?
Aim to chew 5-10 times for each bite of soft food, and 30 for dense food. Take smaller bites of food, and chew until your food is liquefied or has lost most of its texture. Then, swallow completely before taking another bite. The days of inhaling food are over!
Do you chew your food properly? Or is it something you need to be more conscious about?