We know it’s polite to chew our food and not to talk with our mouth full, but there’s more behind it than just good manners.
Chewing is perhaps the simplest tool you can use to get the most nutrition out of what you eat. Whether eating on the run or sitting down to a formal dinner, you can strengthen your digestion right from the start just by taking the time to really chew your food.
The Benefits of Chewing
Chewing is an often overlooked part of the digestive process, which is unfortunate because it has very powerful benefits. The extra saliva that it produces helps reduce plaque buildup and tooth decay and it strengthens the bones that hold the teeth. Since chewing breaks food down into smaller particles, it reduces the chance of infections, as larger bits of unchewed food are more vulnerable to opportunistic bacteria and fungi proliferation in the digestive tract. Thorough chewing also exposes more surface area to the digestive enzymes found in saliva .
The Importance of Predigestion
The complete digestion process requires a lot of energy and what you eat is important, but if you don’t digest your food, you don’t get the necessary nutrients. One easy thing you can do is to take advantage of how the salivary glands team up with the chewing process to help pre-digest your food.
Salivary glands secrete mucus to lubricate the food and make it easier to chew. Chewing then mixes the food with the saliva so enzymes can start to digest it. Saliva contains three important enzymes: amylase, protease and lipase. Amylase is secreted from the parotid glands and breaks down carbohydrates. Protease is secreted from the submandibular glands and begins protein digestion. Lipase is secreted from the sublingual (under the tongue) glands to initiate fat digestion. These digestive enzymes, as well as the the enzymes in the food itself, help to pre- digest your meal when you chew each bite well. They also continue to be key even after swallowing when food moves toward the upper part of the stomach because acid secretion is minimal for at least 30 to 45 minutes. Taking the time to pre-digest what you eat makes digestion more energy efficient by dramatically increasing nutrient uptake and reducing the workload on the stomach and small intestine.
Reduce Symptoms of Poor Digestion
The more digestion that takes place in the mouth and in the upper stomach, the less work the body has to do later. While proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are all targeted by the enzymes, the most complicated foods for the body to digest are carbs.
Carbs are plant-based foods – grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, starches, herbs, spices, etc. They are digested by amylase in the saliva but are covered with a thin coating of cellulose, which human enzymes can’t penetrate. Cooking and fermenting help to break down cellulose, but the mechanical action of mastication breaks the cellulose down, making it more manageable for the digestive process. If the cellulose isn’t broken down enough, it’s more likely to cause gas and bloating.
It’s critical that people with chronic illness or digestive issues, especially those on a plant based diet, chew their food until it’s liquified. This takes stress off the digestive organs and can do wonders to help repair the digestive tract.
Finally, try to slow down, relax and enjoy your food! Eating in a hurry or under stress especially hijacks the digestive process. This could result in bloating, inflammation, indigestion, reflux and other digestive issues.
We hope the next time you eat, you’ll now be more mindful about your chewing. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who naturally formed the habit of savoring each bite, but if you’re anything like us, it’s a learned trait. When growing up, my mother called me her human garbage disposal because I ate volumes of food and all the leftovers, but I always still felt hungry after eating. When I was very ill, I learned about food as medicine and the importance of chewing. It initially took a conscious effort, but suddenly I felt full and complete after eating! In the summer of 2009 when Allison and Kelly came to stay with me, I emphasized the importance of chewing their food. It’s something that we have to be mindful of and we now all personally attest to its extraordinary benefits when it comes to improving digestion.
1 Loomis, Howard F. Enzymes – The Key to Health, 2005, American Printing Company