Chances are you never give the way you chew your food a second thought, even if you’re otherwise savvy about nutrition. In fact, many people fall into the habit of barely chewing at all and swallowing immediately. However, failing to properly chew one’s food can lead to serious health issues down the road.
What kind of health issues are we talking about here?
Constipation, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, potential nutritional deficiencies, IBS, obesity…and it doesn’t stop there. Food that has not been chewed enough may cause bacterial overgrowth in the colon. it may also cause gut dysbiosis, which in turn can lead to obesity, depression, fatigue, and IBS, even “leaky gut syndrome,” which has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis!
Is the issue how I chew, or how much I chew?
The way you chew your food and the number of times you chew a mouthful before swallowing both matter. If you are eating soft food, like banana or an orange, you may only need to chew ten times before swallowing. If you are eating grilled chicken or whole kernel rye bread, you may need to chew 30 times or more!
However, proper digestion begins even before you chew! Since it’s easier for you to chew smaller pieces of food, don’t cram everything into your mouth at once. Take small bites; they’re easier to chew. You should chew slowly, steadily, and only swallow when you are no longer aware of larger particles of food because you’ve reduced them to a moist, softball of partially digested food.
Yes, digestion, both mechanical and chemical, begins in the mouth. Chewing produces saliva, which contains several digestive enzymes. Chewing also breaks down larger pieces of food, increasing the surface area available for chemical reactions — and that is the essence of digestion — to occur.
Increasing surface area matters later, too: more surface area equates with greater, and more rapid, absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. You’ll be able to derive more significant nutritional benefit from everything you eat!
But if I have more usable calories, won’t I gain weight by chewing slower?
The effect of chewing more deliberately is exactly the opposite! You will end up eating less because about 20 minutes of chewing and swallowing passes before your brain receives the signal that it has eaten enough. If you eat less food in those 20 minutes, you don’t gain weight!
An hour after your meal, during which you may have eaten 100 calories less than normal, you will feel less hunger. Since one of the hardest things successful dieters must conquer to win the “battle of the bulge" is portion control. Why not chew more slowly and completely, and let your body’s “wisdom” take care of it for you?
Are there any other benefits?
Of course! You’ll probably drink more water, which is an excellent solvent for the chemical reactions that subsequently occur in your alimentary canal. You’ll consequently remain better hydrated, and that alone will keep you feeling satiated longer! If you don’t eat as much, you’ll lose unnecessary weight, burn fat, and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. So we offer a word to the wise (who are probably already chewing their food more!): If you want to reach your goals faster, slow down!