“It is better to educate than medicate” – Bernard Jenson

Health is something that most of us are actively trying to maintain and achieve. We do this by exercising, keeping our minds active, lowering our stress levels and watching what you eat. What if I told you good nutrition isn’t just about what you eat but also about how you eat and digest it? You can have a fantastic diet but if you aren’t digesting your foods properly you won’t be getting all of the benefits of your healthy lifestyle. Digestion is a complicated process and in this series I will take you through different parts of the digestive processes and give you some tips on how to improve your digestion.  In this post I will be discussing the start of digestion and one of the most important and forgot about parts, chewing!

“Drink your food, chew your drink” Mahatma Gandhi

Digestion starts the minute you put food into your mouth. The act of chewing helps to break apart the carbohydrates, proteins and fats in your food, allowing your body to process them more efficiently. Dr. Vasant Lad and Ayurvedic practitioner recommends chewing your food 32 times before you swallow.1 (Ayurveda is an ancient integrative medicine that has been around for thousands of years). That is a lot of chewing and can take a while to get through a meal, but the lesson is important – you should be chewing enough so that your food is in a paste before you swallow it. This will take a lot of the stress off of your stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) tract (they don’t have teeth). It will also increase your absorption of vitamins and minerals from your foods.  Research has shown that chewing and chewing ability increases your nutritional profile and your quality of life!2

Being the middle of three boys, this was not a lesson I grew up learning or caring about. My brothers and I would fight for seconds and it was whoever ate their food the fastest that had the first crack at another serving. With this, I became what I like to call a speed eater and, in our culture of speed and efficiency, I would pride myself on how fast I could eat. Yet, I would wonder why I constantly felt sluggish after meals and suffered from gas and bloating. Earlier this year I started making a conscious effort to be mindful of my eating and really chewing my food. At first my jaw would hurt because I wasn’t used to it and I would get bored of all the chewing. After doing it for a bit I started to really enjoy chewing my food more, appreciating the flavours and texture of the food. My digestion has improved; I no longer see undigested food in my stool and have more overall energy.

Why else is chewing important? In your mouth you secrete enzymes (amylase & lipase) that help start the break down of your foods. Salivary amylase begins the process of breaking down starches; this is why some carbs can begin to taste sweet in your mouth as these enzymes break it down to a simpler form. Lipase is a fat digesting enzyme; it’s activated when it reaches the stomach, starting the process of fat digestion. By chewing your food fully, you allow this process to take place making it easier for your body to breakdown food and absorb the nutrients from it.3

Not only should you be chewing your food but also chewing your drinks (especially smoothies!). Chewing also lets our stomach and the rest of our digestive system prepare for the coming food in liquid form. Healthy smoothies are great but you want to make sure you get all the goodness out of them.

Another fun fact about chewing is that it stimulates your parotid glands (in your jaw) to release hormones that stimulates the thymus to produce T cells, and they play a central role in your immune system!4

Signs you may not be chewing enough

  • Sluggish after meals
  • Gas and bloating
  • Seeing undigested food in your stool
  • Distracted while eating
  • Eating on the run
  • Choking on your food

Tips to chew more

  • Ditch the distractions (TV, the computer, etc.), pay attention and be mindful of your eating
  • Count your chews to start (aim for 32), this will keep you honest and remind you to chew your food fully
  • Don’t eat on the run, this subconsciously will make you eat faster

Chewing is extremely important and often overlooked; yet, it is essential to making sure we get all the benefits from our food whether you are eating healthy or unhealthy. It will help your body get the most amounts of nutrients out of the food, help take the load off the rest of your digestive organs and improve your quality of life!

By Josh Graham

References:

  1. Lad, Vassant, Ayurveda: The Science of Self-healing. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 1984
  2. IC Lee, et al. “Chewing ability, nutritional status and quality of life,” Journal of Oral Rehabilitation. 42, no 2 (November 2013): 79-86
  3. Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition. New York: Random House, Inc., 2006
  4. Lipski, Elizabeth. Digestive Wellness: Strengthening the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012.
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