Is there a point to chewing our food? Is it important? Yes and yes. There’s a reason we have teeth people.
What happens when you chew?
Let’s talk about what happens when you don’t chew. First, it puts a lot of stress on your digestive system and decreases your energy. This is because your body is overwhelmed with the process of breaking down the large food particles that you didn’t breakdown in your mouth. When you don’t chew, your intestines cannot properly absorb nutrients form the food particles as they pass through. I like how Purdue University Professor of food and nutrition Dr. Richard Mattes explains it (based on a his recent study):
“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.”
Second, it prevents your saliva from doing its job. What do I mean by that? Well, believe it or not saliva isn’t simply there to increase your chances of drooling when you sleep. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that are only released when you chew! No chew = no release of digestive enzymes. One of these enzymes is called pytalin, and it is the enyzme that helps us digest grains and carbohydrates. Another is called lingual lipase, and this enzyme helps break down fats.
Lastly, when we don’t chew, we can forget to appreciate and taste the food we are eating. Chewing forces us to slow down. Many of us live busy, active, on-the-go lifestyles, and scarf down our food without thinking. Often we take down the food so we can rush off to the next thing in our day. There’s hardly any time to eat, and now we have to chew?! But, it shouldn’t be that way, and we should take time to enjoy and taste our food. When we bite and swallow we stop our body from thinking. When we chew there is a connection between the stomach and head, creating a more mindful, slow, and satiating food eating experience.
How many times should you chew?
So there isn’t an exact formula or number of times. It is really about making sure the food is paste-like or pureed. If you can still feel pieces of food, you should chew a little more. It also depends on the food itself. For example, you would chew chicken more than lettuce, and lettuce more than yogurt. If I am counting I usually start with 20, and go from there. Sometimes I need up to 50 chews! It is also not uncommon for one to require up to 60 + chews to properly breakdown the food. Once you start to think more about chewing and slowing down when you eat, you will find the process becomes more natural and intuitive. And you get the added bonus of better digestion, feeling full sooner, and more easily managing your portions.
Let’s recap…Why is chewing important and how can one benefit from the act of chewing?
- You can absorb more nutrients and retain energy levels
- Your saliva can do its job and help you breakdown the food properly so you can digest more easily
- You take longer to eat, which can help some to control their portion sizes, and maintain a healthy weight
- You strengthen your teeth and prevent plaque build up and tooth decay
- You minimize the amount of bacteria lingering in your intestines, which helps prevent gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping, and other digestive problem
Think about chewing at your next meal. Why not reap the benefits? It’s free. The only cost is slowing down and taking/making more time to enjoy your meal…and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.