Do you recall your mother at the dinner table telling you to chew your food? I do. My mother would point her finger at my older brother who would eat forkfuls of food faster than Speedy Gonzalez. My mother never told us why it was important to chew our food. Maybe she just repeated what her mother would tell her growing up. Maybe she knew that the secret to health and happiness was to savor and enjoy food with family.
Now that I know the science of why chewing is such an important part of healthy digestion, I just HAVE to tell you. There’s an interesting web of connection that goes on between our brain, our mouths, and our digestive system…
Chewing has three main functions:
It reduces the particle size of food.
To mix food thoroughly with saliva to form a “bolus”. The soft ball of food that goes down the esophagus and through the digestive system.
To increase the surface area of the food to allow more digestive enzymes to tackle it.
Before I get into chewing, let me help you visualize it. Scenario: You go to your mothers house and she’s making your favorite home baked lasagna. Signals from your gut via the nervous system are sent to your brain and you start to salivate. That saliva carries enzymes that help break down food through certain stations of the digestive tract.
Let me back up even further. Our foods are made up of macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each macronutrient is broken down at a specific station (organ) in the digestive system and each macronutrient has specific enzymes that help break it down at that station. For example, carbohydrates are broken down in the mouth by the enzyme amylase, proteins are broken down in the stomach with the enzyme protease, and fats are broken down in the small intestine with the enzyme lipase.
Saliva also activates the secretion of hydrochloric acid, HCL or stomach acid in the stomach along with pancreatic secretions. All of these gastric secretions and enzymes help to break down your food. Remember, all this is happening before that lasagna has even reached your mouth.
Back to the scenario... The chewing that is taking place in your mouth isbreaking up the lasagna into smaller and smaller pieces by your teeth and the saliva (that you started secreting when you first showed up to your moms house). Chewing secretes even more saliva, producing tons of enzymes that furthermore help break down food.
What else can chewing help with?
Chewing can help to eliminate gas, bloat, and abdominal pain. The more chewing you do, the more saliva and enzymes there are to help your system absorb nutrients that go to your cells for energy. For those who have trouble mechanically breaking down food, it is important to eat foods that are already broken down for you, like soups and smoothies, or steamed and mashed foods.
Chewing enables you to mindfully connect with your food by appreciating its flavors, textures and allowing you to enjoy it.
Chewing is a free and simple way to boost health and the efficiency of the digestive system. By easing digestive stress, your body will have more overall energy.
Chewing allows your body to know when it is full and happy. It takes twenty to thirty minutes for your brain to recognize that food has entered your belly. Many people eat within fifteen to twenty minutes, which allows for unhealthy over-eating.
Chewing increases the secretion of more enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCL, stomach acid) to break down food and deliver nutrients to cells.
Think about it this way, if you chewed poorly and swallowed huge chunks of food it would take a lot longer for your stomach to try to break it down and absorb nutrients. It would also take longer for your body to eliminate it as waste and it would probably tackle some problems trying to do that. Your digestion would expend so much energy on trying to go through this process, (which is already a stressful process that you go through everyday) that it would take away from your overall energy, causing fatigue, midday slumps, and digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut, or candida.
There you have it, the importance of conscious chewing and its many beneficial actions that it has on the digestive system.