Turns out that the most important part of healthy digestion may actually be the time that food spends in the mouth… so chew, munch, crunch, and crunch again. The simple act of chewing food completely is often overlooked because it tacks on a few extra minutes to each meal, but it may be time to slow down and relearn the art of chewing.

Chewing 101 – The Takeaway

Photo by Marissa Angell

Think saliva’s only use is to slip-n-slide that food down the esophogus? Think again. Saliva is not a one trick pony. In fact, it provides a stampede of enzymes, such as amylase, which starts the digestive process. Yep, digestion doesn’t begin in the stomach, it actually starts in the mouth when the enzymes break down fats and starchesPhysical and chemical transformations of cereal food during oral digestion in human subjects. Hoebler C., Karinthi A., Devaux MF., et al. INRA, Laboratory of Applied Technology and Nutrition, Nantes, France. British Journal of Nutrition 1998 Nov;80(5):429-36.. The more chewing, the longer saliva has to cover the food and the more breakdown that occurs.

If food is not completely chewed, the body won’t receive all the benefits the nutrients can deliverParticle size reduction leading to cell wall rupture is more important for the β-carotene bioaccessibility of raw compared to thermally processed carrots. Lemmens L., Van Buggenhout S., Van Loey AM., et. al. Laboratory of Food Technology and Leuven Food Science and Nutrition Research Centre, Department of Microbial and Molecular Systems, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2010 Dec 22;58(24):12769-76.. If I made the effort to eat healthy, shouldn’t I receive all the rewards? The best way to be #winning is to chew, chew, chew, and chew some more.

Feeling bloated? Chew more. Feeling sluggish? Chew more. Feeling gassy? Chew more. If food isn’t properly chewed, large food particles pass through the colon where they become little floating islands that attract bacteria. These can create the, umm, smell and noise on the other end of that mealPassage of starch into the colon of humans: quantitation and implications. McBurney, MI. Department of Foods and Nutrition, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Canadian Journal of Physiology Pharmacology 1991 Jan;69(1):130-6..

And don’t forget the pleasure principle. Chew more, taste more, enjoy more. Chomping each bite thoroughly can also lead to slower eating habits, allowing the brain time to register fullness. This can lead to eating less which helps to prevent the stuffed post-meal food baby.

There is no right or wrong number of nibbles. One suggestion is to chew each bite at least 20 times, but all food is not created equal, so the texture of each bite as it enters the mouth is the best guide determine bites needed. For example, if that broccoli still feels like broccoli in your mouth, chew more– as many times as necessary to pulverize the texture.

The Tip

Savor don’t scarf. More munching means extra nutrients, eating less, and healthier digestion.