Did you know that you should chew your food a minimum 15 times before swallowing. In some cases upwards of 30-40 times! When it comes to chewing your food a good rule of thumb is to chew till food has turned to liquid and well-mixed with saliva; a piece of hard vegetable will take longer to be chewed properly compared to a piece of soft fruit.
There are 4 key benefits to chewing food properly that increases overall health and wellbeing. Let’s go through them:
1. Enables the right amount of food eaten
Research has shown that chewing food slowly and thoroughly can help a person feel full faster. In a recent study, women who ate fast consumed more calories, and felt less full than those who ate slower and chewed their food correctly. Similarly, in a study by Iowa State University, researchers found that subjects that chewed their food more reported lowered appetite. When your food is turned to liquid before entering the stomach, your body is able to digest your food faster and more efficiently, allowing faster nutrient absorption and a wonderful sense of fullness because your body is satisfied.
2. Throat care
When we eat, food is chewed to an appropriate particle size, mixed with saliva and rolled into a smooth shape by the tongue, before we swallow. This ball of food is formally called the bolus. If food isn’t chewed to a proper particle size, or still has sharp and hard edges (imagine chewing potato chips fast!), the bolus may harm the throat when swallowing, or the bolus might come apart. As chewing, swallowing and breathing in humans are intricately linked, eating fast may lead to choking or the food harming the throat grazing it on it’s way down. This is when infection can occur within the throat.
3. To promote optimum digestion
Digestion starts in the mouth, as saliva contains enzymes to break down starch and fats. By chewing your food properly, you allow the digestive process to start even before your food reaches the stomach. After swallowing, food particles reach the stomach to be broken down and digested by the acidic gastric juices. Chemistry tells us that the larger the surface area to volume ratio a particle is, the quicker it is eroded and in this case, digested. Conversely, large particles make be difficult to break down, which slows down your digestion, and can slow down your metabolism over time.
A study was conducted on how the particle size of chewed almonds affected the bioavailability of the nutrients in it. Not surprisingly, the more an almond was chewed, the smaller the particles, the more nutrients were extracted from it. By not chewing enough, larger particles pass through the digestive system undigested causing problems such as bloating, gas, gastric cramps and diarrhea.
Mindful eating relates to savoring one's food through appreciating the way it looks, the aroma, texture and taste. By chewing slowly in appreciating these aspects of your food, you cultivate a mindfulness of what is being eaten, rather than eating mindlessly, which often lead to overeating, especially when done in front of a TV or on-the-go. Mindful eating is not only about slowing down so that you consume less; mindful eating can potentially decrease stress level and ensure better digesting. Science shows that when the body is under stress, digestion is impacted as the body may regard it as secondary to preparing for fight or flight reflexes. Mindful eating focuses attention on the meal, relaxing the mind and thereby ensuring the body digests food properly.
Out of all the health benefits in eating slowly and chewing our food properly, the most important of all is the ability to connect with our loved ones while we eat. It allows space for having a mindfulness about our interactions, not just with our food, but with our friends and family too. Try to make each meal a potential social event if possible; catch up with your family over breakfast or teach your kids the importance of slowing down to eat and how it makes them feel, have lunch outside the office with your colleagues, reconnect with old friends through dinner. Start to eat slowly and see how it impacts those around you.