The key to starting your digestion off on the right note isn’t the latest and greatest super food or supplement. It is chewing, also known as mastication, and it’s the first and maybe the most important step in the digestive process. The way you chew and how long your chew, can significantly impact your digestion and your health in general.
Digestion is a very demanding task for the body and actually requires a great deal of energy. Saliva contains digestive enzymes, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to break down your food, making digestion easier on your stomach and small intestine, particularly for fats and carbohydrates. Additionally, when you chew well your brain has more time to signal to the rest of the body to begin the process of digestion, providing the proper signaling for all of the different organs and hormones involved.
When food is in smaller pieces, it is easier for your intestines to absorb nutrients from passing food and it also allows your body to more efficiently convert those nutrients to energy. The stomach may not be able to break down large particles of improperly chewed food. In the small intestine, improperly digested food can ferment, putrefy or rancidify. The bacteria will eventually begin to break down these particles which can lead to gas and bloating and other digestive problems.
Lastly, if you rush through your meal without chewing appropriately, you are not able to enjoy or even taste the food you are eating. Taking the time to properly chew your food, forces you to slow down and really enjoy all the flavors on your plate. Eating should be a relaxing, stress free, enjoyable time of the day.
Here are some guidelines to help ensure that you are chewing in a way that will support your digestion and overall health. Generally speaking, you will want to eat in a relaxed environment with minimal distractions. Eating in the car, while working or watching television is not conducive to proper chewing.
· Take smaller bites of food
· Chew slowly and carefully
· Chew until your mouthful of food is liquefied or lost all of its texture
· Swallow one bite completely before taking another bite
· Drink fluids after swallowing, and take small sips only
Side note on gum chewing: Chewing gum disrupts the signaling of the entire digestive process and confuses the brain. When you chew gum, your brain activates enzyme and acid production and signals to the mouth and the stomach that food is about to enter your body. Given that there is no actual food following up the signaling, bloating can occur, an overproduction of stomach acid, and your ability to produce sufficient digestive secretions when you are actually eating food may be compromised.