How many of you have heard your mothers say, "Chew your food," in not so nice of a way? As children we sat down to the table and the only thing on our minds was how fast we could get away from that table and back to our desired activities. Even now, as I relish at the idea of sitting down to a nice, long meal, rarely do I take the time to properly chew my food. I am usually on-the-go, busy and distracted. Food goes in, my mouth swirls it around just a little, one or two solid chomps, and it is down the back of my throat with a chaser of water. But what would happen if we really stopped the mad eating rush, and concentrated on the food in our mouths before it hit the stomach?
Did you know digestion begins in the mouth? Most people think that digestion simply occurs in the stomach, but what you may not know is that the simple process of chewing your food breaks the larger pieces into smaller ones, creating more surface area and reducing stress on your esophagus and stomach. Keep in mind, your stomach doesn't have teeth...and there is a reason for those pearly whites, other than flashing smiles to one another. Chewing relaxes your stomach muscles and signals the rest of the digestive process. Additionally, chewing also aids in the chemical digestion of your food. As you chew food, your saliva helps break down complex carbohydrates into glucose.
When food is not well chewed and pieces are too large to be properly broken down, incomplete digestion occurs. Nutrients are not absorbed into the body and these larger pieces of food can lead to bacteria overgrowth, and it also tends to make one a little gassy.
Besides physical benefits, chewing your food well will also help you to feel satisfied and nourished. Your food will spend more time in your mouth, giving your senses more time to take it all in--smell, texture, taste. The breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose signals satiety in your brain helping you to feel more satisfied. You are also more likely to eat less. As you eat slower, it gives your brain the extra time to signal "full" to your body.
So take some time today (and everyday) to concentrate on chewing your food. Aim for 25-50 chomps per mouthful...and if that gets wearisome, try cutting your food into smaller bites. Set your fork down in between mouthfuls to help train you to chew your food longer. If the counting game gets old, just remember to chew your food until it is liquid before you swallow. I know, that sounds a little odd (ok, maybe even gross) but if you understand the benefits of chewing your food, waiting for it to turn liquid will not be the end of the world.
I also find alternating my meals between softer, easier to eat food--creamy soups, stew, smoothies- helps to give my jaw a break. Find what works for you and give your gut a break!