“The Lost Art of Chewing” by Elizabeth Leslie, Holistic Nutritional Consultant
Our mothers and grandmothers seemed to possess innate wisdom to tell us, their offspring, to “chew our food”…..but do we? In our fast pace lives many of us find it hard to even sit down to eat, let alone chew! Good nutrition without good digestion leaves us treading water at best….and since chewing is almost the first link in the digestive chain, it’s where I’ll begin. You’ll notice I said “almost“ the first link in the chain. Being “authentically” hungry is really the first link…..if we eat when we’re not hungry, the digestive secretions will be scant and dilute compared to what optimal digestion requires. Our bodies receive and digest good wholesome food much more willingly as compared to processed food, but more about food later. Let’s get back to chewing. I believe most of us are more compliant in following healthy habits when we understand the benefits. So let me explain some of the very important benefits we gain from the simple act of “chewing”. Chewing (or masticating), is required to breakdown food so that our digestive secretions, which contain an abundance of digestive enzymes, can begin the process of digestion. The goal of digestion is that food be broken down into small enough molecules that they are easily “absorbed” through our intestine wall. If our food isn’t well broken down, it can’t be absorbed, and will putrefy (rot) in the case of protein, or ferment in the case of carbohydrates… in our intestines. This can lead to a myriad of problems both in the small and large intestine, and in the body as a whole….constipation, candida overgrowth, leaky gut syndrome, inflammation, fibromyalgia, food allergies, just to mention a few. So we can help avoid many of these problems by simply chewing our food until it is a paste. Another benefit of thoroughly chewing our food is that we are less likely to overeat. This is because the time it takes to chew food well allows for the twenty minutes or so that the stomach needs in order to signal fullness to the brain and for our “appestat” to be turned off. Therefore, when we don’t take the time to chew food properly, or even worse, not at all, it is likely that we will eat to the point of fullness in less than twenty minutes, and yes, just keep right on eating! Weston Price was a dentist back in the 40’s who extensively studied nutrition as it relates to dental health. One of his studies included comparing sets of identical twins where one of the twins had been raised on a traditional healthy diet and the other raised on a diet of processed food. In every set of twins, the results were the same. The healthy diet twin had very good dental health and the processed food twin did not. The differences between the twins were the most visually discernible when it came to their mandible (lower jaw) development. I mention this because there is one thing that the healthy diet twin had to do that the non healthy twin didn’t, and that was CHEW! Processed food such as pasta can be swallowed in less than four chews, whereas wholesome food requires a lot more chewing before it can be swallowed. The actual muscles involved in the act of chewing call for good blood circulation (along with oxygen and nutrients) to the entire oral cavity. In the case of all the healthy twins, in addition to eating a healthy diet, their chewing was a significant contributor to the superior formation and strength of their mandibles as well as their well aligned healthy teeth. I mentioned earlier that saliva (when we are hungry) is rich in digestive enzymes, i.e. amylase to digest carbohydrates and to a lesser extent, lipase and protease to digest fats and protein respectively. If we don’t chew well and secrete a goodly supply of saliva, we miss this stage of digestive opportunity. Then, “The Law Of Adaptive Secretion” will take over. Our pancreas is going to have to contribute more than its fair share of digestive enzyme secretions. Over time, this may affect its ability to perform its other functions such as insulin production. Few if any, would connect the inability of the pancreas to make insulin …with poor chewing! The last area that I will touch on in regards to chewing is that of pH. If you have ever done a saliva pH test while you were eating, you would have hopefully found that your saliva was VERY alkaline. The reason for this high alkalinity when eating is that in the first stage of digestion (called pre-digestion), the enzymes both in the food (available only if it was raw), and those delivered via your saliva, work best in an alkaline environment. So chewing encourages the specific alkaline pH that will facilitate optimal pre-digestion. I hope this introduction to “The Art of Chewing” has shown you that nature leaves nothing to chance. There is a reason for everything and chewing is no exception. The next time you eat, let your tongue explore your mouth, relish the fact that the increased flow of saliva is doing its job, yours is to CHEW. Here are some tips to help you remember to chew your food well:
- Create a relaxed eating environment that is conducive to chewing well.
- Light a candle
- Use smaller spoons (yes, saliva does occupy space in our mouths if we chew long enough, so we have to make room for it.)
- Put your eating utensils on your plate while you chew, and pick them up again only after you have swallowed what you have just chewed well.
- Minimize conversation, as it can be a reason for premature swallowing.
- Be in the moment with your food, appreciate it and most importantly, enjoy it.
- If you have children, make chewing a “family affair”. They will love catching Mom or Dad if they aren’t chewing!