Written by Dr Alison Kamffer
Do you ever think about how well you chew your food? Few of us give it more than a passing thought unless we have a toothache, but in fact chewing is important,
as it is the first step in digesting your food.
Chewing breaks down the foods into smaller particles so that it can be digested more easily lower down.
Saliva contains amylase, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrate, and lipase that begins fat digestion. It also lubricates the food before it passes down the oesophagus, helping avoid heartburn. Large particles of food entering the intestine are not completely broken down, and may lead to gaseousness and discomfort, as well as loss of nutrients.
The longer you chew, the longer it will take you to eat a meal, and it has been shown that slow eaters tend to eat less. It also takes around 20 minutes for the brain to tell the stomach that it is full, so by eating slowly you will allow this information to arrive before overdoing it!
Chewing is good for your teeth, as it not only keeps them strong, but the saliva helps wash away food particles.
How should you chew? I don’t think any of us want to chew our food 100 times, as Horace Fletcher, a late-1800s health-food guru did, but being aware of what you are eating, employing ‘mindfulness’ is a valuable exercise in reducing intake and improving digestion: Star by taking smaller bites, then chew slowly and steadily, tasting and feeling the texture of the food. Do not load your fork until you have swallowed the previous mouthful. – How many of us shovel the food in, not clearing our mouths form the start of the meal until it is finished?
What about chewing when there is no food, e.g. chewing gum? This is not wise, as it stimulates the digestive enzymes in the stomach and bowel, and will lead to hunger and bloating. Chewing gum continuously can also lead to jaw disorders, as most people chew on one side more than the other.
So for your next meal, practice a little mindfulness, think about your food, and enjoy every mouthful!